Tuesday, March 27, 2012

These Jets are about to crash



Rex Ryan came onto the scene in New York like a new sheriff ready to clean up someone else’s mess. And early on he did exactly that. He put the fun back in football for New York Jets fans, bringing laughter, cheer and wins.

Wigs, snacks, a foul mouth, bird flipping and foot fetishes aside Ryan brought bravado and hope to Gang Green.

Now hope borders on despair.

Looking back on his days with the Baltimore Ravens as the beloved defensive coordinator serving under Brian Billick and later John Harbaugh, Ryan had a knack for getting the most out of his players and placing them in position to be successful.

Many of the Ravens’ defenders wanted Rex to succeed Billick has the head coach. A team known for its defense, carried for years by Ray Lewis & Co. seemed like the most logical launching pad for Ryan’s head coaching career. Ed Reed and Bart Scott pleaded Rex’ case.

Rex thought he was in the driver’s seat literally and figuratively. During the interviewing process Ryan pulled his truck into Billick’s then recently abandoned parking spot marked, “Head Coach.”

Ryan can never be accused of lacking brass stones.

But the hefty coordinator never had a chance in Baltimore. The Ravens front office understood why Rex was rejected previously by the San Diego Chargers and Atlanta Falcons. They were familiar with his immaturity and understood that naming Ryan their head coach came with risks – big risks.

Some coaches are better off being colonels not generals.

And the Ravens took a pass.

Winning however has a way of masking the aforementioned embarrassments for the Jets owner Woody Johnson. Losing exacerbates them.

So does a bad locker room.

Rex sees himself as somewhat of a Malcontent Whisperer. He threw out the welcome mat to Antonio Cromartie, Kris Jenkins, Santonio Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson and Plaxico Burress – hardly choirboys.

For awhile it worked. But then results fell short of expectations and the fingers started pointing like six-shooters in the Wild, Wild West. And as it so often happens in the NFL when things go wrong the blame often falls upon the shoulders of the quarterback.

Unfortunately for Rex and the Jets, Mark Sanchez’ shoulders aren’t all that big and stout. Towards the end of the 2011 season the weight began to force Sanchez to bend a bit from the hips. And now Ryan with the addition of Tim Tebow, on the heels of giving Sanchez a contract extension no less, is pushing down on the back of Sanchez’ head.

“I don’t see Tim [Tebow] just holding a clipboard. He’s going to be playing for us. There is no doubt,” Ryan said at the league meetings. “He will have a role. We know that. There won’t be a better Wildcat quarterback in the game. Is that his only role? I don’t believe that – we’ll see what happens.”

“We have a No. 1 quarterback. Mark is our No. 1 quarterback. Tim Tebow is our No. 2 quarterback, but he’s also going to do other things for this football team,” Ryan added. “He’s a football player. That’s what I keep wanting to put out there. Let’s not just look at him as a quarterback. I look at him as a football player.”

But that football player is a quarterback and when your No. 1 quarterback is 2009’s fifth overall draft pick with a bruised and battered ego, something has got to give.

Ryan is a riverboat gambler – that’s an understatement of the obvious. But this roll of the heavenly dice with Tebow might not have the rallying effect (in a locker room sorely in need of one) that Ryan thinks. More likely it will divide Gang Green more rapidly than Moses split the Red Sea.

And if that happens, look for Woody Johnson to shoot the sheriff.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Cut McKinnie to save Grubbs?




Pro Bowl unrestricted free agent Ben Grubbs is a player the Ravens would love to keep – provided the cost isn’t exorbitant and that it doesn’t tilt the scales so heavily towards the interior of the offensive line that they can’t afford a quality long-term tackle for Joe Flacco’s blind side.

Some have suggested that the Baltimore Ravens release Bryant McKinnie to create cap space for Grubbs. But wouldn’t solving one problem (not being able to afford Grubbs) trigger another problem at left tackle?

Granted, McKinnie wasn’t the end-all-be-all at left tackle but he was serviceable and the Ravens inability to advance beyond the AFC Championship could hardly be hung on his shoulders.

But let’s look at the economics…

McKinnie received a $1M bonus last year, so $500K of that $4.2M (his 2012 cap figure) would still count towards this year’s if he is released. The $3.7M savings would go a long way toward creating room for Grubbs, but if the Ravens replace McKinnie with a stop gap solution, chances are they would have to sign someone who would earn close to the same amount that the team would save through a McKinnie release.

The team could turn the blind side duties back over to Michael Oher and have Jah Reid, a player the team is apparently high on, fill in at right tackle. But Oher has struggled at left tackle. Do the Ravens really want to go there again? What if Reid isn’t ready to be a starter? What’s next, Ramon Harewood?

Unless the Ravens are willing to assume these risks, the only way that Grubbs remains a Raven is if he’s willing to give the team a hometown discount.

Didn’t we have a similar conversation a few years back regarding Jason Brown?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Get your pen ready Ray Rice!



Player agents want to use previously completed deals as benchmarks for their clients. If they believe that their client(s) is as good as another player whose contract ink is barely dry, that becomes the starting point of negotiations for their client’s deal.

Enter Todd France and Ray Rice…

The two will look to recent deals signed by Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson – deals that I’ll go out on a not-so-daring limb and say both the Titans and Vikings regret.

So why should the Ravens base their discussions with Ray Rice on the mistakes of others?

It is salary cap roulette to pay running backs big money long-term particularly when bargain replacements can be found in the draft (Rice being one of them).

This isn't meant to be a knock on Rice. It's just the nature of the beast.

Rice deserves a fair deal and for that the Ravens should look no further than the one MJD signed in 2009 (5 years, $31M, $17.M guaranteed). MJD ‘s productivity closely mirrors that of Rice (see here) and he’s on a team with relatively little to no offensive options. Mix in some inflation and fluff that MJD deal up to 5 years, $39M and $22M guaranteed.

That’s fair Ray Rice.

The alternative is to be tagged for 2 years; Ravens groom the replacement and then let someone else overpay for a RB heading into his 7th season.

I know it sounds cold but that's the NFL.

Right player, right price.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

YOU ASKED, I ANSWERED: The Rice Franchise Tag



It appears as though Ray Rice is going to be franchised. Is this the right move? Can he buck the short productivity lifespan of running backs and what are the team's plans for depth at the position with Ricky Williams retiring?

Franchising Rice is the right move for the Ravens, particularly when his contractual demands are said to be knocking on the door of Adrian Peterson’s bloated contract. Peterson is a greater talent and let’s not forget that he was a beneficiary of circumstance. As part of an attempt to land a new stadium deal in Minnesota, Vikings’ owner Zygi Wilf wanted to lock up Peterson long-term. And while the deal may have been a good business move overall, it was a bad contract and mirroring that is just wrong for the Ravens on many levels.

Running backs are relatively inexpensive to replace. That’s not intended to discredit Rice’s ability but it’s just the nature of the game. One only needs to look at the top 6 backs this past season, none of which was a first round pick and none remotely close to earning AP dollars. Big running back deals just aren’t practical in the salary cap era. It would not surprise me at all to see the team franchise Rice again in 2013 and then move on to the post Rice era.

As for Ricky Williams, the club seems to be willing to go with second year back Anthony Allen as Rice’s backup with former Miami Hurricane Damien Berry in the wings – a 2011 practice squad player. But don’t be surprised if Williams “retirement” isn’t just a veteran ploy to circumvent the offseason conditioning program, OTA’s and part of training camp. My gut says that even the club sees his return as being a decent possibility
.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tag, you're it Ray Rice!



This idea will not be wildly popular. In fact, most of you are likely to consider this to be blasphemy for a Ravens fan.

Do not sign Ray Rice to a long-term contract!

There, I said it.

Now let me explain it.

It’s rather common knowledge that the average career life expectancy of a running back in the NFL is the shortest of all positions. Research suggests that average is 2.57 years. Now I do believe this average is artificially low because running backs that occupy a spot on a 53 man roster even for a season or less bring that average down.

League studies support such a notion.

The NFLPA is quick to tell everyone that the overall average career life expectancy of an NFL player is 3.5 seasons. That may be true but did you know that the average career length for a player who makes a club’s opening-day roster (active/inactive roster or injured reserve) in his rookie season is 6 seasons?

That certainly swings the pendulum a bit.

Those numbers climb even more if the player was a first round pick (9.3 seasons) and still greater if he’s a Pro Bowl player (11.7 seasons).

And as we know Ray Rice is a Pro Bowl player.

So if the average career length of a running back is 2.57 years and that of the average player is 3.5 (22.86% less) it goes to reason that the average Pro Bowl running back has a 9 year career. To date Ray Rice has 4 accrued seasons in the NFL.

The question then becomes one of how much longer will Ray Rice be among the NFL’s best running backs in order to determine his value going forward in dollars and cents.

Rice and his agent have decided to set the bar at Adrian Peterson’s 7 years, $100 million deal that included guaranteed money of $36 million. Hopefully the Rice camp is simply throwing numbers against the wall to see what sticks. Somewhere in Owings Mills Ozzie Newsome is still doubled over in laughter.

And when he rubs those laughing tears from his eyes and compares Rice to Peterson these are the career stats he’ll be looking at:

A. Peterson: Att. – 1406; Yds. – 6752; Avg. - 4.8; TD – 64; Rec. – 137; Yds. – 1309; Avg. - 9.6; TD - 3

R. Rice: Att. – 959; Yds. – 4377; Avg. - 4.6; TD – 24; Rec. – 250; Yds. – 2235; Avg. - 8.9; TD - 5

Even if the two players were equals (they’re not) why should the Ravens use a ridiculously one-sided Peterson contract as the bench mark?

The answer is, “They won’t!”

The mounting evidence just screams at organizations not to pay running backs big long-term dollars. The productivity that inspired the big contract like Peterson’s is just not sustainable. We’ve seen this Groundhog Day movie time and time with running backs. Even Pro Bowlers who remain in the league (albeit with reduced workloads), at some point will fail to produce the numbers they once did given the typical wear and tear of a backfield workhorse. It is so much more economical and more importantly – cap friendly, to find young running backs with more tread on the tires to carry the load.

And the interesting thing is that you don’t even have to invest a top pick in many cases to find that economical guy!

Consider these telling facts regarding NFL running backs:

* Not one of the league’s Top 6 backs from 2011 is a first round pick.

* Three of the 6 are second round picks (Rice, LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew), one is a third round pick (Frank Gore), one a fifth (Michael Turner) and the last an undrafted free agent (Arian Foster).

* Of the 30 top 10 finishes over the past 3 seasons for running backs, the average position in the draft was the 70th pick, i.e. an early third rounder.

* The average age of a Top 5 performer over the last three seasons is 25.7. Ray Rice is now 25.

* Four of 2011’s top 5 performers made $900,000 or less.

* Over the last 3 seasons the top 5 performers have averaged $2.056M per season and nine of those top 5 finishes were $900,000 or less.

* Only 4 of the 10 highest paid running backs in 2011 finished in the top 10. The 6 not finishing in the top 10 averaged $8.93M in salary.

The facts overwhelmingly support NOT giving Ray Rice a long-term deal – particularly one in the Adrian Peterson or even Chris Johnson range. The Vikings and the Titans probably won’t admit it but inside their respective team headquarters you just know they’d like to have a redo on those gaudy contracts.

You see contracts like that make it difficult for teams to effectively manage their cap, particularly when players don’t perform to the level of their pay. In the case of a running back that likelihood is greater than all other positions. And when you mix in the relative bargains that can be found, whether those bargains are in dollars, a modest draft pick or some combination thereof, bank breaking deals for backs end up being organizational back breakers instead.

Yes Ray Rice is arguably the Ravens’ best player (for now). Yes he’s an exemplary teammate, leader, role model and he engages the community and of course we’d like to see him in purple and black for the remainder of his career.

That said, the Ravens should use the franchise tag on Ray Rice this season ($7.7M) and the next (estimated $9.24M).

Afterwards, who knows? That’s just the way it is for running backs in the NFL.
Push emotion to the sidelines. This isn’t personal.

It’s just business.




Resources used: NFLPlayers.com, NYJetscap.com and NFLCommunications.com

Thursday, February 23, 2012

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Saying goodbye to a dream weaver




I’m sure every one of you reading this has had death in some way, shape or form knock on your door. A friend, a relative, an acquaintance – perhaps a co-worker, gone seemingly in a moment. And you are reminded of the fragility of life.

This morning I learned of the passing of a man, a friend who once embodied strength, energy, vitality, confidence and moxie. Craig Willinger, soccer aficionado extraordinaire, 42, a man stricken by a high-risk cancer just a few years ago is gone.

News like this has a numbing affect.

Things like this only happen to other people.

Maybe you see yourself as bulletproof – maybe you deny your own mortality. Count me among you.

When death hits close to home it temporarily knocks you off track. The once important daily tasks are suddenly far less important. But then we dust off, get back on track and get back in the game. And when you do you hope that the experience of your loss can influence you in a positive way. And you pray that your lesson resonates.

But then life gets in the way. While you are busy again with all those other plans there’s a disconnect and the lesson fades – maybe it even gets lost. I hope not.

When Craig Willinger learned of his illness he did what I suspect most of us might do. He created a bucket list and at the top of that list for Craig was to see his favorite team, Bayern Munich play at home in Germany.

During his return to Baltimore after realizing a dream Craig turned his attention towards making dreams come true for others. In 2009 the Craig Willinger Fund was set up to help children fighting cancer, live a dream. Since then Craig’s vision coupled with a child’s dream has become a reality for a few children. Craig’s family and friends are determined to keep the CWF alive.

Craig will undoubtedly be missed and his legacy of chasing and realizing dreams will echo in eternity. And the hope here is that it inspires others to do the same.

As we say goodbye to this vibrant man, I can’t help but be reminded of a card I read many years ago that has always stuck with me. It went something like this:

“Many years from now it won’t matter how much was in your bank account, the house you lived in or the car you drove. What WILL matter is that the world may be better because you made a difference in the life of a child.”

If that is the definition of a successful life, and I think it is, Craig Willinger, you were a smash hit!

Thank you for the lesson, the laughs but mostly for being a difference maker.

You will never be forgotten.



If you care to make a donation to the Craig Willinger Fund click here and thanks for your consideration.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

We say goodbye to Ravens24x7.com



It is with great dismay that I am forced to announce that we have to change the name of our site.

We can no longer operate as Ravens24x7.com.

The name is near and dear to my heart. The words alone inspired me to launch this site.

During the summer of 2002 I was in Ocean City just before the Ravens were set to start training camp. I picked up a copy of The Sun and quickly leafed through to the sports section. There dominating the front page was a story about the White Marlin Open. Nowhere was a word about the Ravens to be found.

I couldn’t believe that Baltimore’s best team wasn’t at least deserving of some space on the front page. After all, the Orioles were in the midst of a 67-95 season under Mike Hargrove.

Digging into the section further provided no relief. I could not find a single word –not one, written about the Ravens. Keep in mind this was the first training camp following the post 2001 roster blow up. There were so many unanswered questions and The Sun provided not a single answer or clue or syllable about the Ravens.

My knee-jerk response: “I want to read about the Ravens 24x7!”

Queue up the light bulb!

An idea was born.

During the following offseason and leading into the Boller years, we began to build Ravens24x7. The site was officially launched on July 3, 2003.

And as Paul Harvey might say, “And now you know the rest of the story!”

I really didn’t know where Ravens24x7 would go, if it would catch on or if anyone would even read it. It started as hobby and an outlet for my thoughts and opinions on the Ravens. And then one day I received an email from a prospective customer who expressed his interest in advertising with us.

I really never even gave that a thought when the site was launched.

But suddenly the game changed.

Two years later running 24x7 became my full-time gig and I haven’t “worked” a day since.

I have a lot of people to thank for getting us to where we are and certainly that includes all of you. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your support and I will promise you with every fiber of my being we will do all that we can to continue earning your support. We have some exciting things we’re working on and I can’t wait to present them to you.

But until that time, I have the unpleasant burden of saying goodbye to a dear friend – the name Ravens24x7.com. It jazzes me so much when I hear someone randomly referring to our site in a friendly kind of way as, “24/7”. It humbles me and it gives a jolt of pride because I know that our hard work has earned that warm nickname.

So where do we go from here?

Honestly I’m not sure. We want to continue to embrace the 24x7 moniker. The challenge is to do so in a memorable way that still tells a story of who we are while not encroaching upon the team’s trademarked properties – as in the name “Ravens.”

We are racking our collective brain trying to find the right fit. It isn’t easy. There is a long list of potential names but for me, none approaches Ravens24x7.com. Maybe it is as my partners say, “my baby.”

Yet it’s time to move on and move on we will. There’s no choice really and after all each of us is defined not by how we handle success but rather how we handle adversity.

The good news is that we can still maintain and employ all of the domain names we have so your bookmarks are still good and will redirect to the newly named site, whatever that may be.

Until that time if you have an idea for a site name by all means send it in (TL@profootball24x7.com). We will submit it to our focus group which as of this very writing is busy filtering through the suggestions already presented. Soon the focus group will select 5 finalists for our new name and we’ll then ask you to help us decide what our new name should be.

It won’t be easy. Challenges by definition never really are.

In life and in business you can’t direct the proverbial wind, but you can adjust your sails.

Sail on!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Extending Flacco & Rice won't be easy




The new contracts of Joe Flacco and Ray Rice won’t and shouldn’t come easy – easy would suggest that the Ravens overpaid.

This past November when Steve Bisciotti joined us on the Ravens Rap we asked the Ravens owner if it would take $40M guaranteed to sign Joe Flacco to an extension. Bisciotti said confidently that it won’t take that much.

During the State of the Ravens season ending presser, when questioned about Joe Flacco, Ozzie Newsome said that his measuring stick for Joe is wins. “Joe is a winner.” Surely Flacco’s agent Joe Linta was smiling when he heard that. Clearly his win-loss record will be Flacco’s lever in the negotiations.

Something to keep in mind…back in 2009 Eli Manning signed a new deal that included $35 million in guarantees. At the time Manning had one Super Bowl ring. We’ll see if inflation and those wins gets Flacco to that level. My guess is $35M is Flacco’s market rate.

As for Ray Rice, that deal might be a bit trickier. It’s difficult to give a back a big contract. Their career longevity just isn’t there and they are susceptible to career threatening/shortening injuries more so than others given their workload/touches. Plus a look around the league suggests that with the right offense and the right offensive line, value can be found at the position.

Not one of the league’s Top 6 backs is a first round pick nor do any of them have the whopping contracts of Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson. Three of the 6 are second round picks (Rice, LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew), one is a third round pick (Frank Gore), one a fifth (Michael Turner) and the last an undrafted free agent (Arian Foster).

Rice’s representatives will point to the former Rutgers’ star’s productivity and vitality in the Ravens offense while the team’s negotiators will reference the above and then some. At the end of the day the Ravens will likely get it done and in this writer’s opinion they will overpay. Three years from now when the wear and tear grinds down on Rice’s body they’ll have learned their lesson despite one being right under their collective nose – Willis McGahee’s old contract.

Finally the Ravens have an exciting albeit challenging menu of opponents for the 2012 season. They will host both participants in Super Bowl XLVI along with media darling Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. You can check the entire list of 2012 opponents here.

Ngata not the same down the stretch



Ozzie Newsome found outstanding value in the free agent signings of Bernard Pollard and Vonta Leach. Pollard who arrived with a reputation as a thumper with limited cover skills was actually and upgrade to the departed Dawan Landry in both areas at less than half the cost. Leach is the prototypical fullback who embraces the role and undoubtedly fits the profile of a Raven. His predecessor Le’Ron McClain, who always found the “me” in team, did not!

Word is Haloti Ngata has shared with one source close to 24x7 that he was NOT injured late in the season contrary to the court of popular opinion. That has to be somewhat concerning to the Ravens since his production fell markedly after the season’s ¾ pole. Ngata worked hard prior to the 2011 season and reported in outstanding shape – lighter and quicker than in past seasons. And those efforts were rewarded early on. But the team’s strength and conditioning coaches will need to take a long look at Ngata’s training regimen to determine if it contributed to the All Pro’s “fade route” late in the season.

Look for the Ravens to bring in serious competition for Billy Cundiff in training camp. While the team outwardly continues to express confidence in the 2011 Pro Bowler they will need to keep the kicker squarely in the crosshairs of special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg’s microscope. Will that miss in the AFCC game haunt Cundiff? Did his injury genuinely affect performance in 2011 on accuracy and kickoff depth? Was his 2010 season a fluke? Having a quality alternative to turn to if a mental meltdown is in Cundiff’s future will be critical given the club’s lofty aspirations.

Some Ravens have played their final down in Baltimore




Like the spring every offseason spawns a new season and along with that newness comes change. NFL rosters generally churn and burn at the rate of 25% from one NFL calendar year to the next. Teams look to get younger and create value on their rosters in order to manage the cap effectively. As Steve Bisciotti once told us, “If I can get an Ed Dickson who performs at 80% of a Todd Heap but costs a fraction of what Heap does, I have to make that move.”

You can expect more of this heading into the 2012 season.

24x7’s cap expert Brian McFarland provides an excellent perspective on the Ravens current salary cap here and the picture he paints should provide clues to some roster augmentation. Here’s my take on some of the likely moves…

Offense

Unless Lee Evans takes a significant haircut on the pay scale, he’s as good as gone. His Super Bowl denying dropped pass in the AFC Championship Game aside, a No. 3 WR who Cam Cameron put on the field for all of 8 snaps in the Divisional Playoff Game against the Texans, cannot justify a mid 7 figure cap number. An intriguing possibility to replace Evans should the Ravens decide to keep another veteran presence in their corps of receivers is Reggie Wayne who like his battery mate Peyton Manning is expected to play somewhere other than Indianapolis in 2012. Wayne will be 33 when he takes the field next season but he may be willing to accept an incentive laden deal with the Ravens in exchange for the opportunity to play with his college roommate Ed Reed.

Word is Matt Birk’s Reisterstown home is on the market and the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year is leaning heavily towards retirement. Birk faded a bit late in the season and the Ravens could turn towards 5-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode for another season or two until they can groom a young, longer-term solution at center.

Staying with the offensive line, Ben Grubbs’ perceived value with the Ravens spiked this season. When he didn’t play the overall performance of the line dropped measurably and consequently he’s likely to price himself out of a job in Baltimore. Look for the Ravens to find a heady, tough Yanda-like player in the draft’s middle rounds.

Speaking of Yanda, it remains a bit of a head scratcher why he opted to play in the Pro Bowl given his injuries down the stretch. Maybe his wife bought a new grass skirt she was jonesing to sport at a Hawaiian luau. But then again, maybe Yanda realized that the physicality of the Pro Bowl these days is on par with that of pushing a shopping cart down aisle 6 at Mars Supermarkets.

Defense

There is little to no doubt in my mind that CB Domonique Foxworth is as good as gone unless of course he agrees to a HUGE cut in pay. Foxworth at the moment is probably the sixth best corner on the roster who will command a $5.6M salary in 2012 and a whopping $8.6M number against the cap. His signing may go down as one of the worst in club history.

Ahead of Foxworth on the depth chart is another veteran who is likely to feel the cutting blade of the salary cap – Chris Carr. Carr, traditionally a late starter, isn’t the playmaker that the developing young and inexpensive Danny Gorrer is. The No. 25 jersey will probably be emblazoned with a new name across the back in 2012 for the Ravens.

Brendon Ayanbadejo will be 36 on Opening Day 2012 and if he continues his career, it won’t be in Baltimore. If he does come back it will be a daunting statement on the quality of depth at inside linebacker. And the truth be told, he really wasn’t a very productive special teams player in 2011 – his forte.

Should the Ravens bring in a veteran to replace Ricky Williams?




If Ricky Williams is sincere in his decision to retire (and sincerity in my opinion is measured in mid-late August) the Ravens could have a bit of a problem.

Now this isn’t meant as a knock on Ray Rice and his durability or on the potential of Anthony Allen or even Damien Berry. I actually think both will make fine pros particularly if the later can keep his head on straight.

But neither has the pre-requisite experience to carry the load in the event of a catastrophic injury to Ray Rice. Some may argue that if such an injury were to occur the Ravens are done anyway. But that’s not how the Ravens are built and that quitter’s mentality is light years from the team’s collective mindset.

Regardless of who goes down if you’re a Raven, it’s “Next Man Up.”

If you look back to the 2001 season after the Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV, they lost Jamal Lewis to a season ending ACL tear after parting ways with Priest Holmes. The alternatives were daunting so Ozzie ushered in Terry Allen and his 60 year old knobby knees. He didn’t last long nor did Jason Brookins and it’s unlikely that the Ravens will take such a risk again – not with a Super Bowl ready team.

Now they could try and coax Ricky Williams out of retirement. Perhaps this is simply Ricky’s retirement announcement is simply his way of avoiding training camp the offseason conditioning program, OTA’s and training camp.

But if he is sincere and will permanently hang up the cleats, the Ravens should consider a veteran.

Here’s a list of the veterans scheduled to be free agents.

Who from the list appeals to you?

Keep in mind the cap and the anticipated contractual demands of these backs.

Some might welcome a backup. Others like Michael Bush or Mike Tolbert probably see themselves as the next Michael Turner.

It’s a great discussion.

I mean what else is there to talk about, the No. 2 starter for the Orioles from the 60 arms they are inviting to camp?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Was the safety against Patriots the right call?



I can’t recall ever seeing a long pass down the middle of the field without a receiver in the area called intentional grounding. Generally that is viewed as a miscommunication between a receiver and a quarterback who is throwing to a spot on the field.

Yet in the Super Bowl, in the end zone and against one of the league’s favored sons (arguably its favorite), the game officials called grounding and awarded the Giants 2points.

Shocking really!

And those 2 points proved costly.

How much would the game have changed at the end if the Patriots were down 19-17 instead of 21-17?

Of course the Giants would not have gone for 2 after their final touchdown so the score more than likely would have been 20-17.

That safety was huge and for everyone who thinks the Patriots get “all” the calls, well as evidenced by that one, they don’t!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

One dropped pass that altered careers



The Baltimore Ravens tantalized and tortured their fans with an oh-so-close loss to the New England Patriots a couple of weeks ago. On Wednesday when asked what the team needed to get to the Super Bowl owner Steve Bisciotti said, “Hold on to the ball.”

Suppose he did. Suppose for a moment that Lee Evans did make that catch and the Ravens would be the Giants’ opponent on Sunday evening. What then?

· Maybe Chuck Pagano is the Ravens defensive coordinator in 2012 and not the next head coach for Peyton Manning.

· Perhaps Dean Pees isn’t on the Ravens staff anymore and is a coordinator for another club.

· Lee Evans future with the club would not be dangling in the balance.

· Joe Flacco might be viewed as a quarterback who can win the big game.

· Cam Cameron may no longer be the most vilified sports figure in town (until his first 3 and out in Indianapolis).

· And maybe, just maybe the Ravens just might find a partner in the trophy case for their only Lombardi.

Could the Ravens beat the Giants? Of course they could. But would they? Tough to say really!

My guess is that it would be a pick ‘em game. The Giants didn’t exactly tear up the 49ers defense and needed a couple of Kyle Williams miscues to get the “W.” But the Giants are on a roll and they have a better quarterback and you have to give the nod to Tom Coughlin’s staff over Harbaugh’s if for no other reason than they are Super Bowl battle tested.

Plus they have a beast of a pass rush and the Ravens offensive line hasn’t exactly been stout. It would have been an entertaining battle for sure, but when you expect a tightly fought battle, it’s tough not to side with Manning and Coughlin over Flacco and Harbaugh. I would have called it 24-23 Giants.

Might that have been better or worse than losing the AFC Championship?

Birdseed from Today...Tweet, Tweet @Ravens_247



Would it be fair if Andrew LUCK wore the HORSESHOE? Seems like a double dip to me.

BREAKING NEWS: Of those 72 balls rubbed down by the NFL none are believed to be #TomBrady's

Day by day, step by step...Gronkowski's iPod is stuck on replay

The NFL has rubbed down 72 balls for #SuperBowl XLVI. Are there foul balls in football that I'm unaware of?

It's Groundhog Day on ESPN everyday. All they ever talk about is #Tebow #Brady #LeBron & #Manning

Merrill Hoge believes P Manning will be playing Some place other than Indy which means he will be a Colt in 2012

Pat Kirwin on Sirius/XM made an interesting suggestion. Hold Gronkowski back until 2nd half so he doesn't tighten up after lengthy halftime

Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow which means for #Ravens fans, 6 more weeks of beating up on #CamCameron.

State of the Ravens Address




Some observations from the State of the Ravens press conference.

* It’s clear that the decision to bring back Cam Cameron was at least a majority decision and more than likely a unanimous one among the teams hierarchy. This comment from Steve Bisciotti is telling:

Ø "I'm looking at these [positive] trends, and a logical businessman would say that we're making progress. So, I don't know if I have a message for that 10 percent of the fans with that vitriol. I just don't have an answer for them. I just don't. I'm sorry."

Many wonder if Lee Evans will return to the club. He had only 4 regular season catches and never really seemed in synch with Cameron’s offense or on the same page as Joe Flacco. Evans is under contract for the 2012 season and is scheduled to make $3.375M in salary and is due a March 1 roster bonus of $1M.

Ozzie Newsome stated during the press conference that the Ravens will focus upon the offensive line, pass rushers and wide receiver during the offseason. For me that was code that unless Evans takes a pay cut, he’s already played his last down as a Raven.

Joe Flacco was discussed and this statement from Ozzie is telling about the club’s view on Joe Flacco:

Ø
“There’s no doubt that Joe improved,” Newsome said. “The thing that I like about Joe, when you’re in this business, you are judged on one thing: winning. Joe wins. If he continues to win, if one pass is caught, he’d be in a Super Bowl. And I think he’s going to win Super Bowl, a lot of them. And I hope to be a part of them. He has improved. The thing that you cannot knock about Joe is that he’s a winner.”

Somewhere Joe Linta, Flacco’s agent, is sporting a wide smile.






Photo by Dylan Slagle Carroll County Times

Ravens compensatory picks for 2012



The Ravens lost Dawan Landry, Chris Chester, Josh Wilson and Le’Ron McClain to free agency but signed Vonte Leach, Bernard Pollard and Ricky Williams. They did lose a few others: Donte Stallworth, Fabian Washington, Jared Gaither & Tony Moll but they all signed minimum deals and probably won't factor into the compensatory pick equation. So according to our capologist Brian McFarland, the Ravens will more than likely receive only 1 comp pick, probably a 4th or 5th rounder. That said one Ravens’ source has indicated that the team could receive 2 compensatory picks.

A team is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks if it is determined that they lost more or better players than they were able to acquire during the previous year's free agency period. The number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents (maximum of four) and that net loss is determined by a complex and unpublished formula developed by the NFL Management Council.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Caldwell to arms for Ravens?



Dial the clock back one full season and it doesn’t take a lot of recall effort to remember how Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti publicly (4:00 mark of video) placed the team’s offensive coordinator on notice.

“We like Cam [Cameron] under fire as our offensive coordinator next year.”

But was he really under fire? Or was that some flickering candle in the wind?

The numbers as evidenced in this 24x7 piece by Scot Kleinfeld, depict a slight improvement in the Ravens offense. Apparently it was enough to blow out that candle and save Cameron’s job for 2012.

But back to the concept of fire, where’s the evidence that firepower ever existed in the Ravens offense?

Outside of the opening game against the Steelers, the bombs away aerial assault upon the putrid Rams and for three-quarters of the AFC Championship Game, what can we point to as proof-positive that the Ravens improved offensively?

And perhaps a more important question is, “How did the Ravens’ franchise quarterback improve in 2011?”

The answer of course is that he didn’t as his quarterback rating fell from 93.6 to 80.9, a 13.6% drop off. I’ve argued that Cameron and Joe Flacco need to be separated and that Cameron had to go. You just don’t dropkick your “franchise quarterback.”

And apparently you don’t dropkick a struggling coordinator if you report to John Harbaugh as Cameron is now returning for a fifth season on the Ravens sideline.

Will anything change?

Well with the announcement yesterday from ESPN’s Jamison Hensley that the Ravens are set to hire former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell as an “offensive assistant”, the answer is leaning towards, “Yes!”

You see without a quarterback coach Cameron’s offense was a bit dictatorial. Let’s face, who else on the Ravens staff has play calling experience at the NFL level? (Queue up the crickets). So that lack of experience heightened Cameron’s security and lowered the flame.

Now with Caldwell joining the staff you get another experienced play caller and a guy who has worked with one of the game’s all time greats – Peyton Manning. Of course the cynic would say that Manning was the real coordinator for the Colts and that he probably taught Caldwell a thing or two. And if that’s your position, point taken.

But so what?

Caldwell’s exposure to a Manning-led offense and the preparation and commitment to refining his craft could find a benefactor in the form of Joe Flacco.

Plus it gives the Ravens “in season” options.

If Cameron is once again intoxicated in the land of mediocrity the Ravens can pull the plug mid-season – a luxury they clearly didn’t have in 2011.

No Caldwell isn’t Sean Payton. He’s no Mike McCarthy and yes the faces of Mt. Rushmore have more expression than his on the sidelines.

But his hiring just improved the Ravens staff.

NOW Cam Cameron is under fire.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Oh no not again!




Since Cam Cameron joined the Ravens coaching ranks in 2008, his offenses have ranked 18, 13, 22 and 15 overall in yardage. His passing offenses have ranked 28, 18, 20 and 19.

Prior to joining the Ravens and dating back to 2002 Cameron led offenses ranked 16, 14, 10, 10, 4 and 28 overall and 22, 19, 16, 12, 16 and 24 passing.

Is there any real evidence there that might suggest that Cameron can pilot even an above average offense or passing attack?

Recently on Sirius/XM NFL Radio, Greg Cosell from NFL Films discussed the Ravens offense.

His opinions were anything but flattering.

In so many words Cosell stated that the Ravens passing game is:

• Archaic – their formations are a throwback to the 60’s

• Unlikely to be successful with their scheme

• Predictable in that for the most part they run only 2 routes in the route tree

• Unimaginative in that it lacks bunch formations, rubs, drags and crossing routes

• Lacking in diversity and therefore it invites press man-coverage and nearly every catch is contested

• Wasteful in that a very capable third WR, Lee Evans, was on the field for only 8 of the 63 offensive snaps, nearly unheard of in today’s pass happy NFL.

Yet indications are that Cam Cameron will be back for a fifth season as the team’s offensive coordinator.

Last year he was saved by his head coach and the lockout. Could it be that this year he’ll be saved by a lack of viable coaching alternatives?

Successful teams lose coaches late in the league’s calendar year and when seeking replacements the pickings can be slim. Teams that have experienced coaching staff overhauls have depleted the more attractive options.

Insanity has been defined as, Doing things the same way and expecting different results.

Cam Cameron is probably returning as offensive coordinator.

See a parallel?


Related topic (link): Why Cameron & Flacco need to be separated

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It was a very good year!



The Ravens experienced several peaks and valleys during the 2011 season. Despite a 12-4 record (13-5 overall) the campaign was gut-wrenching in many ways for Ravens fans. Some were frustrated, others teased by the club’s potential. Perhaps expectations were set artificially high during the Opening Day waxing of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the end 2011 was a successful journey for the team, the city of Baltimore and all of the team’s fans both near and far – one that included an AFC North Division Title, a first round bye in the playoffs, a Divisional Round victory at home and 1 completed catch away from the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance.

Maybe the suddenness of the journey’s end has left us reaching for answers or in some cases pointing the finger of blame. Others are even buying in to carefully crafted traps of deception set by the diabolical Bill Belichick.

At the end of the day what we do know is this – the proverbial brass ring, that Silver Betty and companion for the Ravens’ lone Lombardi Trophy was within our collective reach. Yet in a few fleeting seconds it was snatched away and now like 30 other teams the Ravens and their fans have to decompress, take in another Super Bowl without representation and look ahead to next season.

One of the tragedies in the loss to the Patriots in the AFCC is that it will be without a doubt the last time this exact collection of players comprises the Ravens roster. Each season there is a 20-25% turnover in the 53 man squad. Some fringe players will go. Others will feel the blade of the salary cap.

And then there are those like Todd Heap, Derrick Mason and Kelly Gregg who the Ravens parted ways with as part of a youth movement. Might there be another player or players who meet a similar fate in 2012?

This is the business side of football.

The players get it and after the past offseason, so too do the fans.

Fortunately for all of us emotionally invested (and more) in the team, solace can be found in the knowledge that the Ravens are guided by some of the league’s best leaders in the form of Steve Bisciotti, Dick Cass, Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and the entire front office. They will re-tool and augment the roster in the professionally successful way they always have. The additions and changes coupled with the battle tested experiences of the past four consecutive post season appearances will bode well for the Ravens.

And they’ll be back.

But until then as we mourn the sudden end of a season, let’s remember the good times, the fun times we experienced. The laughter and cheer; the new friendships, those re-kindled, other deepened.

We were there. We were all there. And despite some frustrating lows in retrospect it was a hell of a ride.

And chances are, we’ll do it again.


Monday, January 23, 2012

THE GOOD, BAD, UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX: AFC Championship Game






Had you known in advance that Joe Flacco would clearly outplay Tom Brady and that New England’s All-World signal caller would not throw a single TD pass chances are you would have marked your calendar on February 5 for the Ravens’ second Super Bowl appearance.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

A dropped pass, a missed field goal, an interception overturned due to a ticky-tacky call – alter any of these events and it’s quite likely the story, for Ravens fans, would have had a happy ending. But in the end we were left with shattered hopes and moral victories.

THE GOOD: Anquan Boldin had 6 catches for 101 yards and stepped up when it counted most…Torrey Smith may have had 3 TD’s if not for the disruptive force called Vince Wilfork. He is explosive and his experience in the AFCC will only serve to accelerate his maturation process...Dennis Pitta had 5 catches for 41 yards, most of which were either first downs or a touchdown. He's sure-handed and heady…Lardarius Webb is closing in on elite corner status quickly. Limiting Wes Welker to 53 yards and his acrobatic INT when the Ravens really needed a momentum shifter added to his burgeoning reputation as a playmaker…Bernard Pollard while not a flawless tackler in space did a nice job keeping the Patriots’ dangerous tight ends in check. He also gets a big assist on Jimmy Smith’s clutch interception to help set up a potential game winning/ending drive…Ray Lewis did a nice job of patrolling the short middle zones while chipping in with 12 tackles…Paul Kruger was active and explosive as an edge pass rusher and in hindsight should have taken some of Jarret Johnson’s snaps…Ed Reed’s presence influenced Tom Brady’s decision making throughout the contest and he made a clutch play breaking up a third down pass to Aaron Hernandez to force a New England punt.

THE BAD: Perhaps the single most disruptive force on the field yesterday was Vince Wilfork and the two players most responsible for his dominance were Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda. Yanda, perhaps not all that healthy, clearly slumped down the homestretch this season…Ed Dickson has become a very unreliable receiver. His hands have been consistently shaky over the course of the season’s final quarter pole. Yesterday was no different. Dickson mental lapse wasn't exactly endearing either. Facing a favorable 2nd and 3 at the Patriots 30 yard line, Dickson committed a false start. Two plays later the Ravens turned it over on downs…Dannell Ellerbe was awful, regularly trailing plays and missing tackles in space. And his facemask penalty on a 1 yard second and 6 Benjarvus Green-Ellis run at the Ravens 15 yard line helped set the stage for the Patriots first touchdown...John Harbaugh should have called a timeout instead of rushing Cundiff out there for a game tying field goal. And by the way, why did they have to rush anyway. What was special teams coach Jerry Rosburg doing? Why isn't that unit ready for what was the most important field goal in Cundiff's and Rosburg's career? And what's up with Harbaugh pushing kicking coach Randy Brown?

THE UGLY:
Let’s start with the National Anthem, a wretched, nails-on-the-chalkboard rendition by Joan Rivers’ older sister, Steven TylerMichael Oher just seems to get worse with experience. Maybe the Ravens should hire Sandra Bullock as offensive line coach…Lee Evans, had the opportunity of a lifetime to finish a play and put the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVI. Instead, he could go down as the Ravens answer to Bill Buckner…Billy Cundiff, what was that? When the Ravens lined up for that field goal on the right hash mark, it is hard to deny that I expected him to push it right like he has in the past. But that duck hook off the tee was disgusting – and so costly. Cundiff's kickoffs were substandard as well and the kick coverage included its usual sloppy tackling.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD: Yesterday while channel surfing all of the networks covering the NFL, by far the most discussed player was Joe Flacco. He was clearly in the crosshairs of the national media and the pressure to perform was enormous. Despite constant penetration up the middle from Wilfork, Flacco answered all his critics and delivered an outstanding and clutch performance. If Lee Evans finishes a perfectly placed back shoulder pass for what would likely have been turned in for a ticket to Indianapolis, Flacco would be the talk of the sporting world today. But Evans and Cundiff took that opportunity away. Flacco on the day was 22 of 36 for 2 TD’s and 1 INT and 306 yards and a 95.4 quarterback rating. He also contributed with his feet rushing for 27 yards on four carries, one for a key first down to help extend the Ravens’ lead to 4.

Earlier in the week when asked about how he is viewed by the media Flacco responded, “I don’t care. I will be wearing a ring, and we will be holding a trophy. The perception probably won’t change, but it does not really matter.”

You are wrong Joe. The perception has changed and you stepped up when it counted most. Count me among those who believe that it could be a launching pad to bigger things and better things for you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A team, a color galvanize Baltimore



Driven by adrenalin tied directly to today’s game I awoke at 5 AM. Walking down to the kitchen I peered outside to our snow covered deck and our string of purple lights intertwined with the guard rail.

Their glow coupled with the light of the approaching dawn cast a purple glow upon the virgin snow.

And I smiled.

Today I thought, would be a purple letter day!

The excitement of the playoffs has been nothing less than exhilarating. Every play, every second is riveting. We see men, our hometown gladiators digging down into the depths of their souls, the wells of perseverance to capture sports’ ultimate prize.

This season has had a unique texture. It has been anything but smooth. Inconsistency has plagued the Ravens, particularly on the road. Our quarterback has weathered a barrage of criticism normally earmarked for a losing team, not one who has won more games than any other quarterback over the last 4 years.

As fans we’ve waited for the Ravens to gel, to show signs of peaking. And we still wait.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Ravens opened the season annihilating their bitter arch rival the Pittsburgh Steelers 35-7. Was that their peak?

Does it even matter?

Actually it doesn’t. What has happened is over and done. All the statistics are part of history for both teams. Past successes or failures have no influence upon what happens today. For the players today it is all about preparation both physically and mentally; winning more of their assignments than they lose; it’s about adjustments and execution.

It’s about winning and losing.

Winning has kept the Ravens’ season alive and to stay alive they will have to repeat what they did two years ago in Foxborough.

As an analyst of the team, I think the Ravens will pull off the upset in a nail biter today and they will go on to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVI. It will be a rematch of Super Bowl XXXV.

As a fan of the Ravens of course I want to see them succeed for reasons I can’t even begin to count. But mostly I want the buzz in this town to continue. We are intoxicated by the Ravens. We bathe in a sea of purple – together. The team’s success has galvanized the community. Neighbors seem like family; strangers like friends; problems are mere temporary blips on life’s radar screen.

It’s as though all is good in the world when the Ravens are winning. We talk and walk and behave like the community we want to be.

I think back to the magical 2000 season. The day that the Ravens won the Super Bowl there was one arrest made in Baltimore – one! Some dude was outside of some bar taking care of “business”. He didn’t want to wait in the bathroom line.

Yet for a moment in time we put aside our troubles and became one within Ravens Nation.

It can be that way again – a big town stuck in the shadows of DC and Philadelphia, the Rodney Dangerfield of the East Coast, can become the town everyone is talking about if only the Ravens can put together 120 minutes of outstanding football. It starts today with 60 minutes of that flavor in New England.

Ray Lewis deserves it.

Ed Reed deserves it.

Joe Flacco deserves it.

And our city, unfairly cast as nothing more than a cesspool of violence, STD’s and questionable politics, deserves it.

Let’s do this!

DOMINATE!

Be RELENTLESS!

PLAY LIKE RAVENS!

Let’s make that purple glow and those prideful smiles perpetual.

LET’S GO RAVENS!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cameron's Last Stand?



Last season after the Ravens fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Divisional round of the playoffs, frustrations boiled and it was only natural to assess the damage and allocate blame.

As certain as death and taxes, the Baltimore Ravens were carried by their defense while the offense struggled again, finishing 16th in points scored and 22nd overall in yardage – average to below average rankings.

Cam Cameron was once again squarely in the crosshairs.

Steve Bisciotti wanted Cameron replaced yet somehow John Harbaugh convinced the Ravens owner to give his offensive coordinator a mulligan. Notice was served (4:00 mark of video) and Cameron was granted borrowed time.

Now here we are a full year later and the Ravens have matched their 2010 win total and they’ve won yet another playoff game. On Sunday they will fight for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVI.

That’s progress for the team but is it enough to save Cameron’s job?

Comparing this season to last the Ravens improved their overall offensive ranking from 22 to 15. They’ve also experienced a bump in their points ranking from 16 to 12. Is that enough for the Ravens’ owner?

Let’s consider the club’s investment in offense since Cameron’s arrival. Two of the last 3 first round picks have been on offense (Flacco, Oher) and 19 of the 31 picks overall. Other investments have been made in the way of trades and free agent acquisitions to help support Cameron and Joe Flacco. The Ravens gave up draft picks and money to acquire Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans while they’ve added Bryant McKinnie, Andre Gurode and Vonta Leach via free agency.

But not much has changed really and it begs the question, “Have they realized a satisfactory return on their offensive investments since Cam came on the scene in 2008?” The Ravens’ defense, despite its aging, is still asked to do all the heavy lifting.

Yesterday on Sirius/XM NFL Radio, Greg Cosell from NFL Films discussed the Ravens offense.

His opinions were anything but flattering.

In so many words Cosell stated that the Ravens passing game is:

· Archaic – their formations are a throwback to the 60’s

· Unlikely to be successful with their scheme

· Predictable in that for the most part they run only 2 routes in the route tree

· Unimaginative in that it lacks bunch formations, rubs, drags and crossing routes

· Lacking in diversity and therefore it invites press man-coverage and nearly every catch is contested

· Wasteful in that a very capable third WR, Lee Evans, was on the field for only 8 of the 63 offensive snaps, nearly unheard of in today’s pass happy NFL

As a result Cosell concluded, the Ravens are “not difficult to defend.”

Consequently that makes it even more challenging for the Ravens to succeed offensively and it places a far greater burden on Joe Flacco.

You have to wonder why Cameron would take such an approach to offense knowing that his job is at stake. Given his 28 years as an offensive football coach don’t you think that Malcolm “Cam” Cameron is aware that his offense is only a tad more sophisticated than plays drawn in the dirt?

Of course he does!

The more important question is, “Why hasn’t he changed it?”

Is he capable of change or is his quarterback incapable of embracing and/or processing the change? Would all those bunch sets, rubs, multiple personnel packages, etc help or hurt Flacco?

We don’t know and we won’t know until they try.

But will they?

The Ravens are slow to the line of scrimmage. Plays seemingly aren’t relayed to Flacco in an expedient way leaving little time for pre-snap adjustments. The Ravens don’t equip Flacco with a playbook arm band like more accomplished quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Might that be why they are slow? What would they do with the additional time pre-snap? After all it was only last year that Cameron said that audibles are overrated.

TJ Houshmandzadeh this past offseason said that when he was in Cincinnati Carson Palmer called three plays in the huddle and until he got to the line of scrimmage they didn’t know which play the Bengals would run. Comparitively speaking Houshmandzadeh added, that during all of the plays he experienced as a Raven, Flacco audibled only a couple of times.

Is Cameron that much of a control freak or is he afraid of what might happen if he gives his signal caller newfound freedom?

Clearly Flacco hasn’t grown the way the Ravens expected him to in year 4 as a starter. Is there upside in Flacco and if so how do the Ravens tap into that? Is Cameron willing and able? If not, is this as good as it gets with Flacco under Cameron’s tutelage?

Obviously this doesn’t sit well with Flacco’s teammates. We can only guess what the locker room consensus is but earlier this week Ed Reed clearly provided some clues.

"I think Joe was kind of rattled a little bit by that defense," Reed said Monday during a Sirius NFL radio interview. “They had a lot of guys in the box on him. And, I mean, they were getting to him. I think a couple times he needed to get rid of the ball. I don't know how much of the play calling, he could have made audibles or anything like that, checks or whatnot, man, but it just didn't look like he had a hold on the offense, you know, of times past. You know, it was just kind of like they was telling him to do, throw the ball or get it here, you know, get it to certain guys. And he can't play like that."


Many in the media have suggested – some to blown out of proportion heights, that Reed’s comments were unnecessary and poorly timed shots at Flacco. But were they? Might Reed’s anxiety over the team’s offensive play actually be an attempt to serve notice to Cameron? The Ravens’ personnel department can’t be all that happy about the ultra slow maturation of Flacco. It bogs down the development of other offensive talent. Baltimore is quickly becoming a place where wide receivers’ careers go to die. And what GM wants that rap?

Joe Flacco’s rookie contract expires after the 2012 season. With Cam Cameron guiding the way there’s little reason to expect a much different offense next year. Flacco’s numbers suggest only slightly above average quarterback play. Do you think he’ll want a contract commensurate with those stats or with the Ravens impressive team record while Flacco is at the helm?

Win or lose on Sunday, win or lose in two weeks, it’s time for the Ravens and Cameron to part ways. Clearly the team wants to give Flacco a chance to grow and surround him with talent and coaching to ensure that happens. For the moment, he’s stuck in neutral.

Just as clearly they want Flacco to be the club’s long-term solution at quarterback. And in order to see if he is that solution and to assess his worth when his contract expires, Cameron needs to be pushed aside now shortly after the Ravens last play this season.

Only then will we know if Cameron’s offense is truly stuck in the 60’s or if it has been dummied down to match up with Flacco’s cerebral cortex.

Bisciotti’s checkbook needs to know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Evidence suggests Ravens can beat the Patriots, and they will!




Heading into the AFC Championship, all week long media outlets (us excluded of course) will be analyzing, overanalyzing, opining and beating more dead horses than a glue factory. You will hear very little that will please you because undoubtedly all of the national pundits and douchebags (like Skip Bayless) will be totally smitten with Love Potion No. 12 and huggin’ the Ugg-in’.

So before these bozos have you looking for the nearest cliff or bridge, check out these morsels to kick around the water cooler:

· The Ravens are the only NFL team to earn the playoffs the past four seasons – and the only team to win a playoff game each of those four years (2008-11)

· John Harbaugh is just the fourth head coach in NFL history to earn the playoffs in each of his first four seasons

· Ray Rice became just the second player in NFL history to post multiple 1,000-yard rushing/700-yard receiving seasons (also in 2009)

· WR Torrey Smith (second-round pick) ranked No. 3 in the NFL in receiving yards by a rookie, posting Ravens rookie records in catches (50), receiving yards (841) and touchdowns (7).

· Joe Flacco is the only starting QB since the 1970 merger to make the playoffs in each of his first four seasons.

· The Ravens own the best playoff winning percentage (.625) in NFL history (since 1970 merger), compiling a 10-6 postseason mark.

· The Ravens are 7-4 on the road in all-time postseason play, posting the second-best road win percentage (.636) since the 1970 merger.

· In their postseason history, the Ravens have dominated the turnover battle, registering a +17 mark in 16 games.

· Baltimore’s 32 INTs rank as the most in NFL postseason play since 2000, while the 552 INT return yards also stand first.

· Ravens are 8-2 all-time when leading at halftime in a playoff game; 0-4 when they trail.

· When leading after 3 quarters in postseason play the Ravens are 8-0.

· The Ravens have never allowed a 300 yard passer during the post season

· Ray Rice ran for an 83-yard TD, the second-longest run in NFL postseason history. His jolt was the longest in Ravens playoff history

· Suggs has the NFL’s most postseason sacks (10) since 2008.

· During the 2009 WC Playoff game #Ravens forced QB Tom Brady into 4 turnovers (3 INTs and 1 fumble)

· During that 1/10/10 WC Playoff Game the #Ravens ran up 24 points v. #Patriots in the first quarter.

· The Patriots had the 31st-ranked unit in 2011 (411.1 ypg), allowing 293.9 passing yards and 117.1 rushing yards per contest.

· Ed Reed & Bryant McKinnie & Patriots NT Vince Wilfork all played on the 2001 (12-0) Miami Hurricanes & won the BCS National Championship.

· Ravens are 11-0 in 2011 when scoring 20+ points.

· Tom Brady has a career QB Rating v. Ravens of 77.9 with 4TD passes and 3 interceptions in 4 games. He has been sacked 10 times in those 4 games. Against the rest of the league he has a 96.9 QBR.

· In his last 2 outings v. Ravens Brady’s QB Ratings were a putrid 69.5 and 49.1.

· The Patriots were 0-2 during the season against teams with better than a .500 record (Steelers & Giants). In those games Tom Brady had 4 TD passes and 2 interceptions in total and a combined 86.4 passer rating. Against teams with .500 or worse records Brady was 13-1 with a 108.6 QBR.


So for those who think the Ravens don't have a shot on Sunday, you're wrong. The NFL is all about matchups and the physicality on the line of scrimmage. And if the Ravens can win there (and their history in New England says they can) then all of the pretty stats Brady has compiled against lesser opponents won't mean a thing. Your proof lies above.

Look for the Ravens to win in the trenches and for Joe Flacco to make some plays in the passing game. Let's not forget that the Patriots are just a few weeks removed from allowing the Bills and Dolphins to get out to big leads. Those sexy comebacks won't be in play on Sunday.

And after Sunday, neither will the Patriots.

Ravens 24, Patriots 23.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Two legends could be saying goodbye



Should the Ravens win today they will travel to Foxboro next Sunday (3:00 kickoff) and it is not outside the realm of reason that the game against the Texans could be the last time we see Ray Lewis and Ed Reed emerge from the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium.

If the Ravens are successful and they run off a three game winning streak on their way to a second Super Bowl title, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of reason – many might even say it’s probable, that both of these locks for the Hall of Fame will retire.

And you know what, that is exactly how I would like to see it unfold.

These two greats, two players from “The U” who helped change our lives with their athletic prowess, leadership and attachment to the community could not only go out as world champions but also be enshrined in Canton together on the very same stage. The thought of that makes me a little misty – really!

There is no doubt that Ray is showing signs of aging and diminishing skills. Ed has been struggling with that nerve impingement for no less than 3 seasons, hanging on because he loves the game and yearns for that ring. Add another year to the mix and consider that teams in the modern era rarely go to the playoffs five consecutive seasons.

Do we want to remember their final days struggling, hurting and aging before our eyes?

Of course we would miss them. “The Dance” would be forever gone and the electric chants of Reeeeeed while echoing in eternity in our minds would no longer fill M&T Bank Stadium. Wouldn’t it be better to see them exit in a blaze of glory?

So while you are in your seat tomorrow or you are somewhere watching the game on TV, take pause and watch both of these men a little longer, soak it in and try to remember and appreciate how blessed we’ve all been to call these men “ours.”

Because if this season ends the way we all hope, tomorrow could be their Baltimore
swansong.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Please Forgive Me!



So all week long my plan was clear and present. In fact it was perfect, or so I thought.

Step 1: Cheer for the Texans; they win and come to Baltimore

Step 2: The dirty work – hope for a Steelers win in Denver.

Step 3: Steelers continue their winning ways and beat the Commissioner’s Godson and the Patriots in Foxboro.

Step 4: Ravens keep their home winning streak alive and their lifetime mark against the Texans flawless and deliver another problem to Houston.

The plan if properly executed would set up the third game of the 2011 season trilogy between the Ravens and the Steelers.

How could it possibly be any better than to host Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship?

There is not a doubt in my mind that the Ravens would have taken the Steelers down again. NONE! All that silly talk about how hard it is to beat a team three times in the same season was so off the mark as history has proven that 67% of the time the team that won the first 2 games, wins the third.

The matchups just favor Baltimore and Ozzie Newsome carefully constructed this team with the intent to take down those Yinzers. And with a hobbled and beaten Dick Tracy wannabe at quarterback who the Ravens regularly rough up even when healthy, the beating would have been like a new toy on Christmas morning.

Now as the Steelers @ Broncos game drew near, I began to waffle a little on the plan. Could I really root for the Steelers? Wouldn’t most if not all of my vital organs suddenly shut down? Would my family disown me? What a dilemma!

So I met up with some friends at a nearby favorite watering hole to take in the game and as we walked in we rationalized that we would be happy no matter the outcome. If the Broncos won, cool – one of life’s pleasures is a Steelers loss, particularly in the playoffs when they are a prohibitive favorite.

BUT, if the Steelers won then the plan would still be in play.

So the game gets underway and after the first quarter ended, the Broncos had 10 yards of offense and the Steelers had a 6-0 lead. It started to feel like the plan would play out as drawn up. But still it didn’t feel right. It felt a little dirty.

Less than 2 minutes into the second quarter it happened. The plan and the fading clarity came to a fatal crash landing accented by several enthusiastic high fives. Tim Tebow connected with Eddie Royal on a 30 yard scoring strike and following the PAT the Broncos were ahead 7-6. It didn’t feel good – it felt GREAT!

We deep sixed the plan faster than Ben Roethlisberger walks out on a tab.

TEEEEE-BOW, EEEEEE-OOOOH-OH!

The bar was loud. It was almost as if the Ravens were playing. Spirits soared as the Broncos took the lead and then that here-we-go-again feeling dominated the atmosphere when Pittsburgh tied it up at 23. We’ve seen this Steelers Houdini act before.

But Houdini was slain on the first play of overtime. WOW!

Cheering for Tebow felt like a baptism and my sins – my dirty stinking sins and that hideous plan washed away by that beautiful Rocky Mountain spring water. Taste the cold!

So NOW the new plan is for Tebow to work his magic again – to laugh at that 13 ½ point line and believe.

And then maybe, just maybe we can invite No. 15 and his divine connections to our cathedral, M&T Bank Stadium on January 22.

Yep, this Plan B is not so bad…

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m next in the confessional line and I’m sure my penance is going to be a doozy.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Why can't Billick get back on the coaching carousel?





During his 9 seasons in Baltimore Brian Billick compiled a record of 85-67 (.559) including a 5-3 record in the playoffs – and of course a World Championship in Super Bowl XXXV.

Billick has been away from the sidelines and in broadcasting booths and studios ever since Steve Bisciotti abruptly fired him on New Year’s Eve, 2007.

Billick deserved it.

Inside sources agreed and offered comments that included but were not limited to:

“He lost the team.”

“His commitment to Boller split the locker room.”

“He was arrogant and crass and disrespected the scouting department.”

Billick’s departure in many ways was a self-fulfilling prophecy. He said on several occasions that the coaching life cycle is 7 years after which the same old message from the same old ball coach no longer delivers the intended results. A look around the league suggests that Billick’s theory is off since several highly successful coaches with tenures at or exceeding 7 seasons are still going strong.

Maybe given Billick’s style 7 years is about right.

But I have a feeling that being in the booth, watching and analyzing teams and games as an analyst has helped to give Billick a new perspective on coaching. He’s an extremely bright man and he will process his experiences while remaining mindful of past transgressions. Eventually he will marry up the good aspects of Brian Billick with what he’s learned and become an even better head coach – provided of course that he’s given that opportunity.

And you have to wonder why he hasn’t.

This is just a guess but maybe Billick’s coaching well has remained dry because he came to Baltimore to provide a spark to a struggling offense -- a spark that never ignited. His offense was carried by an inherited championship caliber defense that was worthy of more than one Lombardi. Consequently the perception may be that he never accomplished what he was hired to do and in the eyes of some stood in the way of Ray Lewis & Co.

Is yesterday’s perception today’s reality?

Smart folks do learn from their mistakes.

Stubborn people don’t.

The guess here is that today’s Brian Billick is smarter than he is stubborn, humbled and energized by his experiences.

The team willing to give him a second chance will benefit.

A league with teams that willingly hire unproven head coaching talents like Jason Garrett, Josh McDaniels, Todd Haley, Pat Shurmur should be willing to bring on a former Super Bowl Champion head coach.

The question shouldn’t be, “Why hire Brian Billick?” but rather, “Why not?”

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Why are we so hard on the Ravens?



Anyone who has followed this site or my blog for any amount of time knows that I love the Ravens. There are many journalists who wouldn’t admit that out of fear that it might jeopardize their journalistic integrity. I happen to believe you can be objective and a fan at the same time – and admit it.

Closet fandom doesn’t sit well with me.

Recently I took pause to reflect upon the season as both a journalist and a fan. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the two.

Ravens Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta once said to me that I write like a coach might write. He said when “we” do well you find a weakness in the game as part of an effort to get better. A coach might prefer to break you down when things are going well so that no one rests on their laurels. Need a little shower on your parade? I’ve got it!

Conversely if the Ravens performed poorly, I’ll find the silver lining and build on in order to learn from the loss, move on and hopefully get better.

I respect Eric as a family man, friend and an NFL personnel guy so it’s only natural that I’m flattered that he cares enough to read this blog and share those opinions.

That said, I think I have failed as a coach’s writer this season and it took a rant from one of our site visitors today to make me realize that.

The Ravens are 12-4 and the second seed in the postseason dance. For the first time they swept all of their home games; swept the AFC North while winning the division and they are 6-0 against all teams still alive in the NFL. Yet for some reason my intestines are tortured practically every game I watch and expletives will fly from my mouth like saliva from an upset Bill Cowher’s.

And I’m wondering why?

Sure the Ravens could get better. John Harbaugh could help foster a better team killer instinct; Cam Cameron could utilize the skill sets of his offensive squad and work between the hash marks more efficiently; yes Joe Flacco can look clueless and listless at times and he can master the finer nuances of solid quarterback play; Jerry Rosburg’s special teams units leave much to be desired.

The list could go on.

But the bottom line is the “W” and there are 12 of them on the board for the Ravens. It doesn’t matter how they got there – they are there and 20 other teams are not. They are there and they get a week off and they get to play at home. They are there and just 2 wins removed from their second Super Bowl appearance. Only 3 other teams in the NFL can say that.

Think about that and then ask yourself given all of those positives, why is it that the Ravens have been so heavily criticized by their own fans? It’s nuts! And trust me, I’m not blaming anyone. I’ve done it too!

But I’m not doing it any more.

Look back to last season. No one and I mean NO ONE expected the Green Bay Packers to get on a roll and win the Super Bowl as a 10-6 wild card. But they did. This year, look around. Do you see any team without warts?

· Green Bay has the 32nd ranked defense and New England the 31st
· Houston and Pittsburgh are both nicked up and resemble infirmaries
· Denver is 8-8 and riding a 3 game losing streak
· Cincinnati is 0-7 against the playoff teams
· San Francisco has very little playoff experience and a challenged offense
· New Orleans has the 24th ranked defense and they were smoked earlier this season by the 2-14 St. Louis Rams
· The Lions surrendered 45 points to a backup quarterback during Week 17
· The Falcons are like the Wicked Witch to water when they play outdoors
· The New York Giants are ranked 29th against the pass in a conference that features
Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees during the playoffs.

So the next time you think about bitching like I have about a team like the Ravens who millions of NFL fans across the country would love to call theirs, think about where they are and where they could be and then chill and be thankful that they are YOUR BALTIMORE RAVENS.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to give myself an overdue and well-deserved ass beating.

Monday, January 02, 2012

If Texans win on Saturday Super Bowl XLVI will turn purple




This week the Ravens and to some degree their fans get to sit back, rest a bit both physically and mentally before cranking up the adrenaline throttle in preparation for January 15, 2012 at 1:00PM. Together we can take in all the games, the most interesting and perhaps most pivotal of which for the Ravens is the Bengals v. Texans game in Houston this Saturday at 4:30PM.

The oddsmakers have installed the home team as a 3 point favorite and if it plays out that way and the Texans win, it should be music to the ears of Ravens fans. That means the Ravens would host the Texans a week from Sunday and in all likelihood, despite being banged up, the Steelers will draw the Patriots on Saturday, January 14.

Earlier this season the Steelers beat the Patriots on October 30 at Heinz Field by the score of 25-17. It wasn’t that close. And despite their injuries, if the Steelers can take the early lead on January 14 in Foxboro, I don’t think they’ll give it up as easily as the philanthropic Dolphins and Bills who wet the bed after taking 17-0 and 21-0 leads on the Patriots, respectively.

After the Ravens hand the Texans a Charm City beat down, they will get ready to host the Steelers on January 22 at 3PM.

Now unless you’ve just returned from a tour of duty in the caves of Afghanistan, you know that the Ravens swept the Steelers during the 2011 regular season and that fact seems to make many fans a little uneasy.

“It’s so hard to beat a team three times in the same season.”

No it’s not!

It’s hard to PLAY the same time three times in the same season. BUT if one team beats the other during the first two games it’s actually more likely that the winner of games 1 and 2 also wins the third. In fact during the modern era of the NFL (when the AFL & NFL merged) this situation has presented itself 18 times and the team that has taken the first 2 games also won the third 12 times – 67% of the time!

Root for the Texans on Saturday and if your cheers are answered by Arian Foster & Company, prepare to see the Ravens represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVI.

Oh and as the home team they’ll get to wear purple too!

You with me?