Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ravens should keep Ray Lewis on the bench

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

Harbaugh: “Oh yeah, sorry man!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to Ray Lewis…

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

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

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

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

It’s serene and pure in its beautiful simplicity.

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

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

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

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

Just sayin’…

Now, let’s get it on!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the clip below.

Feel it.

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

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Is Joe Flacco a "Franchise Quarterback"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Time for Harbaugh to man up!

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

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

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

What does that accomplish?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 13, 2011

ESPN Sells Out Again!

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

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

That’s our M.O.

It’s what we are supposed to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Introducing Profootball24x7.com: "Do what you love, love what you do"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon thereafter Ravens24x7.com was born.

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

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

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

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

But not anymore!

With all the pride and passion in my being, along with my two outstanding partners we present Profootball24x7.com – a collection of 32 NFL fan sites all designed in essentially the same way.

Our job now is to go out and find fans, both bloggers and even 24x7 operators in each of the league’s cities to bring their own local flavor to their town’s 24x7 the way we hope we’ve done with Ravens24x7.com.

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

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

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

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

Perhaps you or someone you know can too.

If any of this interests you drop a note to Tony at:

Profootball24x7.com, “Where football isn’t just a game!”

Thank You Smokin' Joe!

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

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

“Bullseye!”, exclaimed Jim Karvellas.

And then there was professional boxing.

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

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

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

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

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

My guy was Smokin’ Joe Frazier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You will be missed.

Monday, November 07, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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