Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ravens not impressed with Steelers



The Ravens were not very impressed with the play of the Steelers on opening day. That’s not to say that they will take the regular AFC North Champion lightly but some insiders were surprised by how easily the Ravens pushed around both of the Steelers lines. Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are all players who appear to be losing the battle with Father Time and that has affected the productivity of the dangerous outside tandem of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

On offense the men tasked with protected Ben Roethlisberger are in tatters and it calls into question their collective ability to keep their signal caller healthy and their ability to create space for RB Rashard Mendenhall. And from what I’m hearing, there are some who genuinely believe that the Steelers recovery from these decaying trends could take a couple of seasons.

Ravens Defenders on the Move: Webb, Kindle, Kruger



The play of Lardarius Webb and the expected return of Jimmy Smith following the team’s bye in Week 5 might help motivate such a roster move. Webb has been one of the team’s surest tacklers and he’s supported the run better than any member of the secondary – by far. His technique continues to improve as well. Webb makes plays and if Cary Williams becomes a good player and Jimmy Smith is what the Ravens believe him to be, don’t be shocked to see Webb line up at safety at some point in time in certain sub packages.

A lot has been made of Sergio Kindle’s inability to be among the active players so far this season. Critics will say that he’s just not good enough while supporters will argue that he’s improving but in order to be active he has to contribute on “teams” and that has to happen on the practice field. Albert McClellan seems to be the player standing in Kindle’s way and the solid play from Paul Kruger does little for the former Longhorn’s chances as a situational pass rusher. Maybe the inactivity isn’t necessarily a knock on Kindle but a credit to the guys in front of him.

Back to Kruger for a moment, don’t be surprised if he chips away at Jarret Johnson’s playing time particularly if opponents take to the air more frequently. Kruger is a better pass rusher than JJ and has shown an ability to drop into zones in coverage. If Kruger’s development continues, JJ could be another of those Ravens favorites who move on much like Messrs. McGahee, Gregg, Heap and Mason did this past offseason.

Flacco emerging as leader



Team insiders have been impressed by Joe Flacco’s developing confidence and his maturation as a leader. Word is that at least some of the big strike attempts made by the Ravens in St. Louis were Flacco’s choices while at the line of scrimmage. (I guess audibles aren’t overrated after all). This coupled with Joe’s post game comments centering upon the importance of an attack mentality in the NFL helps morph a once seemingly fearful offense into a fearless one.

That doesn’t mean that Cam Cameron’s unit is without weakness. Michael Oher continues to put the offense at a disadvantage with costly penalties. His move to right tackle was supposed to help temper the miscues. So far they haven’t although that said, Oher has played better on the right side. It will be interesting to see what the Ravens decide to do during the 2012 offseason about the left tackle position. Either way there will be questions. Will Jah Reid and Oher duke it out for the right tackle slot in ’12? Will they bring back Bryant McKinnie or will they lean on the draft for a new left tackle? Keep in mind the team needs to get younger at linebacker and they will probably need to replace Ben Grubbs who is expected to command a paycheck that the Ravens are unlikely to sign.

The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox: Ravens @ Rams



Throughout the entire week leading into the Ravens game against the Rams in St. Louis fans and the media both wondered aloud – which team, the one that hosted the Steelers or the one that was rolled in Nashville, would show up at the Edward Jones Dome.

Many worried that a 0-2 hosting team might play with a level of desperation – particularly one that many believed would compete for the NFC West Divisional Title.

It didn’t take the Ravens long to answer their critics and ease the collective mind of their fans after Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith connected on a 74 yard scoring strike on their second offensive play from scrimmage.

They never looked back and why would they after jumping out to a 21-0 lead on the heels of 3 first quarter scoring strikes from the Flacco-Smith pitch and catch tandem.

The win sets the Ravens up nicely for a Sunday Night showdown with Rex Ryan & the Jets at M&T Bank Stadium.

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco made good choices throughout the contest, stood strong in the pocket, bought time when needed and kept his head downfield to make the most of opportunities in the St. Louis secondary. He fired lasers from start to finish…Ray Rice made the most of a relative modest number of touches (8 runs for 79 yards, 5 catches for 83)…Andre Gurode was solid subbing for an injured Ben Grubbs…Anquan Boldin brings a defensive attitude to the offensive side. His physicality at the position provides a spark even when a catchable TD pass that evaded his grasp did not…Ricky Williams was productive in his relief role of Rice…

Terrell Suggs was strong off the edge, disrupting Sam Bradford regularly. Plus his multi-technique play isn’t appreciated as it should be. He not only contained a reverse but also dropped Lance Kendricks for an eight yard loss. Later he read a screen to his side and dropped back in coverage and that forced the Rams signal caller to dirt the ball after the play was diagnosed and busted…The defensive front was stout across the board. Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Cory Redding, Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger all had plus outings. Ray Lewis refused to be beaten while exerting that unparalleled will upon St. Louis. Lardarius Webb has shown improvement at corner and his technique on his interception was text book. He was also productive in the return game.

The coaching staff had a great game plan across the board. Offensively Cam Cameron and his staff found something in that Rams secondary that they thought was too inviting. Give them credit for going after it again and again because the Rams had no answer. Props also go to Chuck Pagano’s gang for re-energizing the pass rush and slowing down Bradford’s fast break offense. John Harbaugh has run his winning streak to 9 following a Ravens loss.

THE BAD: This will amount to nothing more than nitpicking. The aforementioned miss by Boldin; Flacco’s bad impersonation of Mike Vick and subsequent fumble following a run; Billy Cundiff’s two misses from 51 yards out; Michael “The Penalty Machine” Oher; no matter how Harbaugh spins it there is no excuse for leaving Joe Flacco in the game. It was a perfect opportunity to play Tyrod Taylor. Harbs challenging a fumble with 3:20 left in the game leading 37-7 deserves a C’MON MAN!

THE UGLY: Terrell Suggs after a sack. Well maybe before the sack too.

THE MEGAN FOX: This one is a rather obvious choice. Torrey Smith made the most of his opportunity filling in for the injured Lee Evans, gathering in 5 passes for 152 yards and 3 TD’s plus a nicely executed bubble screen that was recorded as a 10 yard run since the pass was actually a backwards toss. Smith played as though his hair was on fire, running hard with purpose. He attacked footballs thrown his way, particularly on this third TD, a fade route to the front left corner of the end zone. “Tweet’s” overall performance validated the organizational support of his play and it sets up well moving forward. He’ll need to be accounted for and when Evans returns the underneath routes should be even cleaner. On Smith’s post pattern TD Boldin was also wide open coming across to the area that Smith cleaned out with his route.

This game by the gateway to the West should not be forgotten any time soon.

It just may have opened up a gateway to more aerial assaults by Cam Cameron’s offense.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A sad day in Ravens Nation



Ravens Nation is saddened today by the loss of Orlando Brown at the age of 40.

So young, so full of life.

It leaves us all feeling a bit anesthetized – perhaps humbled by our collective mortality.

When I think of Zeus, I recall a beast of a man on the field. A player you wanted on your side because when the game was on he was ferocious. Zeus took the description of Game Face to a new level.

I’ll remember him as a mauler just as much as I’ll remember him for shoving referee Jeff Triplette to the ground after the official mistakenly hit Brown in the eye with an errant penalty flag.

When I think of Zeus’ alter ego Orlando I will remember a gentle giant, a happy-go-lucky man who took pride in his ride. A guy who would show up at Ravens Roost bull roasts and enthusiastically extend that huge mitt of a hand.

But these things aside, the lasting image I’ll have of Orlando was in Westminster a few summers ago during Ravens camp. Brown showed up wearing a Spud Webb jersey. The irony of this behemoth of a man wearing a tiny NBA player’s jersey was both comical and revealing.

Total opposites, just like his personalities on and off the field.

Rest in peace big fella!

Ravens Nation will miss you…

Thursday, September 22, 2011

THE BOXER LACKS PUNCH



The Ravens SS Tom Zbikowski is rather stealth these days on the football field and when he does show up, it’s for all the wrong reasons. He hasn’t made an impactful play in either of his two starts this season and it might be time to give Haruki Nakamura and/or Bernard Pollard some of his snaps. There has to be some disconnect between the front office and the coaching staff when it comes to Pollard, a player whose paycheck is far north of his playing time.

As for Nakamura, he’s a far better cover safety than Zibby and from what we’ve seen lately a better tackler too. Add it up and it spells “Knocked Out” of a starting job.

At least that’s the way I see it…

WILL THE REAL RAVENS PLEASE STAND UP!



Are the 2011 Ravens the team we saw on opening day against the Steelers or the bunch we watched this past Sunday in Nashville, devoid of any sense of urgency?

Or does the real Ravens 2011 vintage lie somewhere in between?

Against the Steelers the Ravens were the clear aggressors. They delivered the physicality, the tempo and a killer instinct rarely seen from a Cam Cameron offense. In LP Field the Ravens executed poorly, delivered frighteningly familiar results against a Cover 2 defense and despite being down by 2 scores late in the game they moved to the line of scrimmage at a snail’s pace.

Steve Bisciotti once said that he likes Cameron under fire. If they fail to produce in St. Louis, watch out!

It’s next to unconscionable that the Ravens can’t find mismatches with speedy TE Ed Dickson or that they can’t execute a professional bubble screen to Torrey Smith to at least get him into the flow of the game. And not just a throw to the outside so he can go one on one with a corner! How about getting the linemen out in space and at least trying to turn a short toss into a big gain?

How can the Ravens invest their newfound cap dollars?



Well, the names Rice, Flacco and Grubbs come to mind as possibilities. Flacco has another year on his 5 year rookie deal so the Ravens will probably wait that one out. Plus the guess here is that Flacco’s handlers probably will price him among the Top 10 QB’s in the game, perhaps even higher. I’m not so sure at the moment that he ranks there and it behooves the team to wait it out and see. That’s the beauty of a rookie contract.

As for Grubbs, the Ravens signing Marshal Yanda did in any possibility of the fifth year former Auburn Tiger landing a lucrative long-term deal in Baltimore. The bet here is that the Ravens will go after a Yanda-like player in the draft who will deliver a better value in terms of cost to performance. That’s not to say Grubbs hasn’t been a good player but given Yanda’s deal and Grubb’s first round status in the same draft class as the team’s resident pig farmer, he will no longer be the right player, right price.

And let’s not forget the Ravens may have left tackle issues in 2012 to address. It doesn’t appear that either Michael Oher or Jah Reid is suited to play the blind side.

So that leaves Ray Rice…

And the franchise tag will just scream his name, particularly on the heels of the fat contracts of Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson landed.

Rice is the team’s best offensive player but given the nature of the position, Ozzie may find the franchise tag to be the right price in the short-term. That said 2013 will be D-Day for Flacco and the thought of extending both players in the same season might prove to be a drain on cash flow. Either way it will be interesting to watch these chess matches unfold.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bisciotti Delivers Ngata!



Each year Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti joins us on the Ravens Rap in Ocean City, a momentary lapse from his vow of silence during the season. Bisciotti is always candid and engaging both during and after the show when he mingles with the enthusiastic crowd on hand.

Last year during his appearance I asked him about re-signing Haloti Ngata and added that he better be prepared to back up the Brinks Truck.

Bisciotti promised that Ngata would be going nowhere because he represents all that the Ravens want in a player on the field, in the locker room, as a leader and in the community.

I could almost hear that backup warning signal from the iron-plated vehicle powered by the sincerity in the Ravens owner’s voice.

And he delivered!

Ngata’s new 5 year deal gives the Ravens some salary cap breathing space and now Ozzie Newsome & Co. have a few extra bargaining chips to help the team now or in the future. On the surface the terms of the deal look to be a perfect example of a well executed win-win. The team locks up arguably its best defender while Ngata lands a mammoth deal that still allows him the luxury to earn that rare third long-term deal during his career.

Once the 5 year deal is complete, Ngata will only be 32 years old, not exactly long in the tooth when it comes to run-stuffing defensive tackles. That carrot if you will, may fuel Ngata’s motivation even more and that is good news for the team and bad news for Ravens’ opponents.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox: Ravens @ Titans



Dear John, there are letdowns in the National Football League!




The Ravens ventured into LP Field on Sunday riding a wave of confidence thanks to a dominating performance against the Steelers on Opening Day. All week long the team talked about putting the big win behind them and focusing on the Tennessee Titans. They vowed not to overlook Mike Munchak’s squad in a stadium where the Ravens have historically enjoyed a great deal of success. Earlier in the week John Harbaugh chastised a member of the media for inquiring about the possibility of a letdown.

"I’m embarrassed for you when you even say that. There’s no such thing as that in the National Football League."

Maybe he should be embarrassed by that letdown instead.

Like the Steelers the week before, the Ravens seemingly bought into their own hype and as they learned on Sunday, showing up isn’t good enough no matter who your opponent is. The Ravens looked very robotic and the robot was short-circuiting. The Ravens arrived with a poorly concocted plan on both sides of the ball and they never adjusted. I couldn’t help but think of this Planet Fitness commercial after reading some of the post game quotes from Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh.



The Good: Most will single out the collective play of the secondary and label it an F and it would be hard to disagree. But I liked the way Lardarius Webb continued to compete and in the second half he made some very good plays defending the pass and supporting the run defense. He’s a very sure tackler…The defensive front was stout while containing the explosive Chris Johnson limiting him to 52 yards on 24carries…Billy Cundiff was money, nailing both FGA’s and on kickoffs he was 3 for 3 on touchbacks…The punt coverage teams were also a bright spot…Ray Rice’s effort on the screen pass for a score along with the lead blocking combined to produce Cam Cameron’s most efficiently executed play of the day. Memo to Cam: Ever hear the expression, “Keep doing it until they stop it?”...David Reed's 77 yard kickoff return to set up the tying field goal before halftime.

The Bad: Bryant McKinnie looked like he aged 5 years in one week…Hey Michael Oher, it goes something like this: “On your mark, get set, go.” …When Cameron had Willis McGahee it seemed that whenever Willis entered the game he carried the ball on the very first play after the substitution. Now he’s doing the same with Ricky Williams who responded with a fumble…Cary Williams’ Nashville homecoming was a flop. He needs to be headier, study film a little more and not let emotion dictate his play…Jameel McClain trying to tackle yesterday looked like a pitcher trying to hit. It’s time for Dannell Ellerbe to get the start…Speaking of line-up changes, here’s a vote for Haruki Nakamura to play over Tom Zbikowski who makes about as many impactful plays as Jameel McClain which is another way of saying none…Did Ray Lewis look slow out there or what? He is for the most part an ineffective blitzer and lately he couldn’t cover a corpse with a blanket. They won’t do it because it’s Ray Lewis but he really needs to come off the field in dime packages.

The Ugly: You’ve all heard of the Bermuda Triangle. The Ravens passing game may soon be referred to as the Baltimore Triangle. That’s where receivers go, never to be found again. Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco go into vapor lock mode against teams that can pressure the quarterback with four and play efficient zone on the back end. This game was very similar to the offensive meltdowns we’ve witnessed against less the than stellar defenses that employ such schemes. The Colts and the Bengals come to mind and almost always Cameron abandons the run to soon. His game plan was ill conceived. Too bad he doesn’t have months to prepare for each opponent like he did for the Steelers…Chuck Pagano never adjusted and his unit failed to disrupt the timing of Matt Hasselbeck. He focused on taking Chris Johnson out of the game. Mission accomplished! The Titans adjusted – Pagano did not…Every time I see Domonique Foxworth on the field, he’s chasing a receiver, a few steps behind. Chris Carr and Jimmy Smith, boy do we miss you…And last be certainly not least, what was John Harbaugh thinking sending Billy Cundiff on to the field for a 29 yard field goal trailing 23-10 with 7:02 left in the game. Granted the way the Ravens were executing converting a fourth and goal from the 11 would not be an easy task BUT, asking a defense for two stops and the offense for 10 more points in under 7 minutes was CLEARLY a far more daunting task, particularly the way both had played for the game’s first 53 minutes. One big play could have turned the tide. I’m sure Harbaugh will get some flowers and candy from Mike Munchak later today.

The Megan Fox: Megan obviously had a bye week or she’s wanted in Nashville for some criminal offense. Speaking of crimes, what a shame for the Ravens to lay such a big fat egg after taking the AFCN driver’s seat in convincing fashion in week 1. This week is going to be a lot longer than last…

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox: Redemption Song



Sunday was a beautiful day and undoubtedly one that will echo in eternity for Ravens fans.

We’ve basked in the glow for a couple of days now; marinated in the nectar of victory while reliving every great play and every Ravens score.

Months and months of tortuous ridicule from those black and yellow clad fans armed with an inflated sense of self-entitlement all exorcised within 60 minutes of magnificent execution by the hometown team.

We are Ravens Nation!

Yet this feeling that we share of glorious exultation must pale in comparison to that of none other than Joe Flacco.

Remember for a moment how you all felt around 4PM on Sunday. You embraced your friend; enthusiastically high-fived a relative stranger who shared your colors. Perhaps you were at home and you danced with your dog, wet-kissed your wife or body-bumped your Ray Lewis Fathead; maybe you took in the game at a local or out-of-town sports bar where celebratory music filled the air like a sweet symphony.

It was a moment you’ve longed for – one that was within your grasp last January only to slip through your fingers and into the opportunistic palms of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now take that feeling and give it an exponential boost.

Can you feel that? Can you imagine that?

That’s where Joe Flacco was late Sunday afternoon.

All of the Jamie Dukes and Warren Sapps and LaMarr Woodleys and Ryan Clarks and Casey Hamptons – every one of them zapped by the mute button and force fed heaping portions of humble pie courtesy of a chef from Audubon, New Jersey.

Some will say (probably Merrill Hoge for starters) that it was only one game. And while true for most, for Flacco and his teammates it could be THE game.

You see while the records and stats will show a decided edge to the Steelers in this heated rivalry (yes Ryan Clark it is a rivalry), particularly in the post season, those stats can be misleading. The media and naturally the northwestern PA fans will tout the popularly held opinion of Steelers dominance over the Ravens. Even the Steelers themselves have gulped down that tainted concoction of Pittsburgh KoolAid.

The Steelers have hardly DOMINATED the Ravens. That’s like saying Affirmed dominated Alydar despite winning each leg of the Triple Crown by 2 lengths – in total. They have simply been a team that knows how to win better than John Harbaugh & Company.

But after Sunday’s game the pendulum could be swinging the Ravens way.

I can’t help but to think of another bitter rivalry, that between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox that took a turn back in 2004. After falling behind 0-3 in the ALCS and down a run in the ninth in Game 4, the Sox amazingly took the series 4-3 en route to their first World Series title in 86 years. Since then, the rivalry has been fairly even with perhaps a slight edge to Boston.

And as pointed out by my colleague Steve Hamrick in his piece earlier today A Perfect Maturation, the Ravens experienced some similar issues with the Jacksonville Jaguars back in the late 90’s. But those evil spirits were cast out on opening day of the 2000 season when Tony Banks hit Shannon Sharpe for a game winning TD.

We all know what happened that season…

But back to this season…

I’m sure Joe Flacco was busting at the seams after his dazzling performance on Sunday and rightly so. Let me put it out there now – he is the Megan Fox this week not only for his performance but for his overdue redemption. That said, I’ve opted not to format this in the usual way only because there was very little bad (I could get picky and criticize Domonique Foxworth for playing too soft or Chuck Pagano for going with a 3 man rush deep in the red zone…was Gregg Mattison nearby?) and absolutely no ugly. And while Joe gets the MF (be nice) he had support – a ton of it!

Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata were dominant... Bryant McKinnie was everything he was touted NOT to be leaving us all to conclude that he was a cap casualty – PERIOD!... Lee Evans although shut out helped to take the top off the Steelers defense and move Troy Polamalu outside of the box and away from the line of scrimmage…Anquan Boldin looked like the No. 1 he was hired to be…Ray Rice was possessed and followed a bulldozer named Leach…Ed Reed was “there”…Jarret Johnson might now be the most popular player amongst his peers and perhaps many Ravens fans after de-cleating Hines Ward…the list goes on.

For other NFL teams the scary thing about the Ravens win has to be the complete team effort delivered by the Baltimore Ravens from top to bottom particularly at the line of scrimmage. Both lines controlled the game so much so that they made the Pittsburgh Steelers look like creampuffs. They flat out beat up the Steelers and after you beat up the bully, more times than not you win physically AND mentally. And the later might be the team’s most compelling victory on Sunday.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote that, “In the realm of ideas, everything depends on enthusiasm; in the real world, all rests on perseverance.”

The idea in 2011 is to hoist the Lombardi in Indianapolis in February.

But to get there, Joe Flacco and his mates need to keep grinding and overcoming one obstacle at a time.

Sunday was one helluva start!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

60 MINUTES!




Last year after the Ravens blew a late lead in Baltimore to hand the Steelers a 13-10 gift-wrapped win, some within earshot of the Steelers locker room claim that Head Coach Mike Tomlin praised his team for playing 60 minutes of football while adding, “because the Ravens don’t.”

Folklore?

Perhaps, but when it comes to the Ravens and Steelers you have to admit, the Ravens have failed to finish games when playing with a lead.

Whether it was Cam Cameron’s fault, Michael Oher’s, Matt Birk’s line call or that sluggish clock in Joe Flacco’s head, THAT play at THAT point in the game allowing THAT player to go unabated to the quarterback is flat out inexcusable.

The loss cost the Ravens a chance to win the AFC North and it forced them to hit the road during the post season, a rugged detour for any team with Super Bowl aspirations. And then there was that loss in the Divisional Round of the playoffs when the Ravens suffered a team-wide meltdown as they blew a 21-7 third quarter lead in Pittsburgh.

All of those demons, the talk of Ben Roethlisberger’s winning streak against the Ravens and the chatter about the team’s inability to beat the Steelers in big games –every single one of those demons were about to be exorcised. Yet the win slipped through the team’s collective hand like a Ray Rice fumble, a bad center-to-quarterback exchange, a would-be go ahead TD pass to Anquan Boldin and a drive extending connection to TJ Houshmandzadeh – gone, gone, gone and gone.





The Ravens have been forced to live with that playoff loss for 8 months. It has burned in their souls and maybe even provided an added stimulus to their offseason workouts. The media has pounded the team, particularly Flacco for not being able to win the big one against their archrivals – for not being able to get over that huge hump on the shores of the Monongahela River.

And it just sits there.

And it lingers and gnaws at Flacco.

Sure he plays it off like it doesn’t bother him but given the mountain of criticism and the wrath of fans who desperately want to beat their dreaded towel waving Yinzer neighbors to the northwest, you know that those losses are just camped in Flacco’s craw. So as important as this game is for the Steelers, it’s more important for the Ravens and their signal caller.

A loss at home to the Steelers sets the stage for an uphill fight for the divisional crown but even more daunting for the Ravens is the thought that those demons will only worsen and the fan base will grow even more restless. That monkey on their back will resemble King Kong with a loss on Sunday.

More than likely the game will be close. That’s just how these two clubs roll when they square off. These two evenly matched teams are very, very similar, the primary difference being that the Steelers possess an ability to make plays when they count the most and usually those plays finish games and ultimately drive a stake through the hearts of their opponents. These teams are also intimately familiar with each other.

At least they used to be.

There’s very little that either of these teams can do that will surprise the other. This will be the ninth meeting of the two clubs in the last 36 months. But that said the Ravens may actually have an edge in the area of familiarity given all the new faces.

The Steelers knew what they could and couldn’t do with Derrick Mason and Todd Heap. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau didn’t have to respect the Ravens speed on the outside because for the most part there was none. He could allow Troy Polamalu to roam, to play up inside the box or even at the line of scrimmage. The Ravens just didn’t have that quick strike ability and without it, LeBeau could choke the intermediate passing game and squat on Ray Rice and the running game. That has changed.

And with that change so too could there be changes in the way Cam Cameron attacks LeBeau’s unit. At least we can only hope so. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results could land you in the Fruit Loop Farm.

With familiarity, opponents can play instinctively. Without it, they need to slow down and react. Steelers’ cornerback Ike Taylor understood all of Mason’s idiosyncrasies. But how will he fair against Lee Evans, Torrey Smith or Tandon Doss? James Harrison had an idea what would work against Oher but what does he know about Bryant McKinney? James Farrior could read Le’Ron McClain but what can he expect from Vonta Leach? And Cryin’ Ryan Clark he should could mirror Todd Heap in the secondary but can he stay with the speedier Ed Dickson?

The uncertainties create pressure and the pressure slows a player down in order to think, process, assess and finally respond to an opponent’s movements. Tendencies are learned on the fly but the learning curve present opportunities to the guys on the other side of the ball.

This is where the Ravens have a decided edge but the edge is only as good as the level of execution and a full game’s worth of commitment to executing.

The Steelers have Mike Wallace and the Ravens will undoubtedly account for him.

But John Harbaugh & Co. might be better served by remembering another Mike Wallace.


Sunday, September 04, 2011

Ravens sign Gurode...what's next?




The Ravens today agreed to a deal with Cowboys 5-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode (pronounced jer-ODD). The 1 year deal has a maximum value of $3 million.

Gurode underwent surgery on his right knee and according Shan Shariff from 105.3 The Fan’s New School in Dallas, the Cowboys weren’t thrilled with his conditioning when he reported to camp. Mix in his $5 million plus salary and the belief that backup Phil Costa, an undrafted player out of the University of Maryland, was playing just as effectively, and Gurode’s days in the Big D were numbered.

Pending a successful physical Gurode will sign his deal tomorrow.

It remains to be seen who will be the Ravens primary starter at center, Gurode or incumbent Matt Birk. Interestingly enough Gurode’s maximum salary matches Birk’s deal. The Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome stated today that the addition of Gurode is a depth move.

“To have a successful season, you have to have quality depth across the board”, said Newsome. “We just added great depth to the interior O-line."

Time will tell how it plays out but options include cutting Birk, assigning Mattison to the practice squad or making a move elsewhere on the roster. Mattison has played in only 2 NFL games and therefore he has practice squad eligibility remaining. The Ravens could also opt to move one of the surprise roster additions to the practice squad.

The team doesn’t have to make a roster decision until after the Ravens v. Steelers game. They get a 1 week roster reprieve due to David Reed’s suspension.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox: The Turk Looms



Last night’s preseason game between the Ravens and Falcons was a true test of your fandom. Watching the game was difficult enough only made worse by WBAL-TV and their antiquated production. Reruns of the 1970 World Series on MASN seem more cutting edge than Rave TV. Between the quality of play and the broadcast production, I was hoping the game would be pre-empted by reruns of Two and a Half Men.

WBAL’s graphics are horrible; the camera crew follows the action like a blindfolded kid playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Qadry Ismail – wow, he had me on the edge of my chair with those riveting interviews. I swear I thought he was going to ask Bryant McKinnie, “So, what’s your favorite color?”

Ok, on to the game…

John Harbaugh decided on Wednesday night that he would sit most of his key starters in Atlanta including the entire O-Line. Maybe there’s some gamesmanship at work there or maybe he just didn’t want the Steelers, particularly defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to come up with a diabolical plot to confuse an offensive front that has so far practiced sparingly together.

Time will tell if that was the right approach but it did allow all of us to see the players jockeying for position on the depth chart in their most extensive action to date.

So what did we learn about the reserves? Which players successfully made a case to be part of the 53 man squad? Did anyone slip? Some of it was good, some bad and some ugly.

This “The Good, Bad, Ugly and the Megan Fox” will focus upon the players by position and determine who will make it and who could make it. Your opinions are certainly welcome.

Note: The number in parenthesis is the total carried by the team to start the 2010 season by position.

QUARTERBACK (2)

IN: Joe Flacco, Tyrod Taylor

Note: Third-stringer Hunter Cantwell struggles against the 2’s and 3’s so he’s a practice squad guy at best.

RUNNING BACK (4)

IN: Ray Rice, Vonta Leach, Ricky Williams, Anthony Allen

Note: Jalen Parmele is well-liked by the coaches and the team may have gone with a fifth RB if Taylor’s injury wasn’t an issue. But it could be and if it is, Parmele may be working in another city. Damien Berry is a solid practice squad candidate.

WIDE RECEIVER (6)

IN: Anquan Boldin, Lee Evan, Torrey Smith, David Reed(reserve/injured list), Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams

Note: Brandon Jones loses out in a numbers game but played and practiced well when called upon. He may get looks from other teams in need…Marcus Smith’s impersonation of a WR finally ends…James Hardy’s hamstring and unimpressive camp…David Reed’s 1 game suspension gives the team a 1 week reprieve on a roster spot, essentially allowing them to carry 54 players through week 1.

TIGHT END (3)

IN: Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Kris Wilson

Note: Time for the Ravens to finally admit that Davon Drew was a bad draft pick back in 2009

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

IN: Bryant McKinnie, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda, Michael Oher, Jah Reid, Mark Levoir, Bryan Mattison

Note: Ramon Harewood did little during the preseason to warrant another team claiming him for their 53 man roster. He’ll be placed on the practice squad. Tim Barnes is likely to make it to the PS also.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

IN: Haloti Ngata, Cory Redding, Terrence Cody, Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee, Paul Kruger, Brandon McKinney

Note: Team likes their defensive rotation up front and they could go with 9 D-Linemen again and if so they will be Lamar Divens and Bryan Hall. A castoff from another team is also a possibility and if that happens Hall could be a PS guy

LINEBACKERS (9)

IN: Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Sergio Kindle, Jarret Johnson

Note: One of if not the toughest unit to predict for the 53. Tavares Gooden isn’t dependable while Jason Phillips is slow in pass coverage and sideline to sideline…Prescott Burgess is a solid special teams player while Josh Bynes is an up and Albert McClellan has been steady. Newcomer Michael McAdoo will get some consideration but probably hit the PS. Brendon Ayanbadejo might not make enough plays to justify the higher pay. Close call here but this group will see some surprise cuts -- final 3 will be Phillips, Bynes and McClellan.

SECONDARY (9)

IN: Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Jimmy Smith, Cary Williams, Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb, Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura and Domonique Foxworth.

Note: Foxworth should take a pay cut and if he does, he’s in. If he refuses he could be the odd man out and that would pave the way for another corner. Chykie Brown hasn’t played well during camp so don’t let the pick 6 foul you. He’s been outplayed by Talmadge Jackson and Josh Victorian and to an extent by Danny Gorrer. Mana Silva could be a PS candidate.

SPECIALISTS (3)

IN: Sam Koch, Billy Cundiff, Morgan Cox

The roster decisions at linebacker and in the secondary are difficult enough. Tyrod Taylor’s injury while not believed to be serious has to raise concerns. Adding a third quarterback makes the decisions at LB and in the secondary even more challenging. The feeling here is that there will be some surprise cuts just as there was back on Black Monday.

It won’t be pretty for some.

You know kind of like last night’s game when the following would have been a nice pre-emption.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Eagles paint themselves into corner with Vick deal



The moment that the Eagles contemplated trading Kevin Kolb you just knew a big pay day was in store for Michael Vick who yesterday agreed to a six year, $100 million deal that includes $40 million in guarantees.

What other choice did they have? The club lost all of its bargaining power the moment Kevin Kolb became an Arizona Cardinal.

Vick dazzled the NFL and captivated Eagles fans in 2010.

And now he has the club and those who bleed green by the short hairs.

It’s easy for a player with a checkered past to walk the straight and narrow, to talk the talk and to toe the line of conformity when the personal stakes are high. Just two years ago Vick left a federal prison. He paid dearly. He did the time and his financial bleeding was significant.

He had no one to blame but himself for the butchered dogs and a shattered career.
Then like Mighty Mouse, along came Andy Reid to save the day for Vick once he was released from the pokey.

Vick’s journey since he again joined the ranks of the free has been fairly predictable. And now that he’s successfully executed with razor sharp precision a plan to restore his status in the league and his personal balance sheet, we’ll find out just how sincere and remorseful he is.

Apparently Reid believes he is.

"I'm very proud that [Michael] has been able to achieve success again in this league”, said the Eagles skipper. “But he'll be the first one to tell you that there is a lot of work yet to be done by him and this team as a whole.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he will continue on that path."

C’mon Andy, there has to be a little doubt.

This contract is a big risk for the Eagles. Not only should they at least be partially haunted by Vick’s checkered past, there has to be some concern about what they will get between the lines from the gifted QB and just how long he’ll deliver it.

Only once during his eight seasons in the NFL has the 31-year-old Vick played in all 16 games. The strength of his resume lies primarily in his legs and given the Eagles suspect offensive line the odds are against 2011 being Vick’s second complete season.

Vick has won 8 games as the Eagles starter – EIGHT GAMES!

Are Reid and the Eagles’ ivory tower as enamored with Vick’s brand of football as the rest of Vickadelphia? Or did the Eagles simply paint themselves into a corner?

Vick’s new deal places him in elite company – above the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees and just beneath that of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. But none of those quarterbacks is so heavily dependent upon their legs and therefore it’s safe to say their career longevity will outdistance Vick’s and they’ll perform to the level of their respective contracts.

Will Vick ever do what Donovan McNabb couldn’t? Will he even match what McNabb accomplished?

Did the league figure Vick out towards the end of the 2010 season?

Could he revert back to his thug-like ways?

These are all legitimate questions that must be lingering in the halls of 1 NovaCare Way. Time will tell if Vick will deliver the way Andy Reid expects. We can only hope.

But if he doesn’t deliver Jim Mora, Sr.’s description of Vick back in 2006 could prove to be prophetic.

“Coach Killer.”