Monday, December 26, 2011

Are the Ravens for real?

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

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

And that won’t be easy!

Consider the following in recent meets with the Bengals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His work ethic is unparalleled.

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

Ray Lewis is the Ravens’ rock star.

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

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

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

Has Ray reached the bottom of his well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer: Ray should remove Ray!

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Lewis & Levens knew that to play they might pay

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

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

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

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

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

Has Muhammad Ali sued the WBA or WBC?

Eric Lindross hasn’t sued the NHL.

They knew the risks.

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

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

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

They deserve nothing more than their pensions and benefits.



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

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey David Zurawik – YOU ARE DEAD WRONG!

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

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

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why call that stadium Snapdragon when POS is more appropriate

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

Snapdragon is a dump!

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

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

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

Here are a few other Snapdragon observations…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers!

Ravens made me don a bag!

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

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

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

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

But they sure did seem to be everywhere.

And so were Ravens fans.

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

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

And it was but for all the wrong reasons.

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

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

What a buzz kill!

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

“Thanks for visiting and leaving your money behind.”

“Ray Lewis is an old man.”

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

“Your quarterback sucks!”

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

I wonder how often that happens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My wife already thinks I’m half way there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

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

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

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

So what exactly is turf toe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Will You be California Dreaming?

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

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

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

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

So many things to do and so little time…

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

Let us know your plans.

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

Like Tom Petty once sang – I NEED TO KNOW!

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

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

Just tell everyone that owner Leigh Gibson invited you!

How can you not root for Tim Tebow?

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

And I wonder why.

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

So what’s wrong with that?

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

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

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

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

Anyone who hates THAT has issues.

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

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

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

Monday, December 12, 2011


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

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

The 2011 Colts stink!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Summer Tradition Fades Away

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

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

Tradition doesn’t graduate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s hard to watch them graduate.

But maybe new programs lead to new traditions.

And maybe the people will come with newfound smiles.

Time will tell.