Friday, August 26, 2011

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

The third preseason game is widely viewed as the real tune-up for the season opener and it is generally the most entertaining contest on the preseason docket – a docket often brimming with yawners.

Thursday night’s game was about as exciting as a preseason game could be and for the Ravens offense, it showed that they could come off the mat and get back into the fight.

Entering the Battle of the Beltways Cam Cameron’s unit had struggled to find a rhythm (despite what John Harbaugh says) and collectively they looked to shed the monkey on their back. Flacco’s completion percentage was down; he had yet to throw a TD pass and the offensive line was as reliable as wedding vows from Tiger Woods.

The first quarter of the game was not only more of the same for the offense it was arguably worse, marked by a Flacco to DeAngelo Hall pick 6. To their credit the first and second team offenses each rallied and now they can carry some confidence into their home opener against the Steelers and that’s a whole lot better than marinating in the stench of the ineptness we witnessed in last night’s first quarter.

Before I get to The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox, it’s worth mentioning that players play at different intensity levels during the preseason. Upper echelon players aren’t going 100%. There’s too much at risk financially. Other veterans whose starting positions are secure, same thing. Reserves, rookies and players on the bubble are playing with their hair on fire because their futures depend upon it.

Consequently the results are mixed and it’s nearly impossible to project future performance levels during the regular season when all players are dialed in at 100% based upon the varying and conflicting agendas that permeate during the preseason.

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco rebounded from a slow start to finish the evening 17 for 29, 217 yards, 2TD’s and an INT. When Joe looks at the tape he’ll see that he predetermined where he was going with the football on that pick 6. No. 5’s highlights included a terrific back shoulder throw to Ed Dickson between two defenders for a 33 yard gain along the left hash mark. Flacco was also effective under fire finding Ray Rice to keep plays alive. On one such play He hit Rice for a 6 yard gain avoiding a sack and picking up a first down. On the very next play he dropped a 9 route right in the bucket down the right sideline to Lee Evans who beat DeAngelo Hall on a 35 yard scoring strike.

Ray Rice ran with determination and a spark while following some solid run blocking up front. He broke arm tackles when he had to and accelerated quickly when space was there and despite the attention he attracts, he continues to find space as a check down receiver despite being a small target. Both he and Ricky Williams did a nice job in pass protection.

Anthony Allen ran hard and looks like a 7th round steal. He churned out 27 yards on 4carries and continues to impress with his quick accelerator. He had a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter but was unable to corral a touch pass from Tyrod Taylor in the left corner of the end zone. Vonta Leach is a battering ram and his contributions in short yardage cannot be understated. Cam Cameron needs to show more confidence in that…

Ed Dickson has a vertical aspect to his game and the ability to produce yards after the catch that Todd Heap didn’t possess. If he can develop consistency he will be a force. Thursday night was a start…Lee Evans’ play must put a smile on the face of Ozzie Newsome. In two preseason games he’s shown that he can toe-tap a sideline for a first down, get deep and make catches in traffic…Receiving mate Anquan Boldin was adept at finding soft spots in the Redskins zone and on this night was much more sure-handed than he had been last Friday against the Chiefs…Tandon Doss is polished, instinctive and he has very good ball skills. For the moment he’s earned the No. 3 WR position. Whether the Ravens give it to him remains to be seen…David Reed shows flashes but his alligator arm effort on a slant from Taylor is a bit concerning. Reed looked explosive in the return game as did LaQuan Williams on his 38 yard punt return to set up the team’s game winning drive…Brandon Jones will get lost in a numbers game but he’s done very little wrong during training camp. Sometimes the NFL is political. He made a great play to get to the pylon for the winning score last night. Here’s hoping that others were watching and that he can catch on with another team.

Defensively Cary Williams was a half-step behind in man coverage a couple of times but showed good presence of mind to recover and strip Santana Moss in the end zone. He needs to improve in run support but look strong blitzing from his corner position to record a pressure and knockdown of QB Rex Grossman…Lardarius Webb is explosive in short spaces and that makes him a threat when blitzing from his nickel position. He also showcased textbook coverage while finding his man, positioning himself and turning for the ball to intercept a deep pass from John Beck. He gets the Sybil Award too. He can look so dangerous on one play and then look like he’s auditioning for Dancing with the Stars when covering a slot receiver with good change of direction skills. He gets turned around far too often for someone possessing such athleticism…

Cory Redding played well both in run support and rushing the passer. Pushed by the solid play of Art Jones, the veteran is stepping up and picking up where he left off late in 2010…Pernell McPhee continues to make plays and make observers wonder how he was still around in the fifth round.

THE BAD: Jah Reid is a tough player once he’s engage with a defender. But in space against faster opponents he struggles. Ryan Kerrigan made him whiff after a spin move even though he had some chip relief provided by Leach…Not sure where the safeties were last night, maybe at Mother’s in Federal Hill because none were very noticeable or around the ball during passes over the middle…The linebackers’ drop have to be questioned too because the center of the Ravens defense looked like the Grand Canyon at times…Jimmy Smith can play but he still needs to learn as evidenced by the mental breakdown that led to a 24 yard scoring strike from Grossman to Moss on a third and 15.

THE UGLY: Torrey Smith on an end around for a loss of 7. Somewhere along the Redskins sideline Donte Stallworth had to be laughing. Smith also did his best Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran impersonation with two drops on perfectly delivered passes from Flacco…Michael Oher takes the bait every time on overload blitzes. The man he’s lined up on takes a hard angle to the left; Oher follows then before he can recover the DE gets to the QB untouched. The Steelers did it with Troy Polamalu (a play I’ve seen on ESPN about a million times) and the Redskins did it last night, with Brian Orakpo getting the easy sack…When fighting for a job you can’t fumble. Unfortunately for Jalen Parmele he did exactly that…Domonique Foxworth is recovering from his ACL surgery from a year ago. I get it. But on field, he looks just like Samari Rolle did when he was no longer effective.

THE MEGAN FOX: Back during the lockout days when the fellas were practicing over at Towson University, I watched Tyrod Taylor and wondered why the Ravens wasted a sixth round pick on him. I had him cut and heading for Canada. But ever since those days he has steadily progressed and has grown better and better each time he takes the field. His athleticism, escapability, toughness and poise are impressive and now he’s standing in and delivering passes on time while making plays with his feet when the offensive front breaks down. He made an All-Pro touch pass to Anthony Allen that should have won the game but the rookie RB couldn’t hang on. Taylor shrugged that off on the Ravens’ next possession and calmly took his team 35 yards in 32 seconds with no timeouts to win the game on a pass to Brandon Jones.

The Ravens dialed up the 3T Network – Tyrod Taylor Time, and he delivered.

Shoe leather never tasted so good!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Death robbed us of Flanny

In sports you often hear the phrase, “he was robbed” when describing a play that unfolds in a way we didn’t expect.

Today, the fans of Baltimore were robbed when we learned of the passing of Mike Flanagan.

Death is a notorious robber.

I’m sure most if not all of you have been subjected to the criminal behavior of this thief before in some way, shape or form. After the immediate shock and heartache settles a bit, human nature takes over and we seek answers to the how’s and why’s as if the knowledge can somehow make it all better.

Sometimes it makes it worse.

Yet at the end of the day, when the uncomfortably numb feeling and surrealism subside we have no choice but to dust off, begin the healing and be happy that the person we lost had even in a small way touched our lives. We’re better because they came along.

Fans of the Orioles will remember Flanny in many ways. They’ll share their own favorite highlights of the former Cy Young Award Winner.

For me, it took place in 1979 during the first game of the World Series.

The Orioles hosted the Pirates at Memorial Stadium and the conditions were anything but ideal for the Fall Classic as a wet snow fell from the sky intermittently during the damp and unseasonably cool October 10 night.

Unfortunately for me, I along with 3 buddies purchased tickets months before to go see Styx at the Capital Centre that same evening. But before Dennis DeYoung, JY and Tommy Shaw took the stage we learned that the Orioles had jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning. With Flanny, a 23 game winner that season on the bump facing Pittsburgh’s Bruce Kison, we had little reason to worry and we felt quite confident and comfortable.

Our collective peace of mind was sweetened by a healthy dosage of Styx’ “Pieces of Eight” LP along with their new record “Cornerstone” and of course the classics from “Grand Illusion.”

As it turns out, our comfort zone was an illusion.

Throughout the balance of the game the Pirates chipped away at the O’s lead thanks in part to 3 costly errors leading to 2 unearned runs. Protecting a 1 run lead heading into the ninth, Flanagan showed grit and determination, staples of his character, and registered a complete game 5-4 victory on 150+ pitches while scattering 11 hits.

The game outlasted the concert and we were able to catch the tail end of the nail biter on radio.

I’ll never forget that night.

And I’ll never forget this night (now morning) either.

I learned of Flanny’s passing through a series of text messages and Tweets during the early evening. There were inconsistencies in the reports of Flanny’s death so I tuned into the MASN broadcast of the Orioles @ Twins.

Not a word was spoken about Flanny.

Jim Palmer and Jim Hunter called the game. Surely if this story was true they would be talking about the tragic demise of their colleague and friend and if not, maybe the news was kept from them so that they could get through the game unburdened by a massively heavy heart.

Palmer and Hunter joked throughout the game and the more I paid attention for clues provided by the “body language” and tenor of their dialog, the more I was convinced that somehow in this modern age of information flow the pair were successfully kept in the dark.

I was wrong.

To my amazement both Palmer and Hunter had learned of Flanny’s death earlier in the day. Their professionalism during the broadcast combined with the expected and understandable meltdowns during the post game discussion were an absolute labor of love for their fallen mate. They could not have been more flawless while doing their jobs or more beautifully human when remembering Flanny.

Hollywood at its best could not re-create this touching scene.

And to make the broadcast even more poignant, heartfelt and real, host Amber Theoharis along with analyst Rick Dempsey and MASN’s Tom Davis also stepped up with “A” games when conditions were anything but ideal.

Just like Flanny on that snowy October night…

We watched the MASN crew’s collective heart break before us yet their love and commitment to Flanny provided enough inspiration to allow them to plow through when the easiest thing would have been to call it a day.

God bless them.

In the end the how’s and why’s of Mike Flanagan’s demise don’t matter much. What does matter is the way we preserve Flanny’s memory and legacy. Insensitive media outlets be damned, the best thing we can do is to follow the wonderful example of the MASN crew and treat this tragedy with class, dignity and respect.

I think Flanny earned that and his wife and three daughters deserve it.

To do anything else is to rob them!

R.I.P. No. 46

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ozzie Newsome to Domonique Foxworth: "I'd like to see you in my office"

This needs to happen...

Ozzie: "Fox, you know we liked you a couple of years ago and that's why we paid you handsomely to bring you here. I think you know we haven't gotten the returns we expected.

"I appreciate your dedication to rehabbing and I know you are coming around. But others have stepped in front of you on the depth chart and we need to make this right for both you and for us.

"If we cut you, we'll save over $4 million on the cap and that's money we could use for other areas of need. In all likelihood, you will not get half of what your contract currently calls for, if that.

"But we like you Fox. We want to keep you. We appreciate your leadership. But you are going to have to work with us. We need to tear up your contract and replace it with one more in line with your production and expected playing time and one that is more cap friendly.

"We have to do something and we hope that you can work with us towards a mutually beneficial deal. If you can't, you leave us with little choice."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

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

There’s something painful about a preseason game. Things just never seem to flow properly. It’s a time for adjustment, fine tuning, dress rehearsals and sound checks. It’s even that way for the fans. WBAL interviewed some folks in the tailgate lots and some dude was on camera saying, “I think we can go 11-4 or 12-3.”

Hello, the lockout didn’t shorten the season.

If they could only shorten these preseason games!

THE GOOD: Tyrod Taylor is a playmaker and he is growing seemingly on a daily basis. Behind an offensive line that relatively speaking would make Swiss Cheese look like an inpenetrable levy, Taylor somehow managed to make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what. He might not be your prototypical No. 2 QB but he absolutely is a guy you want on your football team. Word to Troy Smith apologists – this guy is already better than the former Raven and Heisman Trophy winner…Ray Rice ran with purpose and it’s easy to see how he and FB Vonta Leach will soon become the Ravens’ answer to Batman & Robin…Jalen Parmele and Anthony Allen also attacked the Chiefs’ defense with some very determined running…Back to Vonta Leach – what a load! Hey Brandon Siler, the license plate of the vehicle that trucked you was MD License Plate 44…Oniel Cousins actually played decently at right guard in support of the running game…Ramon Harewood had a plus effort as well at left tackle v. the Chiefs’ crash test dummies…Props to Jah Reid who was workmanlike and played nearly the entire game…Terrence Cody was a force in limited action as was Haloti Ngata.

David Reed made a nice catch despite tight coverage for a 41 yard pick up. He just seems to have that special ability to make plays…Jameel McClain was solid filling in for Ray Lewis while Dannell Ellerbe showed what he’s capable of when prepared and focused…Pernell McPhee may prove to be the best value pick of the 2011 draft class. The heavy handed LB keeps showing up on tape…Sergio Kindle is another player who seems to have that ability to be impactful, nearly blocking 2 punts…Cary Williams despite giving up the Chiefs only TD in single coverage deep in the red zone continued his solid play. No wonder the Ravens opted not to pay Josh Wilson nearly $5M/season…DT Bryan Hall had a sack and he’s had a productive summer. Keep an eye out for this sleeper…Haruki Nakamura continues to push to play beside Ed Reed. He’s beginning to separate from Tom Zbikowski who has been rather stealth. That said Bernard Pollard does stand in his way.

THE BAD: If Joe Flacco was a pitcher, we’d say he didn’t have command of the strike zone against the Chiefs. He was often high and wide with his throws and he never really seemed to develop a rhythm. As if we need proof that the rhythm skipped a beat or three, he took the field for a highly uneventful series in the third quarter and managed to move the offense 3 yards in 3 plays before getting the hook…Michael Oher is still in a funk. The team should be worried more about left tackle than right tackle…Special teams struggled for the majority of the game and they lost the battle for field position. Sam Koch eventually overcame a sluggish start to rally with a couple of late second half bombs…Terrell Suggs looked like he went through the motions, failing to contain Le’Ron McClain on a screen pass.

THE UGLY: The second team offensive line looked like they would have struggled in pass protection whether they were facing the Kansas City Chiefs or Archbishop Curley High School….Lardarius Webb looked sloppy and clueless as a punt returner. He fumbled away his first return costing the team 3 points and his presence of mind as a returner leaves much to be desired…Jason Phillips played like his shoes were tied together. He is pretty much worthless as a pass defender and fell once while untouched and dropping into his zone on one pass play…Anquan Boldin may need to update his eye prescription. His effort on a nicely thrown deep post by Flacco in the first quarter was weak. It almost looked like he never picked the ball up. Then in the second quarter he whiffed on a well placed ball from Flacco on a third and 15 which looked to be good for a first down…WBAL’s broadcasts are so minor league. Other than a BAL production, the last time I watched a game WITHOUT the yellow first down line was probably back in 1984. Seriously! And Qadry Ismail, he’s just flat out embarrassing. Can’t someone give him a job on QVC promoting vegetable slicers?

THE MEGAN FOX: In his Ravens debut Lee Evans validated the wildly supported opinion that Ozzie Newsome fleeced the Bills when he obtained the speedy receiver for a fourth round pick. Evans had 3 catches (all for first downs) for 68 yards – a very successful outing given the growing pains of practice earlier in the week. Welcome aboard Lee!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ravens Roster: Leadpipe Locks & the Bubble Boys

I have gone through the Ravens’ roster as it sits today and I have circled who in my opinion are 38 lead pipe locks (list below) to make the Ravens’ final 53 man roster. The mix of those players goes like this: (2) QB’s; (5) WR’s; (3) RB’s; (2) TE’s; (5) OL’s; (8) DB’s; (5) LB’s; (5) DL’s; (3) Specialists.

The rationale behind the players that I have NOT included among the 38 may stem from performance, salary cap issues; an abundance of talent at the position or there may be less expensive players outperforming those with bigger paychecks.

Another factor that may weigh into the shaping of the roster is the de-emphasis on special teams thanks to the insanity of the new kickoff launching pad – the 35 yard line.

Last season the Ravens final 53 man roster on opening day consisted of: (2) QB’s; (6) WR’s; (4) RB’s; (3) TE’s; (8) OL’s; (9) DB’s; (9) LB’s; (9) DL’s; and (3) specialists.

So with that in mind players who in my opinion are NOT locks to be on the squad come September 11, 2011 include: WR’s Marcus Smith; James Hardy; LaQuan Williams; Brandon Jones; RB’s Damien Berry; Matt Lawrence; Jalen Parmele; Anthony Allen; Ryan Mahaffey; TE’s Davon Drew; Jonathan Stupar; Kris Wilson; O-Linemen Tim Barnes; Justin Boren; Bryan Mattison; Ramon Harewood; Oniel Cousins.

On defense I’ve omitted: DB’s Domonique Foxworth; Chykie Brown; LB’s Albert McClellan, Brendon Ayanbadejo; Prescott Burgess; Tavares Gooden; Jason Phillips; Dannell Ellerbe; D-Linemen Brandon McKinney; Cory Redding; Lamar Divens. All of the D-Linemen look safe but could be challenged by diamond in the rough Bryan Hall.

Add it up and that’s 28 decent to good players looking to win one of the remaining 15roster spots and that does not include any potential free agent additions to the guard/center, offensive tackle and backup QB positions.

The fight for survival will be fierce and it sets up nicely if you are looking for positional battles to watch tonight. Here are a few of the better ones:

WIDE RECEIVER: Scratch James Hardy off your list for the final 53. He’s practiced sparingly and when he has his drops are more memorable than his impressive size and physique. The best he can hope for is an injury settlement…Marcus Smith’s hands are a soft as a pizza stone. Can special teams play save him? Doubtful…Brandon Jones hasn’t done anything to hurt himself but the vibe is that he’s looked upon as a stepchild. He’ll have a difficult time…LaQuan Williams has done everything he’s been asked to do and the coaches seem to be giving him attention. He could be a surprise No. 6 WR if he can contribute on Jerry Rosburg’s units. More than likely, he’s on the practice squad – assuming he doesn’t impress the pro scouts from other teams too much.

RUNNING BACK: Damien Berry has shown some flashes but as they say, you can’t make the club in the tub. His ankle injury is hurting his chances…Matt Lawrence’s knee issues continue to be problematic…Jalen Parmele’s job is more secure given the injuries and Anthony Allen’s less than impressive performance thus far…Ryan Mahaffey could be a practice squad player.

OFFENSIVE LINE: This unit is under fire more than any other on the team. My count leaves 3 spots open (assuming the team keeps 8 as they did in 2010) and the players battling for those spots include: Ramon Harewood, Oniel Cousins, Bryan Mattison, Tim Barnes, Justin Boren and Ryan Bartholomew. Potential free agent signings only serve to heighten this competition.

SECONDARY: The way I see it, there’s only 1 spot left if the team carries 9 DB’s as they did in ’10. Battling for the spot are Domonique Foxworth, Mana Silva, Chykie Brown, Talmadge Jackson and Josh Victorian. Foxworth has been soft and needs to step up, particularly when you consider his big salary…Silva has played well at safety but is a long shot…UDFA’s Jackson and Victorian have outplayed Brown with the edge going to Victorian thus far.

LINEBACKERS: Last year there were 9! This year so far only 5 are locks. Competing for those 4 spots are Albert McClellan, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Prescott Burgess, Tavares Gooden, Jason Phillips and Dannell Ellerbe.

Lead Pipe Locks for Ravens 2011 Roster

QUARTERBACK: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor (2)
WIDE RECEIVER: Anquan Boldin, Lee Evans, Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, David Reed (5)
RUNNING BACKS: Ray Rice, Ricky Williams, Vonta Leach (3)
TIGHT ENDS: Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson (2)
OFFENSIVE LINE: Marshal Yanda, Michael Oher, Matt Birk, Ben Grubbs and Jah Reid (5)
SECONDARY: Ed Reed, Jimmy Smith, Cary Williams, Bernard Pollard, Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb, Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura (8)
LINEBACKERS: Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain, Terrell Suggs, Sergio Kindle, Jarret Johnson (5)
DEFENSIVE LINE: Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee, Paul Kruger(5)
SPECIALISTS: Billy Cundiff, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox (3)

Monday, August 15, 2011

One Team's Trash is Another's Treasure

Some teams get excited about new players that join their teams after leaving other teams. The Chiefs and their fans are happy with the additions of Kelly Gregg and Le’Ron McClain. And now they’ve added Jared Gaither.

Judging from the performances of their offensive tackles during the Thursday night preseason game in Philadelphia, the Ravens could use some reinforcements at offensive tackle. It would seem that they’ve given up on Oniel Cousins as a tackle (and rightly so) and they are now giving him a shot at guard. That leaves Michael Oher, Jah Reid and Ramon Harewood to man the offensive edges. It is unlikely that the team will start the season with those three only.

And that makes the Ravens decision to abandon Jared Gaither even more interesting. Terms of his deal with the Chiefs have not been disclosed but it is believed to be a one year deal and generally speaking those don’t often push past the $3M mark.
If they could trust Gaither even a little bit, wouldn’t that deal be worth the risk given the team’s depth issues at the position?

Apparently the uninspired, late- for-meetings and weight lifting sessions, somewhat injury prone tackle persuaded the Ravens to answer, “No!”

Ravens fans deserve the truth!

If you were to take most media reports as gospel as they relate to the Ravens free agency efforts this summer, several sources would have you believe that the team:

• Had major interested in trading for Osi Umenyiora and that some within the organization openly campaigned for the Giants defensive end
• Courted Malcom Floyd who eventually took less money to stay in San Diego
• Was left standing at the altar by Derrick Mason to play for Sexy Rexy & the Jets
• Signed a player in Lee Evans who “can be difficult to deal with at times”

But you all know better than that which in part is why you are reading this. Because you want the truth!

So here it is…

On Umenyiora: Since last season a Ravens’ source has shared with me after inquiring about the Big Blue sack master (given the team’s then inability to get to the quarterback), that the front office doesn’t think that Osi is a fit for what the team does schematically on defense. Umenyiora is a 4-3 defensive end and a less than enthusiastic participant in run support. Couple that with his contract demands, the cost to get him (probably a second round pick) and the emergence of some young players who can get after the quarterback (Paul Kruger, Art Jones, Sergio Kindle & Pernell McPhee) and it’s easy to see why those ill-advised hopes promulgated by the media for Umenyiora went sayonara.

On Malcom Floyd: The Floyd noise was nothing more than his agent’s efforts to pump up the volume for his client. The Ravens had a need, his client fit the need and he once played in Cam Cameron’s system. Behind the scenes Floyd’s agent baited The Ravens into the Floyd Sweepstakes but the Ravens only gave them a weak, low ball offer.

On Derrick Mason: If the Ravens had wanted to keep Mason, they would never have cut him. They would have re-negotiated with him from the start. Truth is, the Ravens were ready to move on after last season – and they did. Unless of course you believe some of the misinformed members of the media who enjoy playing their version of connect the dots and mistake it for the truth.

On Lee Evans: The Ravens closely studied the rosters of all NFL teams during the offseason and throughout the lockout to seek players who may be expendable and could help the Ravens. Ozzie Newsome and his staff spotted one in Lee Evans and they targeted him all the way back in March. Newsome’s patience paid off because the player they landed is a big schematic upgrade over Mason and a vastly superior player than Floyd.

And as for Evans being “difficult to deal with at times”, I’ve heard nothing but extremely positive comments about the former Bill from teammates and Buffalo media members who cover the team.

But I suppose good guys don’t sell newspapers or generate web traffic so they just make stuff up.

Hey it works for the tabloids, right?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ravens @ Eagles (Preseason): The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox

The Ravens fell to the Philadelphia Eagles in the City of Brotherly Love by the score of 13-6 in a preseason game that put to sleep even the patrons in the Red Bull section at The Linc.

We all expected sloppy offensive play given the abbreviated training camp and the lost OTA’s but this was even worse than expected. Eagles fans should be demanding a refund.

THE GOOD: Dennis Pitta made a great catch on the very first offensive play and added 3 more catches on his way to a four catch, 47 yard performance. Jalen Parmele ran hard and posted 35 yards on 7 carries. One of the pleasant offensive surprises during camp so has been the performance of UDFA WR LaQuan Williams who looked sudden while chipping in with 3 catches for 46 yards. Tandon Doss continues to impress and seems fearless in traffic and RB Damien Berry has a burst and an elusiveness that needs to be watched.

On the defensive side Paul Kruger, Sergio Kindle and Arthur Jones all look like they can add something special to the Ravens defense. Each is relentless and showed an ability to disrupt plays in the backfield. Newcomer Bernard Pollard looks like a playmaker and could eventually be the starter if Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura continue to contribute rather pedestrian efforts.

THE BAD: Chris Carr looked lost at corner while Ed Reed just punched the clock. I’m not sure what Tavares Gooden is doing on his supposed road to improvement but whatever it is, he needs a new GPS. Lardarius Webb is still looking for his jock at the 5 yard line trying to stay with the great Chad Hall. Cary Williams received many accolades for his performances thus far during camp but tonight he played soft in coverage on the edges, yielding far too much real estate to less than established receivers. The tackling on whole was awful as was the third down efficiency on both sides of the ball. By the way, was there a single receiver wide open tonight besides Ray Rice? How many Eagles were wide open?

Tyrod Taylor showed the world why the Ravens need a backup quarterback. I hope Ozzie Newsome sent, roses, candies and a full body massage the way of Mrs. Marc Bulger. I’m not a Troy Smith fan but if I had a choice between Taylor and Smith, it’s Smith every day of the week and twice on Sundays. But I’m still hoping for the Mrs. Bulger suck up. Taylor while wearing No. 2 made me think back to the days of Anthony Wright. And then I nearly shed a tear, wishing that Wright too might consider a comeback. Cam Cameron has been singing Taylor’s praises and it has me wondering when Cameron last visited the optometrist.

The coaching staff didn’t exactly bring their “A” game. They need work too! Substitutions were sloppy and they failed to challenge an interception by Eagles’ DB Jarrad Page who clearly had only 1 foot in bounds.

THE UGLY: The offensive line is a sieve. Oniel Cousins should just be cut tomorrow or just dress him up as a matador. He’s pathetic! But of greater concern was the play of Michael Oher. Maybe offensive line coach Andy Moeller needs to pick up the phone and call Sandra Bullock and snap No. 74 out of it.

The rule change to move the kickoff line to the 35 is ridiculous. The NFL has effectively taken away one of the more exciting plays in football. What’s next, flags for the quarterbacks?

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: Megan was given the night off. There was not a single standout performance for the guys in the purple jerseys tonight.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Ravens' fans suffer growing pains during team's youth movement

Baltimore is an interesting town and its citizens collectively suffer from an inferiority complex. That’s not meant as a knock. That’s just the way it is.

I should know…I’m one of you.

Back in a day, Baltimore was viewed as a gas stop between DC and Philadelphia. Today thanks in large part to popular TV drama series like “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Street” it is seen by many as a cesspool of drugs, STD’s and violence.

Those of us who were born and raised here in The Land of Pleasant Living know otherwise. We see it as a metropolitan area of ethnic neighborhoods, rich with character; a mecca for exquisite culinary arts; a charm city by the Chesapeake featuring generation after generation that never leaves home.

Yet when we hear about our crime blotter it dents our civic pride.

Baltimore was often overlooked. Were we a small, unattractive city or were we just a big town lacking a true identity?

Then one day along came Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts to give the city a red star on the map and register an identity in the consciousness of our country.

The Colts flourished and soon thereafter so did the Orioles. We became a town of sports champions and as America noticed we embraced it to soothe our insecurities.

Predictably we attached ourselves to our sports heroes. Besides Unitas there were other Colts and then Orioles like Frank and Brooks Robinson. They were more than stars of their respective sports – they were and are Baltimore icons.

Now, fast forward to the modern day, and the state of sports here in Baltimore…

The Orioles are a train wreck and there’s no relief in sight. Nearly polar opposites of Peter Angelos’ money sucking machine, the Ravens are a finely tuned organization that continues to get better. And as we have in the past we gravitate towards those players with whom we can identify.

And THEY become our contemporary luminaries.

As a result of the Orioles struggles combined with a difficult economy and so many political uncertainties the Ravens have become a sanctuary – an escape from the insanity. They are an oasis in which to bathe in good news within the barren desert of bad news that envelopes us.

But along with that lofty perch the Ravens occupy here in Baltimore there comes pressure.

If the Ravens make decisions and act upon them in a way that confuses the fans, there is a backlash. And we’ve seen that over the past two weeks – two weeks during which we've witnessed the exodus of popular players like Willis McGahee, Kelly Gregg, Todd Heap and Derrick Mason. Those moves were for many the equivalent of dumping waste in our oasis.

McGahee was a touchdown machine with a boyish charm.

Gregg – a lunch pail blue collar overachiever and an underdog just like the town that embraced him.

Heap – a player who has been with the franchise for two-thirds of its existence.

And Mason, a player who stepped up as a leader on offense when the team desperately needed one.

Letting them go isn’t easy for this town. And that’s understandable.

But you should take comfort in the fact that those guys in the Ravens ivory tower have forgotten more about football and about running an NFL team than any of us will ever know. They have the short and long-term best interests of the team in the forefront of their minds.

And now they have determined that it’s time for some of the young guys to step up.

The league’s best teams do this all the time. We’ve seen the Colts let go of Marvin Harrison and the Steelers parting ways with Alan Faneca and Plaxico Burress. And let’s not forget about how Bill Belichick quickly says goodbye to the Teddy Bruschis and Mike Vrabels of the world.

Besides if the Ravens could have afforded to keep all of those players, would they have made much of a difference? Would all (save Gregg) have made the Ravens offense any better?

It’s often said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

Maybe it’s time to do things a little differently.

It’s ok to miss them – to be nostalgic and reminisce. Those players are ingrained in our civic souls. But to sustain excellence you have to be willing to change and adapt even if it hurts a little.

And that’s not easy, particularly for us Baltimoreans who are as loyal as rescued mutts.

That’s just the way it is.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Despite Reported Free Agent Misses Ravens STILL a Player's Choice

To those who believe that the Ravens suddenly have some of the Orioles’ stink on them and teams no longer want to play here STOP! The Ravens are generally viewed as one of the best teams to play for by the players. There's no stink on the team. No Syd Thrift Confederate Money.

Here's the inside skinny...

The Ravens have about $2M left under the cap. Malcom Floyd wasn't coming here unless they extended Haloti, ASSUMING THE RAVENS WERE GENUINELY INTERESTED.

Secondly, contrary to what has been reported, Mason was NOT given an offer by the Ravens. When I asked if they (the Ravens) were surprised that Mason accepted the low offer by the Jets I was told, "No, a low offer is better than no offer."

Many writers have contacts with agents and they get their info from them. These agents can and will and do play the writers to gain leverage for their clients. As I was reminded the agents ALWAYS have an angle to benefit themselves.

Same thing with Jerricho Cotchery – Ravens have no interest, that’s just more agent spin.

The Ravens are committed to getting younger. Expect some previously relative unknowns to emerge in 2011.

Lastly, don't believe everything you read!

Except this of course!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Smash Mouth Returning to M&T?

I’m all about judging a General Manager’s offseason in its totality and a GM in general by the number of wins and losses. Clearly that’s the ultimate measuring stick.

The “game” is anything but over and the outcome without question lies in the balance. But that said, there have been some first half errors made here by the team’s front office that has them down on the scoreboard and forced to play catch up.

The smart guys in the Ravens ivory tower came out flat at best when the free agency bell rang. Because of limited cap space they released three starters and a quality reserve player. Why wasn’t the cap managed more efficiently? Is it time to upgrade at the position of capologist?

That $2.5 million in cap space that the team could have gleaned from a March release of Willis McGahee (click here for details) would have given the team at least some free agent flexibility.

The inability to extend Haloti Ngata has the front office handcuffed – I get that. But why are other teams like the Steelers and Jaguars and God forbid, the Raiders able to effectively extend franchised or highly paid players in order to free up needed cap space to augment their rosters or get in under the cap?

The Ravens need a backup running back and a center – any center with experience at this point might do just fine!

Cam Cameron needs a wide receiver. Do the Ravens even have a No. 2 receiver at the moment? Their inability to bring in Malcom Floyd now has them collectively looking at Derrick Mason like he’s the old aging girlfriend they tried to abandon at the bar when they flirted with the younger, taller one. Now new girl has left for some SoCal surfer dude.

What if after this introspective weekend of meditation as Mason ponders his future in the NFL he says, “No thanks guys, I’m staying here in Nashville” or “It was fun Ozzie but I’m going to the Big Apple”.

What then?

Are we going to turn to highly inexperienced players like Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss and David Reed to be difference makers when they haven’t had the luxury of OTA’s?

Randy Moss…Randy Moss…paging Mr. Randy Moss.

Even if Mason does come back, will the offense be any better? Will they even be as good?

Sure they’ve added a solid player in Vonta Leach but can Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta pick up the slack for Todd Heap? Even if they do catch as many balls, can they be the blocker that Heap was?

Can Anthony Allen or Damien Berry spell Ray Rice the way Willis McGahee did?

And let’s not forget that the Ravens need a backup quarterback. Spare me all the Tyrod Taylor accolades please. If the Ravens need to turn to Taylor because Flacco can’t go on a given week (or more) it’s not going to be pretty. And the frustrating thing about this situation, is that the club knew back in March that Bulger was going to retire.

Yet we’re all here watching Taylor and the great Hunter Cantwell as Nos. 2 and 3 on the QB depth chart.


Forget about those lofty passing expectations for No. 5. Instead get ready for three yards and a pile of rubber pellets football at M&T Bank Stadium this year.

On a brighter note, I do think the defense will improve. Pagano seems to have restored some of that Ravens swagger and several of the players look like they are ready to step up their games. And like his predecessor Harbaugh will be riding the Ravens defense, managing time of possession and hoping Sam Koch can help give the Ravens short fields.

At this point in the new season after falling behind during free agency, what other choices does Harbaugh have?

Bring back Jared Gaither!

In Week 2...

It’s possible that the Ravens could try and lure veteran backups in after the first week of the season. That way, if for any reason the player doesn’t work out, they could cut ties with the player(s) and not owe them a dime.

Perhaps there’s a veteran quarterback who is familiar with the Don Coryell system that Cam Cameron runs who is among a team’s final cuts. The Ravens could bring that QB in during Week 2. The same could be said of a running back or even an offensive tackle.

Take Jared Gaither for instance.

There have been some unsubstantiated rumors swirling about regarding Gaither and the NFL’s substance program. I’m not confirming or denying them, but if I’m hearing these rumors you know league executives are too.

Match these rumors up with a work ethic that has been heavily criticized along with a season missed due to a back injury and that could explain why such a promising left tackle is seeing little interest in the free agent market.

If Gaither is still out there after the Ravens play the Steelers during Week 1, I would be on the phone to his agent Drew Rosenhaus extending his client the opportunity to put all rumors and uncertainties to rest and turn his career around.

And if he fails to do so, just cut him and the opportunity cost is just a few wasted game checks.

But the upside could be substantial.

Are Ngata's agents preventing a Malcom Floyd signing?

Haloti Ngata’s deal is said to be close to being completed and an educated guess is that it will be roughly 6 years, $72 million with about $40 million guaranteed (with maybe $18/18 M signing/option bonuses).

And while one source has shared that the deal is pretty much done, could it be that Ngata’s agent is holding the deal up knowing that his client’s signing could allow the Ravens to make other moves?

Think about it this way. If you are Priority Sports Management (Ngata’s agency) and you see that the Ravens have to free up space to sign WR Malcom Floyd or QB JP Losman or RB Clinton Portis or C/G Rich Seubert and your client’s signing is the linchpin that frees up all of these player signings (hypothetically), might you not want the Ravens to sweeten the offer just a bit?

The Ravens cap for the moment is pretty close to the brim. Estimates point to about $3-4 M in cap space – just enough to fit the reported offer to Floyd. But if the Ravens make that deal before they extend Ngata, they will have no emergency fund. No money to sign a much needed swing interior offensive lineman to pick up the slack for Casey Rabach and his failed physical.

And that leaves them fiscally vulnerable.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Bulger's retirement will force Ravens to look for vet backup QB has learned from a team source that QB Marc Bulger has decided to retire and that leaves the Ravens with few options in the free agent market. It is highly unlikely that they would go into the 2011 season with Tyrod Taylor second on the depth chart at quarterback.

When questioned whether the threat of retirement was a negotiating ploy and could the two-time Pro Bowler change his mind, the texted answer was a blunt, “No!” The source informed us that Bulger made his decision back in March.

Quarterbacks that the team could consider include: Chris Sims, Trent Edwards, Jake Delhomme, J.P. Losman, Brodie Croyle, Rex Grossman, Jim Sorgi, Troy Smith and Shaun Hill.