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?

THE GOOD, BAD, UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX: Ravens @ Bengals



At the beginning of any season the number 1 priority for all NFL teams is to win their division. The Ravens can now cross that off their list of objectives as they are the newly crowned AFC North Champion and today they sit just 2 more wins removed from the franchise’s second Super Bowl appearance. And they did that by slaying another monster yesterday in Cincinnati – the road.

The road hasn’t been kind to the Ravens nor has the Queen City (1-5 during last 6 visits prior to yesterday) and consequently many, me included, didn’t think there would be a happy ending on Sunday.

THE GOOD: Terrell Suggs has always found the sledding tough against Bengals’ stout offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, one of the league’s best and probably its most underrated. But Suggs kept working and battling and eventually he made 2 key plays: the forced fumble on Jermaine Gresham and the sack of Andy Dalton. One paved the way for no less than a 10 point swing; the other helped to hold the Bengals to 3 when they ventured deep into the Ravens red zone…Haloti Ngata was disruptive with a strong interior push to move Dalton off his throwing mark plus he made a couple of athletic plays as a pass defender, one nearly resulting in a diving interception…One of the knocks on Bernard Pollard when he arrived was said to be his limited skills in pass coverage. That was not the case on Sunday as Pollard was not only physical as usual but he also broke up 2 Dalton passes and he recovered the Suggs forced fumble…Lardarius Webb also broke up 2 passes and did a very nice job on Pro Bowl rookie WR A.J. Green, helping to limit him to 2 catches for just 26 yards...Cary Williams was active with 6 tackles and 3 passes defended in his first outing since recovering from a concussion. His efforts along with those of Chris Carr were key, particularly after Jimmy Smith was knocked out of the game with concussion-like symptoms of his own.

Joe Flacco was efficient and could have been even more productive if not for the ultra-conservative play calling of Cam Cameron and the butterfingers of Lee Evans. Flacco QBR on the day was 112.7…Dennis “American Express” Pitta is beginning to look more and more like Todd Heap. The second year TE chipped in with 6 catches for 62 yards and a score. He was strong with yards after catch…Despite fighting off the pain of separated rib cartilage, Marshal Yanda was a force in the running game. His key block on Rey Maualuga on the team’s first possession paved the way for Ray Rice to go 70 yards untouched for the score…Vonta Leach is paying huge dividends and as the season wears on he only seems to be getting stronger…Props to Ricky Williams for cracking the 10,000 yard barrier and providing solid relief of Ray Rice, chipping in with 28 yards on 6 carries…Excellent challenge by John Harbaugh on a Cedric Benson run that was initially ruled a first down. The challenge overturned the call on the field and forced a Bengals punt. The Ravens responded during the change of possession with an 11 play, 80 yard drive that ended with a 9 yard scoring toss from Flacco to Pitta.

THE BAD: Either Ray Lewis is still hurt and no one is saying or the aging process has accelerated tremendously down the back stretch of his 16th season. He looks stiff and slow particularly in open space and he shouldn’t even be on the field when the Ravens are in the dime... Another seemingly injured Hall of Fame player on the defensive side, Ed Reed looks forward to tackling the way a star of HBO’s True Blood welcomes a sunny day at the beach. Although it’s difficult to see on television one would hope that Reed had a big hand in limiting A.J. Green. Otherwise this All World player is more of a liability than the playmaker he once was…With each passing game Lee Evans draws closer to being labeled a bust. His drop of a deep pass from Flacco is akin to a slumping hitter in baseball swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. He seems to be pressing… John Harbaugh and Cam Cameron have to be held jointly responsible for the Ravens lack of a killer instinct. They just seem afraid to go for the kill shot despite the Bengals selling out to stop Ray Rice. The game should never have been as close as it was. Maybe both should watch a few Patriots’ games or better still, maybe they were tuned into the Giants v. Cowboys game, when despite a 10 point lead with under 4 minutes, Eli Manning was taking shots at the Dallas secondary and eventually one landed for the kill.

THE UGLY: Outside of their kickers, special teams for the Ravens are just flat out awful. We regularly witness their inability to cover punts and kicks now they’ve added poor punt blocking to their woes.

THE MEGAN FOX: Is there any doubt? With 191 yards on 24 carries and 2 big touchdowns (70, 51), his 14th and 15th of the season Ray Rice, despite Bengals’ resources deployed to prevent him, carried the Ravens to victory. Somewhere John Harbaugh and Cam Cameron should be doing Rice’s laundry and even clipping his toenails – and doing so happily. He bailed out their lackluster game management which prevented an unwelcomed trip to Denver.

MEGA(N)BYTES: The Ravens are 5-0 this season against all teams still alive in the AFC Playoffs, 6-0 against all 12 playoff teams in the NFL…According to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley the Ravens non-divisional opponents in 2012 are: HOME: Denver, Oakland, Dallas, NYGiants, New England… AWAY: KC, San Diego, Philadelphia, Washington, Houston.


Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Top 10 Ravens Moments of 2011



Every year when the calendar winds down to its end, reminiscing runs rampant. So why should we be any different, right?

Earlier this week I posted a thread on our message board (which by the way if you haven’t seen the new one, check it out – without a doubt the finest Ravens community on the planet and I’m allowed to say it because I had nothing to do with it) polling asking our members their thoughts on the Top 10 Ravens Moments in 2011.

And they delivered.

Now I took it upon myself to cut and paste all of them which you can see at the link above. I then paired it down to the top 17 moments, gradually grinding it down to 10 – not an easy job. Then after assembling the 10 I ranked them. And here they are – in my opinion of course with a big tip of the hat to my collaborators – the message board members.

10. JUDGEMENT DAY ~ The front office taking the hard line approach to let go of some hometown favorites (Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg, Willis McGahee and Derrick Mason) in order to get younger and create cap space to extend Marshal Yanda and make strategic acquisitions in the form of Bernard Pollard and Vonta Leach.

9.
I’M GOING TO KANSAS CITY ~ Joe Flacco connects with Anquan Boldin to seal the wild card victory in KC over the Chiefs to advance in last year’s postseason dance.

8.
MUTE THE MEGAMOUTH ~ Rex Ryan brought his swagger and bloated bravado to Baltimore in an early season Sunday Night game and from the very start it was obvious that despite Ryan’s claims prior to the game, the best defense that night wore all black and from the opening snap they were on attack. Ed Reed on a blitz, sacks and strips Mark Sanchez, a play eerily similar to one back in 2004 against Sanchez’ back up Mark Brunell when the later was a Redskin. Reed nearly finished the trifecta by scooping up the fumble for a score but teammate Jameel McClain was there to clean up and score the game’s first points.

7.
HERE COMES THE SPIDERMAN ~ Despite dominating the Jets offense during the aforementioned game, Sanchez & Co. were hanging around thanks to the struggles of Joe Flacco. The Jets forced a Flacco fumble and were ready to make it a 3 point game until Lardarius Webb picked off a Sanchez pass and returned it 73 yards for the score. It was the dagger the struggling offense couldn’t provide.

6.
3 CATCHES, 3 TOUCHDOWNS ~ Torrey Smith's first 3 catches as a professional all went for scores and all in the first quarter in St. Louis.

5.
REDEMPTION SONG ~ Anquan Boldin takes over and wills his team to overcome a 21 point deficit against his former employer, the Arizona Cardinals – the biggest comeback win in team history.

4.
THIS IS HOW WE DO IT ~ On the season’s opening drive against their bitter archrival, Joe Flacco connects with Anquan Boldin on a scoring strike to set the tone for the game. The rout was on.

3.
THE KILL SHOT ~ The Ravens have had the Steelers on the ropes in the past and let them off with devastating results. To start the second half in the season’s opener Haloti Ngata knifed through Pittsburgh’s interior offensive line to greet Rashard Mendenhall just as Ben Roethlisberger handed him the ball. The massive collision forced a fumble, recovered by Ngata, followed immediately by a nice waggle play the resulted in a Joe Flacco to Ed Dickson scoring strike. There would be no letting the Steelers off the ropes.

2.
HARBAUGH BOWL ~ Who knows if the Ravens will be a host on Thanksgiving again in our lifetime. This special night was electric for so many reasons, not the least of which was the first ever meeting of opposing head coaches who are brothers. A special night, and a great defensive performance which included 9 sacks.

1. 92 YARDS ~ The Ravens trailed the Steelers at Heinz Field 20-16 with 2:21 remaining and 92 yards of real estate to navigate for the win. Despite the incredible odds and a history of failure Joe Flacco engineered the signature drive thus far in his young career. The exclamation point was a 26 yard strike to Torrey Smith in the right corner of the end zone. The Ravens completed the seasonal sweep of the Steelers.

Do you agree with our list? Did we leave any off the list that should be included?

Here’s to starting a new list for 2012 beginning TODAY!