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Ravens escape Bengals despite offensive slumber party

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Ravens escape Bengals despite offensive slumber party

Posted on 10 November 2013 by Drew Forrester

There are two ways to look at Sunday’s 20-17 Baltimore win over Cincinnati.

Season saved.

Or, torture extended.

Honestly, I’m thinking we’re a lot closer to torture-extended than saving the season, but that’s why they play the games.

I’ll just ask the question directly instead of beating around the bush:  This Ravens offense can’t possibly be good enough to win six more games between now and New Years, right?

I don’t see how it can happen.

They can’t run the ball.  Anywhere.  And the passing game, while decent enough at times, just can’t prop up a one-dimensional offense like the one the Ravens are utilizing these days.

Now, this takes nothing at all away from the overtime win over the Bengals.  A loss by the Ravens – after being up 17-0 – would have been about as disappointing as The Hangover 3.  And, with the win, the season and hopes for a rebound in the second half are alive and well, despite the offensive ineptness.

A win IS a win, no matter how many times we’ve heard that over the years.

And, we’ve heard it a lot.

But, it’s true.  The standings will reflect that Baltimore won on Sunday to improve to 4-5 and the Bengals lost to fall to 6-4.  Bellyaching about the team’s offense – like I just did above – won’t change those facts.  Lamenting about James Ihedigbo’s mental error on the game’s final play of regulation won’t alter the outcome, either.

I assume Bengals fans might want to wring Marvin Lewis’s neck for a series of bizarre decisions throughout the afternoon, but none will be talked about more than his decision to take the overtime kick off and give the Ravens the choice of which end zone to defend.  It essentially flipped the field on Cincy in OT, as they elected not to try and kick a 50 yard field goal into the windswept end and instead went for it on 4th and 2 from the Baltimore 33 yard line.  When the Bengals lost 11 yards on the play, the Ravens got the ball on their own 44 yard line.  Even a bad Baltimore offense can scoot the ball along 25 yards without coughing it up, which is exactly what happened to give Tucker his 46 yard game-winner.

Lewis will regret not punting on 4th and 2.  And he’ll be questioned about taking the ball to start overtime and giving the Ravens the easy end of the field to work with, wind-wise.  That said, neither of those elements dwarf his team’s biggest problem on Sunday:  Andy Dalton stunk up the joint.  If he’s a championship quarterback, I’m the lead singer for Alice in Chains.

Truthfully, from the first whistle until Green’s miracle grab on the final play, the Bengals had zero business even being in the game.  They were disjointed, undisciplined and largely more interested in accumulating penalty flags than points throughout most of the afternoon.  It wasn’t until Baltimore’s offense fizzled in the final two minutes of the game that the visitors even had a breath of life.

If ever the Ravens grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat, Sunday’s game did just that.

And that’s after they allowed the Bengals to meander their way back into the contest when it looked like they weren’t all that interested in doing so.

That’s what happens when your offense can’t put teams away.

And that’s how it goes when you’re playing with fire defensively, knowing any small mistake can put your team behind the eight ball.

The Ravens outplayed the Bengals on Sunday.

It wasn’t an ass kicking or anything, but the Baltimore defense manned up all afternoon and put John Harbaugh’s team in position for a relatively easy win.

Then, the Baltimore offense stalled.

Again.

And the whole thing got a lot closer than it needed to get.

This Ravens team – as a whole – just doesn’t appear to be all that good.  But, they’re 4-5 and still alive in the race for an AFC playoff spot.  A win in Chicago next week and they’re still very much in the thick of things.

Let’s see if the offense makes the trip to Soldier Field.

If it doesn’t, we won’t be crowing about “a win is a win” this time next Sunday night.

 

 

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Does John Harbaugh’s style need changing?  It’s a fair question…

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Does John Harbaugh’s style need changing? It’s a fair question…

Posted on 05 November 2013 by Drew Forrester

Football players can’t change much, but a coach sure can.

Can John Harbaugh change?

Should he?

Will he?

Those are all fair questions now as the Ravens are in the midst of only their second 3-game losing streak in Harbaugh’s outstanding 6-year run as Baltimore’s NFL coach.

First, let’s get this straight from the start:  In and of itself, a 3-game losing streak is NOT a reason to panic.  It’s NOT a reason to change the great things you’ve done.  And it’s NOT incumbent upon one person to say, “I’ll fix this whole thing…”

That said, when you’ve been around for five-plus seasons, any significant bump in the road – and a 3-game losing streak, to a high-level franchise like the Ravens, is SIGNIFICANT – has to be looked at by the head coach as an opportunity to evaluate himself and his work.

I hope John is doing that today in Owings Mills.

Anyone who has read my work here or listened to my radio show knows what I think about John Harbaugh.  For the record, again, I’ll simply say this:  John is an outstanding football coach.  He’s an equally outstanding “man”.  He’s a champion.  And, of course, he still has plenty to learn in his profession.

I’ve been around athletes for the last thirty years of my life and one thing I can say for sure is that players rarely change their own style.  They can’t, really.  They are what they are.  If you’re a striker in professional soccer and you’re a right footed player with little or no ability to play left-footed, you’re always going to be a player that goes to his right and uses his right foot to pass or shoot the ball.  The same goes for a basketball player who’s a “right sided” player.  You’re going to your right, virtually every time, and that’s just the way it goes.  You do what got you there, for lack of a better term.  Football players are the same.  Their style is their style.  Some of that is predicated on things outside of their control — size and speed are two factors — but for the most part, a pro football player is going to use the tools that got him there in the first place.

Coaches are different.

They can change.

That doesn’t mean they have to undergo a wholesale change that comes across as “obviously phony”.

But, a coach who’s soft can develop a new, stronger edge and a coach that’s known to be a drill sergeant can soften his edges and  learn to be more accomodating with his players.  The most obvious NFL example of the latter is Tom Coughlin in New York, who has worked hard over the last five years to listen more and yell less.  It’s worked, of course.  He’s a 2-time Super Bowl champion and likely headed for the Hall of Fame someday.

I’d ask John Harbaugh to go through the same self-evaluation as Coughlin did five years ago.

I’m not TELLING John to change.  That’s not the point of this.

I’m simply suggesting to the coach that now, season six of his tenure, might be the time to carefully evaluate his style to see if it still works with this group of players he has in Baltimore.

One thing I know for sure.  If John Harbaugh thinks his style can be tweaked, improved or altered and doing so would help the team win, he’d surely consider doing it.  Another thing I know without hesitation:  No one on the football team or football staff wants to win more than Harbaugh.  No one.  He’d sell his mother to win a football game.  And then he’d pay double to get her back afterwards.  He wants to win, badly.

Then again, the players want to win, too.  How you get them to win, though, is the challenge.  As someone in the Ravens organization said to me last week, “We have an interesting collection of players.  Some of the veterans need an ass-kicking and some don’t.  Some of our young players get it and some of them don’t.  Usually, the vets don’t need to be reminded to take every snap seriously and the kids do, but our locker room is a unique blend of guys, for some reason.”

One of those veteran players who needed an ass kicking got it last week.  Michael Huff was sent packing after three months of showing little desire to do anything except pick up a paycheck.  Marcus Spears was also let go, but that was much more about his degenerative knee condition limiting him, physically.  Cornerback Asa Jackson returns this week after his 2nd run-in with the league’s Substance Abuse Policy.  He’s on life number eight of his nine lives in Baltimore.  Will he take advantage of it or will he fall from grace the way most people in Owings Mills assume he will?

And, how does John Harbaugh go about his own business now, dealing with a locker room that’s reeling with three straight losses and has both sides of the ball stinking it up at crucial times during the games?  A fractured locker room is a bad locker room.  Once the offense and defense start taking up sides, you’re in big trouble.  I can only guess there’s an element of that existing right now at 1 Winning Drive, but that atmosphere likely exists in most locker rooms of 3-5 teams.

This, again, is on Harbaugh’s shoulders right now.

Is he working with a depleted roster, minus eleven critically important players from a season ago?

Absolutely.

If you suddenly re-inserted these jerseys in the Ravens locker room, would the team be a lot better?  Dennis Pitta, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Cary Williams, Brendon Ayanbedejo, Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk, Bryant McKinnie, Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe.

Answer, of course:  Yes.

But, that was then, this is now.  Those guys are gone.  And this new edition of Ravens football might not react to the head coach the way the championship team did a season ago.

Is John just going with his style because it’s his style or is willing to look at himself and say, “For this team, now, I might need to change the way I do things?”

More bible verses?  Or less bible verses?

Harder practices?  Lighter practices?

More hugs to the special team players…the fringe guys?  Or less hugs and more questions like “Are you ever going to be good enough to start in this league?”

More critical analysis of his coaching staff?  Longer days?  Shorter days?  More “come to Jesus” meetings with position coaches who see their own struggling game in and game out?

More thorough review of John’s own in-game style and strategy?  More of a gambler?  Less of a gambler?

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions and I’m not suggesting any, honestly.

I’m merely asking the coach if his style, the one that has made him a champion, is etched in stone and non-negotiable?

Or, like the truly GREAT coaches in all sports, can he re-invent himself and use his strengths to mold a new character that changes with the seasons and the players he leads?

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Hands Off the Panic Button

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Hands Off the Panic Button

Posted on 28 October 2013 by Brett Dickinson

Marlon BrownThe Purple Camo Army can officially remove their fingers from the panic button (at least for now); the Ravens have officially won the bye week. During the all-to-timely bye week, the Ravens should regain some confidence in their playoff chances looking forward. After the dust has settled from a somewhat strange Sunday, Baltimore remains a game back of the 6th seed in the AFC and the second Wild Card spot.

Sitting at 3-4 seems to be an ugly situation for the defending champs, but with a top heavy conference, there is still wiggle room for the Ravens to make a run during the second half of the season. John Harbaugh and company probably paid close attention to the games this weekend, to scout some of their competition, but must have waked up Monday morning with a slight grin.

The only teams that are in the fight for that final playoff spot that had a positive weekend are also those who did not play, such as San Diego (4-3) and Tennessee (3-4). Everyone else struggled to gain any ground in the Wild Card race, with losses by Cleveland (3-5), New York Jets (4-4), Pittsburgh (2-5), Buffalo (3-5) and Miami (3-4). The best situation for the Ravens is for the front-runners in each division (except the Bengals in the AFC North) to keep up their pace.

New England will have more opportunities against their division rivals, and could single-handedly knock out the Bills, Dolphins and Jets from playoff contention. If they were to sweep the AFC East from here on out (which is not impossible, considering some of the players they will regain from the injury list), those teams will be all but finished.

The AFC West sports the best two teams in the league (record-wise at least), with the Broncos and Chiefs only having one loss between the two of them. Kansas City and Denver will both have two cracks at the Chargers the rest of the way; meaning they could hand San Diego at least their seventh loss, by the final week of the season.

Add in the Colts opportunity to face off with Tennessee twice this season and Ravens fans should be rooting for some of their most-hated non-divisional rivals. It’s sad to say that Baltimore’s playoff hopes are contingent on the Broncos, Patriots and Colts all helping them out.
The upcoming schedule for Baltimore looks to be much easier than predicted before the season started. A road trip to Chicago seems to be much more winnable with Jay Cutler’s injury concerns, while matchups with the Browns, Jets, Steelers and Vikings all are expected wins for the Ravens over the next six weeks.

Bengals vs JetsNow Baltimore is not out of the AFC North battle either, sitting two and half games back of the Bengals. They will have their chances to gain ground two Sunday’s from now on the division leader, at the friendly confines of the M&T Bank stadium. With this six week stretch upcoming, the Ravens are set up for a Week 17 battle for the AFC North Crown in Cincinnati.

Cheers going out to the Broncos, Patriots and Colts….ugghhhh.

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Loss of a dozen starters has really hurt the Ravens

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Loss of a dozen starters has really hurt the Ravens

Posted on 22 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

Everywhere I went on Monday, the question was basically the same:  ”What’s wrong with the Ravens?”

A few folks who asked that of me quickly followed up with, “You shouldn’t be this bad a year after winning the Super Bowl.”

Well, what’s wrong with the Ravens is, in fact, a by-product of winning the Super Bowl in New Orleans last February.

The 2013 edition of John Harbaugh’s team isn’t the same one that won the title in 2012.  Simple, right?  Well, yes, it sort of IS that simple, actually, even though people are always trying to find the “hidden secret” or “untold story” of the team.

Try this simple exercise for a second.  You’re going to have to put your pre-conceived negative opinions of John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice on the side for a moment, because this little game won’t work if you can’t do that.

OK…ready?

I want you to rewind your brain all the way back to last January.  The Ravens have just finished 10-6, won the AFC North, and get to take on the Colts in the first round of the playoffs.  If they win there, their “prize” is a trip to Denver to take on a Peyton Manning team that rocked you in Baltimore a month earlier.  And, if you’re somehow fortunate enough to get past the Broncos, the last remaining hurdle between you and the Super Bowl is a visit to Tom Brady’s house in Foxboro.

Still with me?

OK — the week before the Colts game, a crippling virus races through the Ravens locker room and these ten players are deemed OUT for the remainder of the playoffs:  Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Brendon Ayanbedejo, Bernard Pollard, Cary Williams and Dennis Pitta.  Add Bryant McKinnie to the mix after Monday’s trade and that makes eleven key players gone. (Keep in mind, as much as people like to beat up McKinnie, the Ravens are 0-2 since they jettisoned him to the bench in favor of Eugene Monroe.)

Could the Ravens have won four straight games in January and February without those eleven players a year ago?

Honestly?

Of course not.  They wouldn’t have moved past Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs given those ten starters missing the game due to the mythical “virus” I described above.

Well — of those eleven players I listed, nine of them were STARTERS from a year ago who haven’t played a single down for the Ravens this season.  McKinnie played 5 of 7 games before they sent him packing on Monday afternoon.

Of the players listed above, only Dennis Pitta remains on the roster, and he’s injured and was unavailable through seven games of 2013.

If you’re looking for the biggest reason why the Ravens are 3-4 at the bye, you just saw ten of them above.  There are, generally speaking, 22 “starters” in any game.  Ayanbedejo wasn’t technically a starter, but he WAS a special teams ace, so I deem him to be an important cog in the machine.  So, ten starters – out of 22 – are gone.  That’s not quite 50%, but it’s a huge chunk of quality missing that needed to be replaced.

(Please see next page)

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Ravens: Offense and defense both get blame in 3-point loss at Pittsburgh

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Ravens: Offense and defense both get blame in 3-point loss at Pittsburgh

Posted on 20 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

Tough loss.

At the worst time.

And, like the one last week against Green Bay, it was there for the taking.

Sunday’s 19-16 loss in Pittsburgh – against a mediocre-at-best Steelers team – will sting for a lot longer than the 45-minute flight home later tonight.

The Ravens are in unfamiliar territory now, dropping two straight games heading into the bye and sitting at 3-4 as the halfway point of the season approaches.

John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs and the rest of the men in purple have their work cut out for the next ten weeks or so, that’s for certain.

Once again on Sunday, the Ravens offense failed to do anything for the first 50 minutes of the game.

Then, like last week against the Packers, they suddenly came to life with a championship-type-drive late in the 4th quarter to knot the game at 16-16.

Unfortunately, it was also “just like last week” for the defense, who surrendered a huge throw to Jermichael Finley late in the Packers game that sealed their fate and allowed 39 yards in the final two minutes of Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh to put the Steelers in position to nail the game-winning field goal.

That’s been the story of the last two weeks, in particular, and most of the season, really.

Offense:  not very good for most of the game, comes to life late.

Defense: decent for most of the game, runs out of gas late and gives up a huge drive.

In fairness to Baltimore’s offense on Sunday, do you know how many possessions they had in 60 minutes of football?

Think about it for a second — in four quarters against the Steelers, how many offensive series’ did Flacco have at his disposal?

Ready?

SEVEN.

They had seven offensive possessions in four quarters and scored on four of them; three FG’s and a TD.

The reason they only had seven?  For starters, they gave one of them away with a third-quarter onsides kick attempt that wasn’t all that bad of an idea, honestly.  They just needed better execution, which means, basically, that Jeromy Miles can’t be offside on the play.  Even though Justin Tucker was flagged for touching the ball before it went ten yards, Miles was flagged for offsides, which would have negated the play had it been successful.

And the bigger reason why they only had seven offensive possessions?  The Ravens defense just can’t get the other team off the field without yielding a 12-play, 10-minute drive of some sort.

Pittsburgh, too, only had seven offensive series’ on Sunday, but not once did they go 3-and-out.  In fact, five of their seven offensive possessions were eight plays or more.

On the final drive, Baltimore just couldn’t get a defensive stop when they needed it.  Just like last week against Green Bay.

The back-breaker of the whole affair wasn’t even an offensive or defensive play.  After the Ravens had tied the game with 1:58 to play, Emmanuel Sanders promptly took the ball six yards deep in his end zone and ran it back out to his own 37 yard line, scampering past the Ravens’ kick-coverage contain player who was supposed to seal the sideline but failed to do so.  Starting in decent position, Ben Roethlisberger connected on three big passing plays and before you could blink, Shaun Suisham was lining up for the game-winner from 42 yards out.

In review, at the seven game mark, the biggest issue continues to be the team’s offense.  Even with the no-huddle effort on Sunday, they looked lethargic and lacking the big play explosiveness you would expect from a unit with a QB who can throw it sixty yards like you and I can throw it twenty.  They ran the ball for 82 yards, which looks like an improvement over recent weeks, but still have lots of work to do in that department between now and New Year’s.

Defensively, the Steelers penetrated the Ravens front seven time and time again with their own hard-nosed running style and Roethlisberger was his typical, scrambling self, finding receivers who had created enough separation to get the ball buzzed into them in tight quarters.

Baltimore’s defense, while decent enough “stats wise” this season, just isn’t adept enough at getting opposing offenses off the field quickly.  Case in point on Sunday:  the Steelers punted the ball one time all afternoon.

So, it’s back to the drawing board for Harbaugh and his coaching staff.  The biggest benefit for the Ravens?  They haven’t yet played the division leading Bengals, so they’ll have two swipes at them between now and their 16th game.

That said, if the offense can’t play better in the first 50 minutes and if the defense can’t play better in the final 10 minutes, those two showdowns with Cincinnati might not matter at all.

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The Steelers are 1-4…they’re not beating the Ravens on Sunday.

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The Steelers are 1-4…they’re not beating the Ravens on Sunday.

Posted on 18 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

This Ravens-Steelers game is impossible to pick.

Anything could happen.

As inept as both offenses have been, would it be out of the question for both of them to catch lightning in a bottle on Sunday and put up 20-something points somehow?  I can see it now;  Roethlisberger wakes up on the right side of the bed, the Steelers o-line is decent enough to keep him upright most of the afternoon, and Big Ben finds Antonio Brown twice for big gains to help give Pittsburgh two scoring drives.  Later, a punt return puts them down to the Ravens 25-yard line.  A pass interference call gives Pittsburgh first and goal and they punch it on the ground two plays later.  Add a couple of field goals and suddenly they have 27 points, somehow.

The same goes with the Ravens.  Flacco and Torrey Smith connect on a couple of 50 yard throws.  Ray Rice scampers in from six yards out.  Bernard Pierce busts in from the three yard line.  Lardarius Webb snags a ball that bounces off of someone’s shoulder pads and takes it down to the Pittsburgh 13.  On the next play, Flacco finds Marlon Brown in the end zone.  A field goal or two from Justin Tucker and you have a 24 or 27 point output.

I can see both of those scenarios.  At some point, don’t these two offenses have to produce a game that makes them look like a major league team offensively?

I think so.

But it won’t happen this Sunday.  The two defenses are too good to let that stuff happen.

Ravens win 14-9.  Pittsburgh’s 1-4 for a reason.  They stink.  And they’re not winning on Sunday.

(That said, if Baltimore loses on Sunday, all hell’s gonna break loose around here.  You can make book on that.)

 

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“The Reality Check” 2013 NFL season projections

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“The Reality Check” 2013 NFL season projections

Posted on 04 September 2013 by WNST Staff

Glenn Clark’s Projections…

AFC East
New England Patriots 9-7 (wins division via tiebreaker)
Miami Dolphins 9-7
New York Jets 3-13
Buffalo Bills 2-14

AFC North
Cincinnati Bengals 12-4
Baltimore Ravens 11-5 (Wild Card 5 seed)
Pittsburgh Steelers 9-7
Cleveland Browns 5-11

AFC South
Houston Texans 13-3
Indianapolis Colts 11-5 (Wild Card 6 seed)
Tennessee Titans 6-10
Jacksonville Jaguars 4-12

AFC West
Denver Broncos 10-6
Kansas City Chiefs 9-7
San Diego Chargers 3-13
Oakland Raiders 2-14

AFC Playoffs
Wild Card: Baltimore Ravens beat New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts beat Denver Broncos
Divisional: Baltimore Ravens beat Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans beat Indianapolis Colts
AFC Championship Game: Houston Texans beat Baltimore Ravens

(Continued on Page 2…)

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49ers Offense is S.O.F.T.

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49ers Offense is S.O.F.T.

Posted on 29 January 2013 by Thyrl Nelson

One of the things that has made this Ravens playoff run especially satisfying for fans of the team has been their ability time and again to prove the national media and the national consensus wrong. The Ravens have been written off at seemingly every turn of their playoff run, and just as quickly as they can prove the doubters and their perceptions wrong, along comes a new opponent with a fresh set of reasons to write off a team whose accomplishments have been diminished far too easily and often as emotion and destiny.


The sad fact, for football fans in general, is that the more you that watch games and then compare what you’ve seen to what the pundits are spewing, the quicker you come to realize that those who are paid to opine and comment on football games can’t seem to be bothered to actually watch much football. Instead it seems that many have defaulted into the habit of watching whatever games are of local interest to them or are being served up in their areas, along with the prime time games, and then forming their opinions on the rest of the field based on what they’ve seen in highlight packages or heard from someone else.

That being the case, this seems to be a Super Bowl match-up served specifically into the collective wheelhouse of the lazy media, as there’s little useful film on either of these teams outside of their playoff games. The Ravens changed offensive coordinators near the end of their season and took a couple of weeks to find a rhythm as an offense. Also, the national media seems to have been mesmerized by the Ray Lewis story to such an extent that they’ve missed the biggest single reason for the Ravens improved results, the inclusion of Bryant McKinnie on the offensive line. McKinnie’s presence has not only improved the Ravens at left tackle, but by casting Michael Oher back to right tackle has improved the team there too, and that move having pushed Kelechi Osemele to left guard has improved a 3rd offensive line position making the impact of McKinnie exponential.

The results have been undeniable, quarterback Joe Flacco, now better protected seems to have more time and confidence in the pocket allowing him to focus downfield and utilize his greatest strength, his strong and accurate arm. In the lead-up to the Broncos game, no one was suggesting that Denver had an issue in their secondary, because they hadn’t shown one all year. Hindsight now shows that perhaps the edge rush capabilities of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil was a big part of the secondary’s success. When that pass rush was neutralized by the Ravens new look offensive line, the secondary couldn’t find an answer and the rest was academic.

Hindsight as well would suggest that the “finesse” offenses of the Broncos and Patriots weren’t ready to respond to the physical style of play that the Ravens defense brings regularly. The evidence, on the Patriots side of the equation was there based on their previous meetings with the Ravens, as well as their inability to deal with the physical defensive stylings of the 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals. The NFC West, it seems, is becoming very AFC North-like when it comes to defensive prowess.

As the Ravens and 49ers prepare to meet for a title, the read option offense run by the Niners and the bold decision by coach Jim Harbaugh to change quarterbacks mid-season are the talk of the football world. What’s being overlooked however, probably because of the physical nature of San Francisco’s defense, is that their offense hasn’t exactly responded well to the physical style of play the Ravens defense projects to bring to the table against them. The Niners are bullies on defense but may be prone to getting bullied on offense.

The 49ers are a Slick Offensive Football Team. Their current brand of offense is geared more toward getting defenses off balance and tricking them than it is to simply lining up and beating teams physically. There’s nothing wrong with that, as league-wide there are plenty of teams finding success with that formula; unfortunately for San Francisco, they haven’t been finding success against defenses like the Ravens.

Slick Offensive Football Team = S.O.F.T.

While Colin Kaepernick seems to be the wildcard in the assessment of the 49ers offense, the team’s handling of Kaepernick makes it even wilder. Not only did the Niners change QBs mid-season, but even after making the change they seemed to try making him fit into a pro-style offense and force him to be a pocket QB. Once the playoffs came around though, the Niners have gone much more read option heavy and as a result, much like the Ravens, it becomes difficult to draw many conclusions about the 49ers based on anything other than their playoff games based on a glaring and dramatic change in strategy.

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Ravens’ opponents set for 2013 season

Posted on 26 December 2012 by Luke Jones

After clinching their second straight AFC North division title on Sunday, the Ravens now know who they will play during the 2013 regular season.

Baltimore will play the NFC North for the first time since the 2009 season and will take on the entire AFC East for the first time since 2010. The Ravens will also play the AFC South and AFC West division winners, Houston and Denver.

Of course, dates and times will not be determined until late April, but here are their 2013 games …

HOME: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New England, New York Jets, Green Bay, Minnesota, Houston

AWAY: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Denver

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Harbaugh makes the right call by playing to win in Cincinnati

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Harbaugh makes the right call by playing to win in Cincinnati

Posted on 25 December 2012 by Drew Forrester

The Ravens are heading to Cincinnati for a football game on Sunday.

And they’re going to try and win.

As they should.

There will be plenty of people this week who suggest that John Harbaugh should rest the bulk of his starting 22 for the upcoming season finale against the Bengals.  Those folks will say “No way New England is losing to Miami” or “There’s no reason to risk a starter in a game that doesn’t matter” or “The number one goal is to be healthy for playoffs.”

Those are also the same folks who strolled into M&T Bank with a smirk on their face back on December 2 when Charlie Batch led the Steelers to town and said to anyone who would listen, “We’re not going to lose to Charlie Batch, obviously.”

Full disclosure: I was one of those people…but I didn’t have a smirk on my face as I walked into the stadium.

But I won’t be one of those goofs this week who recommends that the Ravens lay down in Cincinnati.  John Harbaugh hasn’t had the greatest December of his coaching career, but he’s getting this one right.  He must direct the Ravens to head to the Queen City fully intent on winning the game and, perhaps, securing the number three seed in the AFC.

To do anything else other than put your best AVAILABLE team on the field would make zero sense.

The word “available” above is in ALL CAPS for a reason.  Harbaugh shouldn’t play anyone who wouldn’t normally play in the game.  In other words, you simply put the 53 men out there who are healthy enough to play in an NFL game.  If Anquan Boldin’s shoulder is sore and he can’t practice Thursday and Friday, you sit him out of the Cincy game.  But if he practices and can play, he suits up and plays.

Saying “they should rest the guys who are banged up” is silly, because you’d be telling about 15 players not to play on Sunday. At this time of the season, nearly every starter or 35-snap a game back-up has an ailment that could use a couple of weeks of rest.  But, as the saying goes, there’s no rest for the weary.

So, Harbaugh should treat this game just like he plans for an early October contest.  The 53 players who can go, go.

Why?

Because as far as the Ravens go, the most important thing for them in the upcoming post-season can be summed up in two words.  ”Home Field”.  I’ve paid attention to the Ravens this season and they’re nothing if not completely mysterious on the road.  At home, they’re a threat to beat anyone.  Away, they’re liable to stink it up worse than the Rolling Stones did at the 12/12/12 concert for Sandy relief.

They will either go into the post-season as the 3rd or 4th seed.  That means the maximum amount of home games they can play in the playoffs would be two.  They get a home game on either Jan. 5 or 6, then play on the road the following weekend if they win the opener in Baltimore.  Somehow, if the wild card teams win their games (which, if you check over the last five years, happens enough to never say never), the Ravens could wind up hosting the AFC title game.  Remember back in 2006 when the Colts beat the Ravens in Baltimore?  Guess who hosted the AFC championship game the following week when New England – the four seed – eliminated San Diego?  Right…the Colts.  Guess who went to the Super Bowl and won a couple of weeks after that?  Correct again, if you said “Colts”.

So — while the possibility still exists that your team could host the AFC title game, you go 100% in an effort to better your position on the chance you wind up getting the championship game in your building.

It’s that simple, really.

(Please see next page) 

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