Monday, January 31, 2011

Why did Harbaugh wait until now to get involved in offense?

I’ve received several emails during the past few months from site visitors taking exception to my criticisms of Joe Flacco, Cam Cameron and John Harbaugh. And that’s fine – in part it’s what I’ve signed up for when I chose to do what I do.

I have no axe to grind with any of these men. Actually I really like each one of them but I can’t allow my personal feelings to stand in the way of what I believe my job is and that is to cover, analyze and critique the Ravens. And if I don’t think any or all of them are doing their jobs well, I don’t mind saying so.

Clearly it’s much easier to criticize them from my vantage point. I get that. They are the ones who are under fire not me and they are paid handsomely for what they do and like me, it’s what they signed up for.

Flacco has the tools and he can be a Pro Bowl quarterback. But there are big flaws in his game that will keep him from reaching his potential unless they are corrected. I think Cameron and Harbaugh are very well aware of those flaws. The question is do they have what it takes to develop Flacco and help him reach his potential?

If it doesn’t happen in 2011, they will have no one to blame other than themselves and of course Flacco. The Ravens already fired up their smokescreens and they were named Messrs. Zorn and Matsko. The air is now clear. It’s on Cameron to bring Flacco along. There’s no one else to blame. We’ll see if he can deliver “under fire” the way Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti think he can.

I did find it interesting that Harbaugh said recently that he will assume a greater role in 2011 with the offense after making defense and special teams more of a priority during his first three seasons in Baltimore.

Think about that one for a second…

What has been the Achilles Heel of the Ravens since Vinny Testaverde left town in 1997?

Offense, right?

With all of the team’s investment in offense recently and no dividends to show for those investments, why not pay a bit more attention to the offense this past season coach? If we are to believe your involvement in 2011 will help, why wasn’t it offered in 2010 when your team was a couple of boneheaded plays and calls removed from hosting the AFC Championship Game?

Maybe less is more for the Ravens – fewer coaches, fewer mistakes, fewer people to blame.

But for the life of me, I just don’t get how Harbaugh didn’t get involved in the offense prior to now.

Is offense outside of his comfort zone?

And if it is, what can he add to the offensive mix next season? What will he tell Cameron that he doesn’t already know? Cameron is said to be a control freak. Removing bodies from the offensive coaching staff now gives him even more control. What has Cameron ever won to deserve the control?

In 2011 Cameron will be Flacco’s third QB coach in three seasons. If it fails, he’ll get a fourth in 2012 – a contract year. Will the Ravens then have enough to effectively gauge Flacco’s value? If he falls short of expectations with another coach and coordinator in 2012, will they then say it was an adjustment season for Flacco?

When will the excuses end?

The Baltimore Ravens – often frustrating but certainly never boring.

Ok, I finally admit it...The Pro Bowl Sucks!

I must admit that I am one of the few fans of the NFL’s All Star game – The Pro Bowl.

Well I was until yesterday.

I have seen more effort from Republicans in support of Obamacare than I witnessed yesterday from the defensive linemen when rushing the quarterback. Hey Jason Babin, next time you may as well wear a grass skirt and sip umbrella drinks on the field. At least that would have been more entertaining.

The leis on the field weren’t limited to the island party favors…

I don’t know, maybe it was the players’ way of revolting against the league due to the labor strife.

Maybe they were being extra cautious.

But more likely, maybe the game is just obsolete.

How can they sell that bunk to prospective sponsors when a defender of the game like me is now more likely to watch Brady Bunch reruns than that garbage?

If you want to show these players off in their new suntans and Hawaiian glory, how about a more interesting skills competition?

That would be far less insulting than listening to Brian Billick entice viewers to stick with the game. Don’t get me wrong, I like Billick as an analyst – A LOT! But to say that the AFC can make a game of it if they can close the gap to 42-14 at the end of the first half? C’mon coach!

You may have lured me in had you promised more of those lovely shots of the island. I'm ready to move!

Oh and the next time Matt Cassel is representing a conference as an All Star, well it’s not really an All Star game now, is it?

If I’m jonesing football that much in the future, I’ll go on YouTube and watch some Lingerie Football Highlights.

The Recipe for a 5 Star Ravens' Offseason

Who knows when a new CBA will be struck? My guess is that the owners who clearly have all the leverage here will exert a little muscle and weaken the union and the union’s impression of DeMaurice Smith. Eventually they will stumble upon labor peace and have a new CBA in place sometime in May. And that changes the way the offseason is managed by teams.

Will teams now draft more for need and then fill in with free agents later or will most focus on the best player available and fill in for need through free agency? You can count on the Ravens going with the later approach and having the draft before free agency just might work to the Ravens’ strengths.

With this in mind, the Ravens offseason priorities from my vantage point are (in order of importance):

1. Bookend pass rusher to pair with Terrell Suggs: The Ravens can’t hold their collective breath hoping for Sergio Kindle’s cranium to strengthen to the point of being able to withstand the collisions of the NFL. They also can’t keep hoping for Paul Kruger to develop some consistency. A tag team edge rusher makes the Ravens secondary better and they’ll likely force more turnovers and win the battles for field position.

2. Offensive tackle: I’m not one to conclude that Michael Oher can’t handle left tackle. I think a predictable offense makes his job more difficult. That said, the Ravens need to find another tackle in the draft and third or fourth round projects like Oniel Cousins or David Hale are unacceptable. Convincing a motivated Jared Gaither to give it one more try is a worthy effort.

3. Speed at WR: The Ravens need to find their own Mike Wallace and that is a challenge for an organization that has failed consistently in identifying talent at the position. Back in 2000 they burned a first round pick on Travis Taylor (10) and passed on more productive players like Laveranues Coles (78) and Darrell Jackson (80) and in 2005 they opted for Mark Clayton (22) and passed on Roddy White (27) and Vincent Jackson (61). Stiffs like Devard Darling and Marcus Smith (both 3rd round picks) won’t cut it either.

4. Inside LB: Inconsistency plagues the Ray Lewis sidekick flavor of the day (Dannell Ellerbe, Jameel McClain, Tavares Gooden) and that has to change, particularly as the end draws nearer for No. 52.

5. Safety: Dawan Landry had an up and down season in 2010; Haruki Nakamura is too small to be a strong safety and Tom Zbikowski isn’t dependable. The Ravens could use a more consistent enforcer to pair with Ed Reed.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

SPORTS POP: Where sports, music, culture & humor collide...

It’s interesting that the Ravens used the phrase, “We like Cam under fire” when rationalizing why they decided to bring Cam Cameron back as the team’s offensive coordinator. “Under fire” for me means performing in the red zone, closing out desperate teams in the second half of games and in clutch situations against challenging opponents. In those categories Cameron has regularly come up empty.

Why should we believe that because he’s on a short leash he’ll be a more effective coordinator? If anything, should the offense struggle early in 2011, vocal vets like Derrick Mason, TJ Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin might incite a mutiny of sorts for what amounts to a lame duck offensive coordinator.

Ozzie Newsome may have given us all a serious clue about the future of Houshmandzadeh when he mentioned WR James Hardy during the state of the Ravens address last Thursday. Hardy who was signed to a future/reserve contract a couple of weeks ago is recovering from an ACL injury suffered during the back end of his rookie campaign. There was little down side and probable upside in a player Ozzie described as, “a guy that has the opportunity to become a good player in this league.”

Given Houshmandzadeh’s marginal productivity, inability to deliver in the clutch, potential diva issues and the price he’s likely to demand, the former Bengal and Seahawk is likely to add Raven to that “former” list.

Donte Stallworth is genuinely appreciative of the opportunity the Ravens gave him this past season. He worked diligently with Joe Flacco in the offseason and performed well during OTA’s and training camp. It’s a bit of a mystery why the Ravens didn’t really give him much of an opportunity in 2010. Could it be that the team used Stallworth’s good nature and team first ways against him and greased the squeaky wheel wearing No. 84?

The buzz from the Ravens inner circle is that the team will add speed to the receiver position next season yet they failed to employ the speed they already had in Stallworth. You have to wonder if Cameron either didn’t trust Stallworth or he just couldn’t figure out how to use him save for the ill advised reverses every other game.

John Harbaugh will soon be receiving a contract extension. His initial four year deal at roughly $10 million in total is set to expire after the 2011 season. Organizations typically don’t like coaches having a future with the team to guide their club as a lame duck coach. It can lead to problems when asserting authority and influence.

From what we hear the Ravens are using Mike Tomlin’s contract at $4 million per season as the benchmark for Harbaugh’s new deal. Relatively speaking that might be a bit rich for the Ravens’ head coach. Tomlin has one ring to his credit and is going for another next Sunday.

Ray Lewis’ “Ultimate Spray”, the body splash that packs a punch of IGF-1, a banned substance by the NFL. Some may wonder why this potentially monster story has been swept under the proverbial rug. Uh, think law suit maybe?

I did look into this a bit, a story first reported by who claim to have records of text messages from Ray Lewis instructing the supplier of Ultimate Spray to deliver the product to him. It didn’t take me long to conclude that it’s a “non-story.” Here’s what someone with business ties to Ray Lewis shared with me and it satisfied and put to bed my curiosity…

“Just because a player is linked to something or even acknowledges receiving a shipment of something, doesn’t mean they use it. These guys are absolutely besieged by various vendors saying their mouth guards will make them faster, their drinks hydrate better, their bracelets or necklaces will improve their balance, etc….they have SO much free crap in their homes that they will never, ever use. Saying 'sure, send it to me' is a much shorter conversation than “no thanks, I’m not really interested.” The former allows the athlete to bypass the lengthy sales pitch and get on with their day."

AROUND THE NFL...Jay Cutler has had a rap for being a “me-first” kind of player dating back to his days at Vanderbilt. He then engaged in a clash of egos in Denver with former Broncos’ skipper Josh McDaniels that ultimately sent him to The Windy City. And after a very poor season in 2009 during which Cutler tossed 26 interceptions and finished with a 76.8 passer rating (not exactly what the Bears bargained for after giving up two No. 1 picks) things were on the uptick as the Bears hosted the NFC Conference Championship just last Sunday. (Granted they got there on a weak schedule and by beating a losing team in the Divisional Round)

But Cutler reverted back to his 2009 ways and was 6 of 14 for 80 yards with an interception before being removed from the championship game against the Packers. Cutler stood and then he sat and then he stood stoically on the sidelines and offered no input to replacements Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie. Now Bears fans aren’t happy, nor should they be! Next year they’ll be saddled with a first place schedule AND the sobering reality that Cutler is not a “ready for prime time” player.

Antonio Cromartie is many things and among them is a poster child for desperate NFL players…

Cromartie is a guy who is looking for that next big pay day. Ask any player around the league and he’ll tell you that the second contract in the career of an NFL player is where it’s at.

Cromartie obviously wants his and feels that the NFL labor issues may be siphoning his livelihood.

"So to tell you the truth they need to get their damn minds together and get this [expletive] done. Stop bitching about money. Money ain't nothing. Money can be here and gone. Us players, we want to go out and play football. It's something we've been doing and we love it and enjoy it. It's our livelihood."

Livelihood: “noun”, a means of supporting one's existence, esp. financially or vocationally.

Nah, livelihood has nothing to do with money now, does it?

Child please!

Let’s call this what it is – a man with financial obligations, and LOTS of them. Anyone remember Cromartie trying to recall the name of all his children? Several of which are three years of age (and they aren’t twins, triplets or quadruplets)?

Like many of his peers Antonio Cromartie has financial obligations – a ton of them and if they aren’t already they’ll soon be singing with Robert Palmer as they feeeeeel the heat.

More Cromartie…

"... I mean, you've got our head union reps acting like a [expletive]. And they've got their guys acting like them [expletive], so they just need to get their [expletive] together and get it done."

Tic-toc-tic-doo-doo-doo doo… The clock is ticking towards the March 3 deadline for an owner’s lockout and on the biological clocks of the players who on average play less than four years. (Think Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny). Count on the players growing increasingly anxious during a lock out and they’ll plead with NFLPA’s Executive Director DeMaurice Smith to settle.

And the owners know it.

On Tuesday night HBO aired its first installment in 2011 of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Great job by the reliable production team! This edition included a feature on Troy Aikman and another focusing on retired NFL players who have lost their way.

It’s a sobering stat but a reality nonetheless – 60% of retired NFL players are unemployed, insolvent, homeless or all of the above within 5 years of their retirement. That is shocking to say the least given their access to wealth.

While DeMaurice Smith is busy trying to carve out his own legacy and placing his fingerprints upon the NFL’s labor issues, maybe he should think about his retired constituents and implementing ways of rapidly reducing this insanely grotesque statistic.

POP CULTURE...Remember the Taco Bell Chihuahua? Me too but the friendly little pup has been absent as of late and now we may know why.

An Alabama law firm recently filed a $5 million class action law suit against the fast food chain claiming that they aren’t above board with their advertising. The “beef” states that Taco Bell promotes “seasoned ground beef” in their food yet they actually deliver meat fillers instead. The end result, again according to the suit, is that the chain fails to meet the minimum requirements of “beef” as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

No truth to the rumor that the Chihuahua was spurned by promoters of Burger King.

Whether it’s Taco Bell or Burger King, neither is considered to be a go to restaurant for folks looking to manage their waistline and fulfill their New Year’s resolutions.

But those committed to their resolutions might be interested in these svelte friendly fitness trends:

1. Zumba is a latin inspired dance fitness workout that has easy to follow exercise steps.
2. Boot Camp (and we aren’t talking shoes ladies) is a workout that combines intensity with the persuasive powers of peer pressure.
3. Small group training – think a slightly cozier version of Boot
4. Many clubs have shifted their focus to influencing lifestyles in the form of Wellness programs. Get well, get fit, and forget the cheese steak subs.
5. Suspension training: Nope, no trapeze or bunji chords are involved…this requires suckers…er, participants to use their own weight as resistance instead of testosterone laced equipment.

Suspension may have helped Jimmy Buffett earlier today when he fell off a stage at the end of a concert in Sydney, Australia and was knocked unconscious according to sources. The Parrot Head King has been released from St. Vincent's Hospital in inner Sydney and is said to be in good spirits and lucky to have recovered so quickly from the fall.

Witnesses attending the show described hearing a "crack" as Buffett's head hit the floor following an encore performance of his song "Lovely Cruise."

So what happened? Did he step on a pop top and now has nothing to show but a brand new head bruise?

The hospital's emergency department director Gordian Fulde, who attended the concert, told Seven Network television that, “[Buffett] just didn't see the drop in front of the stage," Fulde said.


Expect roadies to surround the stage with sponge cakes from this point forward.

DO YOU KNOW FAB? In The Beatles’ Across The Universe the refrain "Jai Guru Deva Um" is a mantra intended to lull the mind into a higher consciousness. The words are in Sanskrit, and they mean "I give thanks to Guru Dev," who was the teacher of The Maharishi. The "Um" at the end is the drawn out "oooohm" used in meditation to relate to the natural vibration of the universe.

This might not change your world but it could help you sleep better most nights…

NOW THAT’S FUNNY!...One Sunday afternoon, a guy walks into a bar with his pet dog. The bartender said, "Sorry, pal. No pets allowed." The man replied, "This is a special dog. Turn on the Jets game and you'll see." The bartender, anxious to see what will happen, turned on the game. The guy said, "Watch. Whenever the Jets score, my dog does flips." The Jets keep scoring field goals and the dog keeps flipping and jumping. "Wow! That's one hell of a dog you got there. What happens when the Jets score a touchdown?" asked the bartender. The man replied, "I don't know. I've only had him for seven years."

Here are some of the things you can expect at this weekend’s Orioles Fanfest (courtesy of a friend who wishes to remain anonymous):

Fall to your knees to play Catch the Greek. This fun filled game for all ages consists of running around on your knees while looking into the eyes of Peter Angelos as he attempts to hide behind mounds of Baklava.

Enter the world of what it takes to be an O’s power hitter. Relive first sacker Garret Atkins one Home Run from the 2010 season... (this exhibit is free to enter)

Join former Managers Joe Altobelli, Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo and Juan Samuel as they reveal the skills needed to be a great manager in the Major Leagues. A very informative seminar! When they are finished you will be asked to guess which one of them is really not Italian. If you guess correctly you will be given a vowel of your choice to put on the end of your name, officially making you Italian.

Learn the art of spitting without getting caught. You will review the Roberto Alomar video while Leron McClain of the Ravens points out the flaws in Robby’s technique.

A Truly amazing transformation before your very eyes. What appears to be Joe Flacco & Nick Markakis standing side by side turns out to be one person whose name is Nick Flacco. Proclaimed The 4th Boringist Wonder of the World, one can only imagine the gripping interviews; entertaining commercials; celebratory dances & fire in the eye determination exhibited when both these super stars are combined into one piece of “living” flesh.

Enter into a gallery of Albert's most memorable moments on the Golf Course post MLB. Marvel at his lifestyle shown on videos from his favorite vacation getaways, while collecting $60,000,000 from The Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos.

Never seen before video of Mike Flannigan and Terry Crowley sneaking into the Orioles Front Office and grabbing their checks, forging Angelos' signature before he realizes they are still on the payroll.

KATY PERRY & YOU / Dream Week
Live the Dream !!! Pitch a no hitter for the home team, putting your face on the front page of your local newspaper, enabling you to hook up with Katy Perry for a romantic weekend at the Starlite Motel in Middle River. This "DREAM COME TRUE" can be yours if you can name what years during the last 13 seasons the Orioles made it to the post season.

Join in the fun in an arcade atmosphere with games specifically designed for the O’s Faithful. . . Try your luck at some of these exciting games of chance:

· “Throw Me a Homer” – try to throw the ball out of the ballpark from home plate.

· “Look Mom No Backstop “ – sit behind home plate during batting practice without the protective screen and see how many balls you can dodge.

· “Moving on Up” – begin your adventure in the last row of the upper deck and work your way down to the box seats without getting caught by the ushers.

· “$100 Happy Meal “ - try your luck at feeding a family of 4 with a $100 bill…


1 ½ oz SKYY Vodka
1 ½ oz sweet and sour mix
1 ½ oz cherry liqueur

Shake well with cracked ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

I'M IN A KEY WEST STATE OF MIND…Did you know that Happy hour beings at 9am at the Schooner Wharf Bar where you can grow old disgracefully? …There are about 25,000 people that live in Key West and about 25 million more who want to…Key West is the only city in the continental United States that never gets frost…The highway that ends in Key West, U.S Highway One, is 2,209 miles long and runs from Fort Kent in Maine…And in the category of “No Sh*t”, Key West has more bars per capita than any other place in the USA.

DISCO ROLLER FRISBEE PUNK ROCKERS…We live in a wireless world right? So I’m sure the thought has crossed your mind (or it will one day), “Why can’t I enjoy my music without wires?”

It’s kept you awake at night, right?

Well insomniac no more!

Bowers & Wilkins officially announced recently its next generation iPhone/iPod speaker dock with AirPlay support. Known as the Zeppelin Air (no relation to Jimmy Page), this audio hardware boasts Apple’s AirPlay technology, allowing users to stream music wirelessly from their Mac or PC running iTunes or directly from their favorite cool gadgets such as iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. Joan Crawford is resting comfortably knowing there are no wires.

HOT WOMEN IN SPORTS…This week’s choice is Amanda Beard (feature picture at top of page). Here’s the 411 on Amanda from Wikipedia:

Amanda Ray Beard (born October 29, 1981 in Newport Beach, California), is an American Olympic-level swimmer and model. Beard participated in the 1996 Summer Olympics, 2000 Summer Olympics, 2004 Summer Olympics, and 2008 Summer Olympics, capturing a total of seven medals, the most recent in the 2004 games. She held the world number one ranking of 200 meter breaststrokers in 2003. In U.S. competition, Beard won three 200 meter breaststroke, three 100 meter breaststroke, and two 200 meter individual medley US National titles.

This week we posted the following video on our Facebook fan page Ravens 247 (and yes you should “like” us immediately) and asked our “likers” (how weird?) to caption the vid.

You Tube Video of the Week: Mendenhall Humps Big Ben

The winner suggested, “Get a Room!”

We agree…


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

105.7 The STEELER Fan?

I've heard about 105.7 The Fan’s Damon Yaffe's alleged love affair with the Steelers so I tuned in yesterday to see what all of the fuss was about.

Normally I don't hear much of this show because my mornings are hectic and when I do have time, I'll dial in to Rob Long on AM 1370.On one hand I get what Yaffe's saying about respect and knowing the enemy because REAL knowledge helps you to beat the enemy.

But Yaffe's arrogance while not surprising is over the top for this reason...

Knowing how emotional Baltimore is regarding the Steelers, you can't tell me that playing “Here We Go” (video below) on 105.7 The Fan wasn't intended to pour salt into the wounds of Ravens fans and stir up controversy and therefore bump ratings. Yaffe even tried to bait his substitute sidekick Ken Weinman into singing the song.

Talk about blasphemy!

Apparently the cheap publicity stunt is working but as mentioned here before if you want change, don't listen...if you don't like it, don't listen. I recommend Rob Long.

That's a shame for Mark Viviano who is a class act on AND off the air. Interestingly Yaffe is as abrasive off air as he is on.

If after a very crazy twist of fate, they happened to replace the dyed-in-the-wool Steelers fan program director with me over at 105.7 The Fan, I'd shake the line-up up as follows:

6-9: Steve Davis, Jeremy Conn (and no more cross dressing themes please)
9-12: Mark Viviano, Ken Weinman
12-3: Bob Haynie & Rob Long (free agent acquisition)
3-6: Scott Garceau & Keith Mills (another FA acquisition)

Just sayin...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Improving the Running Game Won't be Easy for Ravens

So the Ravens have made improving their running game priority number 1 this offseason. After all an offense’s best friend is a productive rushing attack and the Ravens’ offense sure could use a one right about now.

A productive running game helps the defense, it travels well and for the most part it’s weather resilient.

Great idea! Good plan guys!

Planning to improve the running game however, is one thing – actually doing it is another.

Most would agree that the Ravens have issues with their offensive line otherwise former offensive line coach John Matsko (aka John Harbaugh’s sacrificial lamb) would not be in Carolina with the Panthers. Former Matsko assistant Andy Moeller now holds that title.

Unless Moeller has some magic wand, the personnel on the offensive front needs a boost if they plan on performing better in 2011. Michael Oher struggled often at left tackle while Matt Birk was inconsistent at center, perhaps slowed by an ailing knee. Chris Chester is too often overpowered while Marshal Yanda, although admirable, played out of position at right tackle.

Jared Gaither may or may not stay but the bet here is that he will be one of the future former Ravens in the not too distant future. The team really can’t trust and depend upon the enigmatic Gaither who is represented by Drew Rosenhaus and therefore a long-term deal is unlikely. While the Ravens may try to convince Rosenhaus that his client can benefit from playing for one more season in order to re-establish the vastly talented but underachieving tackle’s market value, that appears to be a long shot.

More than likely Rosenhaus is intimately aware of Gaither’s aloof and uninspired ways and will take what he can get in the way of a lengthier deal sooner rather than later.

Some believed that Chester could supplant Birk once the six-time Pro Bowler decided to call it a career. Insiders will tell you that Chester could be a very effective center when facing a 4-3 front. However against a 3-4 Chester is engulfed by big nose tackles and that’s an issue, particularly since their archrival Steelers have fielded a 3-4 defense for decades.

Clearly personnel in the trenches must be addressed if the Ravens hope to achieve their improved running game goal.

And those personnel issues might not end there.

Over the past three seasons the Ravens have featured the three-headed monster in the persons of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. Rice is a staple and there’s little reason to believe that he will be used all that differently. Ideally the team will want to cut back on his workload which climbed by 21% (254 carries v. 307) if they hope to have Rice on their roster for several more seasons.

McGahee, another Rosenhaus client, is set to make $6 million in 2011 under the terms of his current contract. He won’t get that from the Ravens particularly when Rice is set to earn a relatively paltry $555,000. It’s possible, some might even say likely, that we’ve seen the last of McGahee in a Ravens uniform who will turn 30 in October.

And that brings us to McClain, a player who by his own admission doesn’t expect to be in Baltimore next season unless he’s playing for one of the Ravens’ opponents.

McClain has worn his welcome thin if not out with the Ravens given his campaign to run it more (McClain4RB); his reckless Twitter account; costly personal fouls and Spitgate involving him and Dolphins’ LB Channing Crowder.

It has been the team’s M.O. to replace fullbacks through the draft or by acquiring a less costly but more established veteran such as Sam Gash and Lorenzo Neal.

Committing to improving the running game is a start.

Actually doing it won’t be easy – a task that becomes even more challenging if O-Line Coach Moeller flunks the team’s imposed zero tolerance policy as it relates to his sobriety and DUI issues?

GM Ozzie Newsome and Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta have their work cut out for them particularly with the pending labor strife.

It may be the offseason for the players, but for Newsome and DeCosta it’s “game on!”

Cameron "under fire" could come back to burn Ravens

I found Steve Bisciotti’s choice of words and rationale for retaining Cam Cameron to be quite revealing.

“And John [Harbaugh’s] feeling is that we like Cam under fire as our offensive coordinator next year.”

Under fire…

Don’t think that for a second the player’s didn’t take note of that and knowing that doesn’t it weaken Cameron’s grip on the offense particularly if it goes awry early on during the season?

Here’s something else to think about regarding Cameron next year. During his three seasons as a pro Flacco has been tied at the hip to Cameron. Next season will be their fourth together. If they struggle on offense again, surely Cameron will be gone and another coordinator will be brought in.

The first year of that coordinator’s tenure will be the last year of Flacco’s rookie five year deal. That could make it difficult to assess Flacco’s value going forward, particularly if there’s the expected adjustment period to a new offensive system. Of course the Ravens could control Flacco in year six as a restricted free agent but then again, teams don’t generally handle their franchise quarterback in that fashion.

Perhaps the Ravens should have thought about that before they gave Cameron a mulligan.

They might need another a year from now.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Labor strife saving Cameron?

The Ravens fired offensive line coach John Matsko as an obvious diversionary tactic to redirect blame for the Ravens miserable offensive season. We all know that Cam Cameron needs to be replaced. The trouble is are there any candidates out there who can step in and be better?

Cameron critics might say there are plenty who could get more out of the Ravens talented roster. And while that may be true, here’s the rub…

If the league is unable to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement by March 3, there’s a chance that it could drag on for quite some time. Even optimists will only go so far to say that the games will be played on time in 2011. But what does that mean?

For me, it means that a big chunk of the offseason regiment – the OTA’s, the “non-mandatory” camps and workouts could all fall by the wayside. Perhaps even a portion of training camp may be at risk. We all sit here and believe that the owners and players will all come to their collective senses and get a new CBA done, but when?

DeMaurice Smith, the new NFLPA Executive Director, wants to put his thumbprint on this new CBA. He needs to validate his appointment to the position to his constituents – the players. And in doing so, he perhaps more so than any other individual, is dragging this process out. If the late Gene Upshaw was still with us I’m fairly confident that a new CBA would be done by now. But without him, personalities and egos cloud the issues and change the playing surface.

So as labor strife drags on and the typical OTA dates come and go so too does the opportunity for a new coordinator to implement a new system. There’s more risk and it then becomes easier to stick with something more familiar, i.e. Cam Cameron.

Why take a risk on let’s say a developing offensive assistant on the staffs of the Patriots or Chargers or Saints or Colts? How can a first time coordinator be productive without the practice time?

Cam Cameron should send DeMaurice Smith a thank you card.

He perhaps more so than anyone else has enabled Cameron to stay alive in Baltimore – unfortunately.

Matsko fingered as the Ravens' scapegoat

John Matsko was fired today by the Ravens and then replaced him with assistant Andy Moeller. This after John Harbaugh stood in front of all the media, all the cameras, all the microphones and despite a meltdown loss against a bitter archrival to end the team’s playoff hopes and dash any dreams of hosting an AFC Championship Game, he smiled like he just hit the lottery.

Maybe he did with his yet to be announced new contract.

And then he told us all how much he liked his coaching staff and expected all of them to return.

Anyone smell a rat?

Let's face it, the firing of Matsko amounts to nothing more than picking a fall guy, a scapegoat for the inadequacies of Cam Cameron who we’ll probably be stuck with in 2011 given the dearth of choices in the marketplace to replace him.

But back to Matsko…

In 2008 Matsko shaped an offensive line out of second year players Marshall Yanda, Ben Grubbs and Jared Gaither; previously retired RT Willie Anderson and first year center Jason Brown to protect a rookie quarterback – Joe Flacco.

The unit overachieved and helped propel the club into the AFC Championship.

In 2009 the Ravens again made the playoffs and it appeared that they were building one of the best young offensive lines in the NFL. The Ravens ranked fourth in yards per carry and fifth overall in their rushing attack. Despite limited weapons on the outside in the passing game the team finished the season ranked 13th in total offense and 9th in scoring offense.

Fast forward to the 2010 season where we learned that the Ravens would be without the services of Jared Gaither. The team had no choice but to move Michael Oher to left tackle, Marshal Yanda from right guard to right tackle and backup Chris Chester into the starting right guard position. Center Matt Birk struggled with chronic knee pain throughout the campaign.

The team did add some offensive weaponry in the forms of Anquan Boldin, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Donte Stallworth and a couple of promising rookie tight ends in Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.

Blend it all together with a healthy Todd Heap and a quarterback on the rise and in his third year in the Cam Cameron system and expectations soared.

And then they dropped like a Led Zeppelin.

The Ravens finished a disappointing 22nd overall in offense, 16th in scoring offense and their yards per carry fell from 4.7 yards in ’09 to 3.8 yards in ’10 for 25th “best” in the NFL.

So what does John Harbaugh do?

He fires the offensive line coach!

Talk about a fall guy!

Talk about B.S.!

Your offensive coordinator tips his play calling with his personnel sub packages; tips plays with the offense’s pre snap movements; rarely alters the cadence; doesn’t allow the quarterback to audible; rarely throws in a wrinkle or really opens up the playbook!

So that’s all on John Matsko?

Give me a freakin’ break!

Wouldn’t it be easier to block if the Ravens offense did even some of the things that dynamic offenses do?

But how could I forget that Matsko was the one who:

* Made Boldin drop a touchdown
* Houshmandzadeh drop a first down
* Ray Rice start the turnover deluge with his fumble
* Flacco fumble a snap and throw a critical interception
* Lardarius Webb blow a coverage assignment leading to the game winning touchdown.

How the hell did I not see that?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wanna fix the Ravens? Here's how...

Many have put in their 2 cents regarding ways to fix the Ravens. I think the Ravens know how to fix the Ravens better than anyone else and while recent history tells us that they can’t hang with the AFC’s big boys in big games, I don’t think they are that far off.

Now some will argue that the team has many holes to fill. But really what team doesn’t? The NFL is all about strategically exposing the other team’s weaknesses better than they expose yours on any given Sunday.

But back to those holes…

On defense the Ravens need another pass rusher, depth at linebacker and arguably a high caliber corner. Offensively the club needs reinforcements in the offensive line, perhaps a backup quarterback and they need a home run hitter or two.

But it’s difficult to get that all in a single offseason, particularly one that almost certainly will be marked by labor strife.

The Ravens have traditionally added what I’ll call tier B and C free agents to augment their roster during the free agency period, supplement the depth during the draft and then they’ve added a key veteran here and there during training camp to further boost the roster or fill in for depth. TJ Houshmandzadeh and Willie Anderson are perfect examples.

But if there is a lockout on March 4 as expected, the free agency period might happen after the draft which is scheduled come hell or high water for April 28-30. That might actually benefit the Ravens given their front office style which is to first and foremost build through the draft.

As always the offseason presents challenges, piques interest and invites us all to play fantasy Ozzie Newsome.

Today I’ll take my turn being Ozzie and while my plan won’t fill all holes, it should be good enough to get the team over this Divisional Playoff hump.

Quarterback: Those who read my column and or blog regularly will probably accuse me of beating a dead horse but this one is key. If Cam Cameron hangs around as expected (big mistake) then the Ravens need to get Joe Flacco and Cameron on the same page. Cameron needs to be willing to accept his QB’s input and that of a stronger QB coach than the empty sweat suit named Jim Zorn. This one is on Harbaugh and if it isn’t addressed properly, forget about the rest of the plan because the team could implode in a manner not unlike 2007. One look at the Ravens sideline on Saturday night when the defense was seated in Pittsburgh tells you all you need to know about the Ravens offense. Ray Lewis & Co. has no confidence in Cameron’s Crew against quality opponents in the clutch.

Speedy WR: The Ravens front office will tell you that they borrow from the Steelers’ blue print for success. Well the Steelers have something the Ravens don’t – a homerun hitter like Mike Wallace. They need one in order to make quality defenses respect that kind of threat and loosen things up for the rest of the offense. There’s no getting around this and Harbaugh’s lame excuses about Stallworth’s foot injury aside, it was a crime that Cameron never involved him more in the offense save for the predictable reverses.

Offensive Tackle: With one addition to the offensive line the Ravens could virtually improve three offensive line positions. What kind of market value does Jared Gaither have? What is someone willing to pay for his services? If the demand isn’t high, maybe the Ravens can convince him to take a one year deal to re-establish his reputation. Then the team can move Michael Oher back to RT and Marshal Yanda to RG. That said Gaither might not be the solution. It could be that they go to the draft or free agency for such a player. Whatever they do, they need to be able to block the Steelers on the outside, one-on-one with their tackles.

If you watch the Steelers’ safeties, they jump at Flacco’s first read and he’s developed a very bad habit of going to that first read. If he can have that extra second, the Ravens can then use their own bad tendencies from the past, go against them and benefit their play in the future. A perfect case in point was Ryan Clark rolling over to cover Todd Heap on Saturday to come away with an easy interception. Flacco is so programmed to get the ball off against the Steelers that he’s forced into critical mistakes like that one. Word is on the play, Anquan Boldin was wide open down the left side. Why? Because Troy Polamalu was caught up covering Le’Ron McClain out of the backfield, Clark cheated on Heap and Boldin beat the corner one on one.

A “Robin” to Suggs’ Batman: Terrell Suggs had an outstanding season and is emerging as a leader. The team needs to find a threat on the opposite side of Suggs. With Haloti Ngata collapsing the middle, bookend rushers will make a respectable secondary stronger and produce more turnovers. This one is simple math and again the Ravens only need to look to the Steelers who have marginal corners year in and year out.

Clean slate for Ellerbe: The team needs an heir apparent for Ray Lewis but until that happens they must have a sit down with Dannell Ellerbe and figure out how to motivate him. He has the talent and the big play potential. It’s incumbent upon the coaches (and it starts with Harbs) to harness that talent.

Draft: The Ravens get an incomplete grade for the 2010 NFL Draft. No one could predict Sergio Kindle’s situation although there were clear signs that the guy was a knucklehead; Terrence Cody with an offseason of conditioning could be a force and is a solid pick; the tight ends look like they could be productive players but unlike the Patriots and their rookie TE’s, Cameron wasn’t able to put the pair in position to utilize their considerable talents.

David Reed showed that he has promise as a big producer on special teams and insiders say he could emerge in 2011 as a capable weapon on offense; Ozzie Newsome is said to be very excited about DT Arthur Jones but given the team’s affection for Kelly Gregg, Jones seldom saw the field in 2010; Ramon Harewood is a project and there are some who believe he could be the team’s starting RT in 2012 but I’m not holding my breath on that one. I think I’ve heard that before about Oniel Cousins.

So there you have it – my 6 part plan to get the Ravens over the Divisional Playoff hump.

Oh and one more thing, they’ve got 17 unrestricted agents and 8 restricted free agents to deal with.


Better get busy Ozzie!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox: Ravens @ Steelers, Divsional Playoff

Ravens give it away, 31-24

What a strange season this has been. A few peaks, some deep valleys and plenty of unexplainable phenomenons going on in between.

Clearly we end the season bitterly disappointed. To think that the Harbaugh & Co. would finally exorcise the post season and Roethlisberger demons against the Steelers, have the game in control only to experience the same haunting nightmares while gifting the team’s archrivals a win, in many way represents a microcosm of the season.

Pick your culprit but the Joe Flacco/Cam Cameron combo still hasn’t shown they can step up and win against the big boys and the Ravens will certainly enter the 2011 season with similar, perhaps even more pronounced doubts.

With the end of any NFL season comes the realization that several of the players on the current 53 man roster will be gone. It’s the nature of the beast and some may be appearing on these pages for the very last time.

Until next season, here’s one final look at The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox…

THE GOOD: Haloti Ngata as he so often does terrorized the Steelers and his constant commanding of two-man attention made the Ravens’ blitzes and basic four man pass rushes more effective…Dawan Landry was very solid in run support and stepped up his tackling efforts, leading the team with 10…Ed Reed’s presence in the secondary always gives opposing QB’s pause but perhaps more so than any other game this season, Reed supported the run very well…Josh Wilson was asked often to take on speedy Mike Wallace one-on-one and was up to the task. He put on a clinic while knocking down one deep pass hurled by Roethlisberger…Cory Redding came on late in the season and Saturday was no different while scraping down the line in run support. He also had a half sack and showed great awareness when scooping up what proved to be a fumble and taking it in for an easy 6…Lardarius Webb showed some nice open field running while efficiently following blocks on both punt and kick returns.

THE BAD: The Ravens offensive line has struggled in pass protection much of the season and Saturday was no exception…Both Willis McGahee and Ray Rice struggled in pass protection as well…Joe Flacco seemingly crumbles in the post season whenever the Ravens advance beyond the wild card round. He played a decent first half but in the second half, knowing that he had to at least protect the lead, he gave the Steelers an opportunity to score from deep in Ravens territory after an ill advised pass to Todd Heap was intercepted by Ryan Clark.

THE UGLY: Greg Mattison’s hideous decision to rush only 3 on a critical 3rd and 19 took even Ben Roethlisberger by surprise…Lardarius Webb didn’t help matters much on the play by allowing a receiver to get behind him despite a prevent quarters coverage…Anquan Boldin’s drop of a perfectly thrown ball from Joe Flacco (low and away from the defender) was a fatal mistake. If he catches it, the Ravens could be hosting the Jets in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday…Ray Rice’s fumble to trigger the epic collapse…TJ Houshmandzadeh’s dropped pass that ended the epic collapse…The things you take for granted, like a simple snap exchange between Matt Birk and Flacco, was botched, leading the way to an easy 7 for the Steelers…The officiating was a disaster. It is rare that a game between two physical and bitter archrivals is called so closely when the stakes are so high. The holding call against Marcus Smith in the fourth quarter was extremely ticky-tacky considering the circumstances (4th quarter punt return for a TD nullified) and the defensive holding call on Terrence Cody inside the 5 yard line and away from the play was wretched particularly when considering that Paul Kruger was bear hugged by a Steelers offensive lineman at the point of attack. The call gave the Steelers a new set of downs when instead they should have been pushed back 10 yards. It also led to the game’s final touchdown.

THE MEGAN FOX: Terrell Suggs took a ton of criticism in 2009 and rightly so. To his credit he responded in 2010 and for all intents and purposes he is a Steelers killer. Suggs was an absolute beast racking up 6 tackles, 2 for losses; 3 sacks and 2 QB hurries plus a critical forced fumble that directly led to 7 points for the Ravens. On the season v. Pittsburgh Suggs posted 15 tackles and 5 ½ sacks. His support of the run to contain and hold down the edge was text book. For the game, the Steelers’ series and the season, he and Haloti Ngata were the Ravens’ most dominant players.

Could job security factor into Harbaugh's choices of assistants?

I was surfing through the bios of each of the Ravens primary positional coaches, the 3 coordinators, QB coach and the Sr. Offensive Assistant. And a few observations jumped out at me:

1. The average age of these 12 assistants is 55.3 years of age; Harbaugh is 48; only TE Coach Wade Harman (47) and WR Coach Jim Hostler (44) are younger.

2. Of these coaches I could only find 3 that had NFL head coaching experience and the rest had no head coaching experience on any substantive level.

3. Those w/ head coaching experience are Cameron (50), Al Saunders (64) and Zorn (57).

4. Cameron was 1-15 in his only season with the Dolphins; Zorn was 12-20 in 2 seasons with the Redskins; and Saunders has a HC record of 17-22 during the 86-88 years with San Diego.

5. All told the assistants with HC experience have a combined record of 30-57 (.345) and their avg age is 57.

Now none of this is meant to be a knock on the skills and abilities of these assistants as assistants, but one could conclude that unlike Billick who has a pretty impressive coaching tree, none of these coaches will be head coaching candidates anywhere given their age, poor record, lack of head coaching experience or all of the above.

Could this be why Harbaugh is reluctant to replace Cameron or Mattison with young up and coming coaches?

Might job security be in the back of his mind?

After all, Steve Bisciotti didn't hesitate to pull the plug on Billick despite four years at $5 million per on the balance of his contract.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cameron safe...for now

So we learned today that John Harbaugh intends to keep Cam Cameron around as the offensive coordinator next season. But Harbaugh chooses his words wisely almost always allowing for a way out. After stating that he intends to bring Cameron and the entire coaching staff back, Harbaugh was asked if there was any chance that could change.

“I'm not going to say things can't change.”

Enter Steve Bisciotti.

You may recall that following the disastrous 2007 season Bisciotti announced that Brian Billick would return to coach the team in 2008. But after a meeting with key veterans, Bisciotti concluded that the damage attributed to Billick in the Ravens’ locker room was too insurmountable and that he had lost the team.

So the owner did what owner’s can do – change his mind.

And so he fired Billick, despite having to pay him for four more years at $5 million per.

As Harbaugh and his representatives hammer out a contract extension for the head coach with team president Dick Cass, don’t be surprised if Bisciotti holds court again with key veterans on offense to determine the fate of Cam Cameron.

And when he has that little sit down I hope that Bisciotti is reminded that the Ravens are 3-11 against the AFC’s elite (Colts, Patriots, Steelers) since Cameron’s arrival with 2 of those wins courtesy of the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers. Does anyone expect this to change without changes?

Bisciotti wants a franchise quarterback. What NFL owner doesn’t? He also wants to keep the window of opportunity for the Ravens perpetually open. He wants to be a regular participant in the NFL’s post season dance. But as the defense gets even longer in the tooth and Ray Lewis eventually succumbs to Father Time, can Flacco with Cam Cameron pick up the slack?

We’ve all heard the stats about Joe Flacco’s post season record and that he along with three others share an all-time NFL record for road wins in the playoffs. But let’s be real here. Flacco has Trent Dilfer-ed through the playoffs. He’s ridden the backs of the defense. Sure he may be 4-3 in the post season but the truth be told he’s really only been a contributor in one of those wins (Kansas City) and a huge deterrent to winning in the three losses. Tally up all 7 Flacco playoff games and you get these daunting numbers: 98 of 184 attempts; 1,050 yards; 4 TD’s; 7 INT’s; Passer Rating of 61.63; two lost fumbles. Against the Steelers his post season passer rating is 38.6.

That’s just downright painful to read, isn’t it?

Back to Bisciotti…

If he concludes after his sit down with the vets that a change is needed, Bisciotti will play the role of the fall guy and he’ll pull rank again. Harbaugh and the Ravens can then spin it that Cam wanted a change and a chance to get back to the college coaching ranks. They’ll tell us that Cam is a great teacher and teaching is best suited for the world of college athletics.

And so on and so forth…

Or is this just wishful thinking?

Acid Indigestion Weekend in the NFL

Just when I thought I was over the loss to the Steelers, the New York Jets go and upset the New England Patriots. And now here come those feelings of frustration all over again!

No I’m not a closet Patriots fan nor do I have a man crush on Tom Brady. But a Patriots win would have helped in a number of ways.

First, I don’t like the Jets. In fact I find the possibility of them winning it all far more bothersome than the Patriots winning their fourth world championship. You think Rex Ryan is a gloating super-sized windbag now, just imagine what he’d be like hoisting The Lombardi Trophy at the podium in Dallas. My feet hurt just thinking about that.

Secondly, the Jets win means that the Steelers will once again host the AFC Championship Game, a game in which they are 3 point favorites. The thought of another Steelers Super Bowl win and this theme I keep hearing (Stairway to 7) has me reaching for the Tums.

And lastly, if the Ravens hadn’t experienced such a meltdown of epic proportions in the second half of their Divisional Playoff game in Pittsburgh, Baltimore would be hosting the AFC Championship.

This is heartbreak warfare!

Go Packers!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Steelers' Week sends spirits soaring

The Steelers’ James Harrison was once a Raven – for 8 days, but eventually he was a McDaniel College training camp casualty.

Clearly things have worked out for him in Pittsburgh and that has proven to be a double edged sword for the Ravens. Not only do they not have the benefit of Harrison’s services, the Ravens also must deal with him providing Pro Bowl caliber play for their arch rival.

The last time the two teams met, Harrison was involved in a very curious PAT attempt. Chris Chester fired out on the play towards Harrison’s legs and was flagged for a 5 yard penalty. Offensive linemen typically don’t fire out on PAT’s leading some Steelers to believe that Chester’s effort had dirty intent. It will be interesting to see if the Steelers try to retaliate.

Hines Ward doesn’t care all that much for the Ravens, particularly Terrell Suggs.

"I can't stand seeing Suggs celebrate. At the end of the day, you respect them, but every time I see a [Ravens] game plan, I get a big smile on my face because I can't wait to get on the field and compete."

Trust me Hines, that big smile after another of your dirty plays is far more infuriating to the Ravens.

Many team observers have questioned the Ravens perceived unwillingness to throw between the numbers. Maybe the team’s success rate in the middle of the field simply has said observers chomping at the bit for more because statistics suggest that Joe Flacco does attack there. Only Peyton Manning has thrown for more TD passes inside the numbers than Flacco (19 v. 18).

The Ravens intercepted three Matt Cassel passes on Sunday and all three came on snaps in which Baltimore had five or more defensive backs on the field. During the regular season, the Ravens were tied for first in the AFC with 17 interceptions using a nickel defense.

Some here in Baltimore have questioned the Ravens’ passing on Rex Ryan as their choice for head coach. One of the reasons they said no to Ryan was their concern about his maturity. The Ravens’ brass concluded that he did not bring the kind of leadership to the sideline that they envisioned for the team. It’s safe to say, Steve Bisciotti and his search team were right.

Ryan is not a stable head coach and while the Jets won’t admit it yet, he’s an embarrassment to their organization. The moment his team begins losing, is the moment that the Jets front office will begin plotting their Rex Ryan exit strategy.

Oh and for those who would welcome him back to Charm City as the defensive coordinator, that won’t happen either. He’s done in B’more.

Team spirit is peaking throughout the Land of Pleasant Living and Purple Passion is running rampant. Bring the spirit of Ravenstown to your home or party this Saturday and support a great cause at the same time.

You can download “Ravenstown” by Jon Petrelli on itunes for just $1.29 and contribute to OJ Brigance’s “Brigance Brigade.” Ravenstown…Baltimore’s Hometown!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox: Wildcard Game, Ravens @ Chiefs

This game had the early makings of another typical gut wrenching Ravens football game filled with offensively directed frustration and unnecessarily passive defense. I have to admit that thoughts of testing the league’s new overtime rules uncomfortably danced through my mind.

But then suddenly something snapped and it was a Kansas City Chief!

At the 6:40 mark of the second quarter with the Chiefs holding a 7-3 lead they faced a third and 8 from their own 48. In the face of pressure Matt Cassel hit RB Dexter McCluster out in the left flat who was almost simultaneously flattened by Ed Reed forcing a Kansas City punt.

Inspiring his team by playing with a heavy heart given the sobering news of his missing brother, Reed’s “jacked up” highlight hit on McCluster completely changed the momentum of the game, particularly when the Ravens were on defense, a defense that played lights out from that point forward. In fact the Ravens defense allowed only 24 net yards from that play to the game’s final gun.

The Wild Card Playoff win was a signal to the rest of the league and a confirmation to their fans of what the Baltimore Ravens are capable of when they are firing on all cylinders.

And yesterday, that’s exactly what happened…

THE GOOD: Leading 10-7 at 9:48 of the third quarter the Ravens were forced to defend a fourth and 1 attempt at their own 33 yard line. Kelly Gregg knifed his way into the Chiefs backfield to make the penetrating initial hit on Jamaal Charles, followed by a sea of white jerseys hell bent on cleaning up after Gregg and finishing the turnover on downs…Terrence Cody might not have shown up much on the stat sheet but his massive presence was felt nonetheless enabling the Ravens to stuff the interior run on a day when Haloti Ngata wasn’t at his best… Terrell Suggs had two sacks and four QB hurries but perhaps even more impressive was his ability to hold down the edge on Chiefs rushing attempts. He had two tackles for losses…Ray Lewis recovered from a bad tackling angle on Jamaal Charles’ TD run and rallied the team’s run defense to make needed adjustments to contain the dangerous Charles. He also added a sack and a key forced fumble to set up a Billy Cundiff field goal staking the Ravens to a two score lead at 16-7…The Ravens secondary shut out the dangerous Dwayne Bowe. He was blanketed so well that Bowe was not even targeted once the entire afternoon. They also combined for three interceptions of Matt Cassel who had been picked off only 7 times all season…

Anquan Boldin woke up from a 3 week nap to hall in 5 passes including a clutch TD catch on a skinny post in the back of the end zone… Todd Heap was a mismatch all afternoon for the Chiefs. He was too big for heralded Chiefs rookie safety Eric Berry and he was too quick and/or shifty for Chief linebackers. He had 10 catches and eclipsed the century mark with 108 receiving yards…Cam Cameron answered his critics including yours truly and executed a very solid game plan, save some of his red zone and short yardage play calling...Greg Mattison’s unit made the necessary halftime adjustments, choking off the run after the break and forcing the Chiefs to beat them by air and when they did, Mattison unleashed a few blitz packages that caught Cassel by surprise…When I first noticed Mike “Malice in his Heart” Carey as the game’s referee, visions of Detroit ’05 haunted me briefly. However outside of a very questionable non-call on an obvious helmet to helmet hit on Joe Flacco and some extremely exaggerated shenanigans with the back of Todd Heap’s helmet that Carey’s crew decided not to flag, this team of officials did a very nice job of controlling the game particularly when the frustrated Chiefs defense started to get a bit chippy during the game’s waning moments.

THE BAD: The Ravens offensive line struggled to provide any kind of push early in the game when running the ball and they too often had no answer for Pro Bowl DE/OLB Tamba Hali…Donte Stallworth enters the game seemingly for one of two reasons: to be a decoy on deep routes or to run a reverse, a play that apparently has seen its better days given Stallworth’s obvious tendencies.

THE UGLY: So let me get this straight – when a quarterback pulls down the ball in order not to throw it but in the process of avoiding the throw the ball is knocked out of his hands and it is then ruled a failed throw (i.e. incomplete pass)? This qualifies for things that make you go Hmmmm. Or is that WTF? The "tuck rule" is an ugly rule that needs to be buried once and for all. But then that might taint Mr. Gisele Bundchen’s legacy, wouldn’t it? …Haruki Nakamura handing the ball back to the Chiefs after intercepting could have been very costly. Fortunately Kelly Gregg bailed him out. It’s ok to emulate Ed Reed’s game on so many levels but not his insatiable desire to lateral the ball after turnovers.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: Joe Flacco delivered his best career performance, perhaps not statistically but when considering the game’s importance and the increasing concerns over his inability to deliver in the clutch and/or the post season, this game was a defining moment for the Ravens’ QB. Flacco was 25 of 34 for 265 yards and 2 scores without an interception (115.4 passer rating) while under pressure throughout the day. He also used his legs effectively to help extend drives (26 yards on 7 attempts). Some of those tight spirals were textbook throws. On the downside, Flacco needs to clean up his ball security particularly with the opportunistic Steelers up next on the schedule.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Top 10 Ravens of All Time

I’m a fan of the NFL Network and many of their magazine type story lines and best of compilations. Some of the better ones are Top 10 players of a given team. The teams you see most often are the storied franchises such as the Cowboys, Packers and dare I say the Stillers.

So instead of waiting for one for the Ravens (did I miss it?), I’ve decided to compile my own Top 10 list. Now I must admit, I knocked off a quick list without giving it too much thought. Truth be told my wife was calling me and before I answered the call and proofing and/or reconsidering it, I posted it on our message board.

Thankfully, some of the board members brought me to my senses and reminded me of a glaring omission – Terrell Suggs.

Got I love our message board gang!

Anyway, here’s my Top 10 and I invite your comments, thoughts, willingness to take it to a Top 20 or if you want, how about a bottom 10.

Have fun…GO RAVENS!

1. Ray Lewis
2. Jonathan Ogden
3. Ed Reed
4. Peter Boulware
5. Michael McCrary
6. Jamal Lewis
7. Chris McAlister
8. Terrell Suggs
9. Todd Heap
10. Matt Stover

Note: Tough to leave Haloti Ngata off – but that’s just temporary.

Monday, January 03, 2011

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

The Ravens finished the regular season yesterday with a record of 12-4, one that even many of the more optimistic prognosticators would have been pleased with. It’s how they got there that has most Ravens fans brimming with concern.

Team insiders will tell you that this was a tough game for the Ravens. They faced a divisional rival that has enjoyed much success against the Ravens while playing with nothing to lose and for a coach hanging by a thread; the Ravens had little to gain with a win seeing that the Steelers were thumping the Browns thus securing the Ravens’ fifth seed in the playoffs; and they’ll point to other teams in similar situations such as the Saints and the Chiefs (both losers) who faced divisional foes in games that had little bearing on their seedings.

But the cold hard fact of the matter is that the Ravens still lack an identity. They are far too passive on defense and their blitzing schemes are hardly inventive and too often they rush only three. Let’s call that “Matty’s Mississippi 7 Defense!”

Offensively they are simply offensive. Despite all of the draft picks spent to improve the offense, coaches and consultants brought in to serve as an offensive think tank and the roster augmentation with capable veteran receivers, the Ravens still aren’t much different than they were during the Billick years. Let’s call this offense Cameron’s Stink Tank.

Other teams with little to gain from a win certainly showed their mettle yesterday while thrashing divisional opponents. The Patriots waxed the Dolphins (38-7) and the Jets pasted the Bills (38-7) then rubbed their feet. The Steelers certainly had something to play for against a weak Browns team and they left little doubt about their superiority, crushing (5-11) Cleveland 41-9.

Meanwhile the Ravens needed an overthrown pass from Carson Palmer in the waning seconds yesterday to post a 13-7 win against the (4-12) Bengals.

Let’s hope that this was just that flat, blaissez-faire football and they wake up from this long winter’s nap.

But who among you doesn’t have doubts – really?

THE GOOD: Jarret Johnson has strung together several solid performances as of late and yesterday was no different. His run support off the edge coupled with that of Terrell Suggs and the plus contributions from Jameel McClain represents positive mojo heading into the postseason. They’ll need a big game from the front 7 in Kansas City. Speaking of the front 7, Terrence Cody, Kelly Gregg and Brandon McKinney helped stonewall the Bengals running game between the tackles…Chris Carr was a step slow in coverage but he did show gamesmanship twice while stripping the ball from Bengals’ yappy WR Jerome Simpson…Dawan Landry was very solid in run support.

THE BAD: Joe Flacco just doesn’t get it when it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s indecisive and holds on to the ball far too long. A perfect example of both took place on an intercepted pass intended for a wide open Todd Heap. A completion would have been negated by a holding call against Marshal Yanda anyway but the point here is that playoff winning quarterbacks make those kinds of throws. Flacco is not a playoff winning QB yet and if anyone thinks that he can carry a team in the postseason, you are in for a big letdown…Lardarius Webb shows great instincts supporting the run but in pass coverage yesterday, he was nothing more than an inviting target for Carson Palmer and none of his targets are as threatening as KC’s Dwayne Bowe…Ravens pass rush: Carson Palmer dropped back 43 times to throw. Carson Palmer got off 43 throws. Zero sacks for the Ravens for two consecutive weeks...The Ravens offensive line struggled to protect Joe Flacco even when the Bengals rushed only four and this contributed heavily to the team’s putrid 199 net yards of offense and 2 of 11 third down conversions against a defense entering yesterday’s game ranked 19th overall and 21st in third down defense…The Ravens coaches have preached about establishing an identity – one that fits the profile of the players. If yesterday’s game is any indication they are failing miserably. All three phases of the game were out of synch and they lacked discipline. Simply put the offense and the entire coaching staff simply showed up, punched the clock and then punched out. If that was the approach, they should have played their second string players when it became clear the Browns had no chance of beating the Steelers. Instead they put their players unnecessarily in harm’s way. By the way John Harbaugh, what happened to all the talk about getting Bulger some snaps?

THE UGLY: The Ravens offense finished the season 16th overall in points (10th among playoff participants); 16th in third down percentage (9th among playoff participants); and 22nd in total yards (10th among playoff participants). They are predictable (save for a nicely designed flea flicker TE screen) and nothing has really changed all that much. In fact, the offense is worse now than it was in 2008 and 2009 without Messrs. Boldin, Houshmandzadeh and Stallworth. Frighteningly, the offense is 22nd in the league to finish the season – the same spot they were in back in 2007 when they finished 5-11.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: This one is shared by the Ravens answer to Batman & Robin – Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Lewis hustled throughout the day, leading the charge with 11 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries while Reed simply enhanced his reputation as the game’s finest ball hawk. With no disrespect to either of these Hall of Famers, Megan Fox really left the building at halftime. This game was about as attractive as a Rosie O’Donnell enema.