Tag Archive | "Arizona Cardinals"

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For Certain, Ravens Must Become Team That Holds Ball Last

Posted on 12 November 2010 by Glenn Clark

ATLANTA, Ga. — If you think I wasn’t tempted to write a column that came off as “I told you so”, you’re wrong.

In fairness, I DID pick the Falcons to win 24-20 and said it would be the type of game that would come right down to the final seconds before it was decided.

I’d have every right to say “you should have seen this coming.”

But if I’m being fair, I didn’t REALLY see this coming at all.

I mean, who could have ever seen the Baltimore Ravens (6-3) barely touching the ball for the majority of the first half of their 26-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons (7-2) Thursday night at the Georgia Dome?

Who could have ever seen the Ravens being forced to respond from two different 13 point deficits in the second half only to forge ahead on a TD strike from QB Joe Flacco to TE Todd Heap with 1:05 to play?

And certainly, who could have ever seen the comeback foiled by a methodical drive from Falcons QB Matt Ryan that culminated in a 33 yard TD toss to WR Roddy White?

I mean, I guess the script could have been written in a SIMILAR way, but not that exact way.

It’s funny, because the first “parting thought” that came to my mind as the game was ending was one that I shared via Twitter (you can follow @WNST to see my thoughts on Twitter). I said “Everyone wants someone to blame for a loss. I think I’ll blame Matt Ryan and Roddy White.”

And while it wasn’t the FINAL thought that came to me, I still stand by that. Sometimes good teams just lose to other good teams on the road. The Ravens are a good team (they don’t need me to apologize for them, they’ve proven how good they are throughout the season); but the Falcons are a good team too. And they played at home.

As Ravens RB Ray Rice said postgame “that’s the NFL.”

But even that wasn’t really the most important takeaway I had after the game.

The most important takeaway hit me as I was getting ready to scribe this column.

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Anquan Boldin brings in a 27-yard touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns during the 4th quarter at at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on September 26, 2010. Boldin scored three touchdowns in the Ravens 24-17 victory over the Browns. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

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Blog & Tackle: One-liners on the NFL through Week 3

Posted on 29 September 2010 by Chris Pika

Week 4 is the first week that byes take place in the NFL, so this is a great time to take short stock of each of the clubs through three weeks. And by short, I mean one line on each team — some stats, some observations and some conjecture.

First up, the AFC teams by division. Records are through Week 3:

Anquan Boldin brings in a 27-yard touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns during the 4th quarter at at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on September 26, 2010. Boldin scored three touchdowns in the Ravens 24-17 victory over the Browns. UPI/Kevin Dietsch Photo via Newscom

AFC East

New York Jets (2-1): Despite crippled Revis Island on defense, brash Jets are only team in AFC East with perfect division record (2-0).

New England Patriots (2-1): QB Tom Brady (8 TD, 109.1 passer rating) is back to form as Patriots have AFC’s highest point total (90) and highest TD total (12) so far.

Miami Dolphins (2-1): Even with deep threat WR Brandon Marshall and RB Ronnie Brown, Dolphins have same amount of TDs (5) as Buffalo, Cincinnati and Baltimore.

Buffalo Bills (0-3): Another lost year for Bills, which have scored fourth-least points (47) in AFC and have given up most points (87) on defense in the conference.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0): The question for head coach Mike Tomlin is if the Steelers are 4-0 after a win over Baltimore in Week 4, why change QBs to Ben Roethlisberger?

Cincinnati Bengals (2-1): Bengals, despite record, have struggled on offense as QB Carson Palmer (12th rated AFC passer at 71.3) hasn’t found rhythm with T.O.cho Show.

Baltimore Ravens (2-1): Defense, led by MLB Ray Lewis, continues to carry a team expected to score much more in 2010 (44 points; 2nd-lowest in AFC), despite breakout game by WR Anquan Boldin (3 TDs) last week.

Cleveland Browns (0-3): Browns are led by Peyton … not Manning, but RB Hillis (220 yards, 3 TDs) as Browns gave popular AFC Super Bowl pick Ravens much trouble in Week 3.

AFC South

Houston Texans (2-1): Texans got over the hump of beating the Colts, but Houston is not the best team in state of Texas after bad loss to Cowboys.

Tennessee Titans (2-1): Titans defense has allowed fourth-fewest points in the AFC (42), and the Tennessee offense has RB Chris Johnson (4 TDs), but continuing issues at quarterback.

Indianapolis Colts (2-1): Despite loss to Houston, Colts still have potent passing attack with QB Peyton Manning and are arguably still best club in the AFC.

Jacksonville Jagaurs (1-2): Jaguars have worst scoring differential in AFC (-43), and Jack Del Rio could be the AFC’s first fired coach.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs (3-0): Most surprising number for unbeaten Chiefs is that defense has allowed least points in the AFC (38), and in weak AFC West, KC might have enough to win the division.

San Diego Chargers (1-2): Special teams burned for two scores at Seattle, and Chargers QB Philip Rivers (AFC-high 4 INTs) is missing a suddenly resurgent RB LaDainian Tomlinson, now with the Jets.

Denver Broncos (1-2): Broncos getting decent offensive production from QB Kyle Orton, but overall have a minus point differential (-4; 61 PF, 65 PA).

Oakland Raiders (1-2): High-priced K Sebastian Janikowski could have made Raiders a 2-1 team with made kicks at Arizona, but Raiders need more than 3s (4 TDs, tied for lowest in AFC with JAX) to be competitive in up-for-grabs division.

Now for the NFC:

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles (2-1): The Eagles have gone from a transitional season with QB Kevin Kolb to division title hopes with QB Michael Vick, who might be a legit NFL MVP candidate down the road.

Washington Redskins (1-2): Opening victory over Dallas doesn’t look as good after defense was shredded in last two weeks and Cowboys’ struggles.

New York Giants (1-2): A minus-30 scoring differential (55 PF, 85 PA) is third-worst in NFC, and head coach Tom Coughlin is starting to feel the heat.

Dallas Cowboys (1-2): Cowboys avoided 0-3 start in Week 3 with big win over Houston, and Dallas has the personnel to rebound in a wide-open NFC East race.

NFC North

Chicago Bears (3-0): Most unlikely last remaining 3-0 team in NFC gives head coach Lovie Smith some breathing room as O-line tries to keep QB Jay Cutler upright in Mike Martz offensive system.

Green Bay Packers (2-1): Despite mental miscues in Week 3 loss at Chicago, popular Super Bowl XLV NFC pick has plenty of offensive weapons for QB Aaron Rodgers, but need run game to be re-established after Ryan Grant injury.

Minnesota Vikings (1-2): QB Brett Favre looks very old right now, and Vikings best chance to win is to get away from pass-first mindset to get the ball into Adrian Peterson’s hopefully sure hands more often.

Detroit Lions (0-3): Injury to QB Matthew Stafford put dent into head coach Jim Schwartz’s immediate rebuilding plans, and Lions don’t get a break in Week 4 against Packers.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons (2-1): Falcons posted most-impressive win of Week 3 as they marched out of New Orleans with a OT win, and Atlanta has NFC best-tying +31 point differential.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1): AFter 2-0 start, Bucs ran into Steelers’ buzzsaw in Week 3, and Tampa Bay is staring at possible 2-3 record with games vs. Cincinnati and New Orleans after bye week.

New Orleans Saints (2-1): Saints run defense was exposed in loss to Falcons, and defending Super Bowl champs need fast starts in order to avoid same fate against strong run teams going forward.

Carolina Panthers (0-3): Winless Panthers have least TDs in NFC (3), and head coach John Fox may be running out of rope with owner Jerry Richardson.

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks (2-1): Head coach Pete Carroll sidestepped Southern California mess and he has put Seattle in early position to make headway in weak NFC West.

Arizona Cardinals (2-1): Despite record, Cards have minus-29 point differential (48 PF, 77 PA) and would be 1-2 if Oakland made a field goal or two in Week 3.

St. Louis Rams (1-2): Rookie QB Sam Bradford will have to grow up in a hurry, but the shame is that the Rams can’t play Washington every week.

San Francisco 49ers (0-3): Head coach Mike Singletary used the next-to-last bullet in his gun after firing offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, and the last one might be used by 49ers ownership at end of the season if disappointments continue.

For up-to-date Tweets on the NFL and the Ravens, please follow me on Twitter (@BlogAndTackle). For more national NFL stories, please visit my personal site at BlogAndTackle.net.

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New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is sacked by Baltimore Ravens Haloti Ngata during the second half in their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, September 13, 2010. The Ravens won the game 10-9. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

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Blog & Tackle: Week 1 NFL scoring struggles

Posted on 14 September 2010 by Chris Pika

If you thought the amount of scoring in the NFL’s Week 1 games was less than usual, you were right in a big way. A total of 21 teams scored less than 20 points in the 16 games — that number was the highest total of Week 1 sub-20-point team scoring since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, according to research through Pro-Football-Reference.com.

The 2010 teams under 20 points? Minnesota 9, New Orleans 14, Cleveland 14, Tampa Bay 17, Miami 15, Buffalo 16, Denver 17, Atlanta 9, Pittsburgh 15, Oakland 13, Carolina 18, Detroit 14, Chicago 19, Arizona 17, St. Louis 13, San Francisco 6, Dallas 7, Washington 13, Baltimore 10, New York Jets 9 and San Diego 14. The league, as a whole, averaged just 18.3 points per team in Week 1.

Here are the year-by-year teams scoring 19 points or less in Week 1 from 1970-2009 (via Pro-Football-Reference.com.

New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is sacked by Baltimore Ravens Haloti Ngata during the second half in their NFL football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, September 13, 2010. The Ravens won the game 10-9. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

The 21 teams was a far cry from last season’s Week 1 total of only 14 teams. In the decade of the 2000s, 153 teams scored under the 20-point mark in Week 1, an average of 15.3 per season. Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams and eight divisions in 2002 for 16 opening weekend games, the average was 15.25 per season from 2002-09.

There are a lot of factors at play in why this was the case in this particular opening weekend. Better defenses, weather issues and injuries to key players certainly played a part. But one other factor might also be in play.

The last time most clubs play their starters for an appreciable time in the preseason is Week 3. Most clubs hold out starters or play them very little (one or two series) in the final week in order to look at players fighting for the final spots during the remainder of the game.

It’s almost a bye week for the starters on both sides of the ball, since they will not face live competition for two weeks until the regular season starts. So, when the starters get back on the field in Week 1 of the regular season, the timing is off when it needs to be at its sharpest.

Here are the year-by-year totals of Week 1 teams at or under 19 points in the decade of the 2000s.

Total Teams Scoring 19 Points or Less in Week 1 (2000-09)
2009: 14
2008: 17
2007: 18
2006: 19
2005: 15
2004: 15
2003: 14
2002: 10
2001: 15
2000: 16

For up-to-date Tweets on the NFL and the Ravens, please follow me on Twitter (@BlogAndTackle). For more national NFL stories, please visit my personal site at BlogAndTackle.net.

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SEATTLE - DECEMBER 20: T.J. Houshmandzadeh #84 of the Seattle Seahawks straight arms Sabby Piscitelli #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their game on December 20, 2009 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Buccaneers defeated the Seahawks 24-7. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

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Blog & Tackle: How TJH was used in 2009

Posted on 07 September 2010 by Chris Pika

The Ravens acquisition of WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh yesterday gave the club a tough receiver who will help Baltimore in the short term by giving QB Joe Flacco another target in the expanding passing game.

What kind of numbers will the about-to-be 33-year-old TJH put up in 2010? It’s obviously hard to say as the Ravens will have to get him up to speed on offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s playbook and Flacco’s passing style. But, we can look back on how he was used in Seattle last season, thanks to STATS, Inc.

SEATTLE - DECEMBER 20: T.J. Houshmandzadeh #84 of the Seattle Seahawks straight arms Sabby Piscitelli #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their game on December 20, 2009 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Buccaneers defeated the Seahawks 24-7. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Seahawks targeted him 61 times (31 receptions) on first down, 39 times (28 catches) on second, 31 times (18 receptions) on third and four times (two catches) on fourth down. Of all game situations of down and distance, he was thrown to the most on first down and between 8-10 yards to go — 58 targeted passes.

He averaged over 10 yards per catch, regardless of the down, and had six plays of 25 yards or more. Of his 79 catches, 52 resulted in first downs, a 65.8 percent rate.

After a two-touchdown day at Arizona in mid-November, he did not catch a touchdown the remainder of the season. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. He was targeted almost the same in each half of the season — 68 targets/41 receptions/417 yards in the first eight games; 67 targets/38 receptions/494 yards in the final eight games.

Seattle threw to him the most between the 40s (43 targets/29 receptions/311 yards) and also from their own 20 to their 39-yard line (40 targets/23 receptions/249 yards).

In the red zone, the Seahawks targeted him 19 times, and he caught just four passes for 19 yards and two scores. The four red zone catches were his lowest total since 2002.

Inside the opponent 10, he was targeted 10 times, and he made three receptions for six yards and one TD.

Where did Seattle throw him the ball, direction-wise? Mainly to the right side of the field with 36 targets to the right (23 catches), and 40 (21 catches) to the right sideline. He also caught as many balls behind the line of scrimmage (eight) as he did over the middle in 2009. But, interestingly, 13 of his 16 receptions caught on the left side of the field went for first downs, an 81.3 percent rate, while eight of his 11 catches to the left sideline moved the chains (72.7 percent).

The Seahawks looked for him the most in three-receiver sets (67 targets/34 catches/3 plays of 25+ yards/23 first downs) and in four-receiver sets (45 targets/31 receptions/2 25+ yard plays/17 first downs).

One oddity was that despite playing just four games on grass in 2009, TJH averaged more yards per catch (15.7 to 10.0), had more catches go for first downs by percentage (76.2 to 62.1) and had more 25+ yard pass plays (4 of 6) on the real stuff.

Finally in yards after catch, he averaged 3.6 per reception, which was 102nd in the NFL. Bookending him at 101 was Ravens TE Todd Heap (3.7) and former Baltimore WR Kelley Washington (3.6). TJH’s average was better than Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco (3.3), Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald (3.2) and now-former Ravens (and current Rams) WR Mark Clayton (2.6).

TJH was tied for 56th in the league in total yards after catch (284) with New England’s Kevin Faulk and Denver’s Jabar Gaffney. His YAC total was better than four players with at least 1,000 yards receiving — Derrick Mason (273), Carolina’s Steve Smith (246), Ochocinco (239) and San Diego’s Vincent Jackson (228).

While not one of his best overall statistical seasons, Houshmandzadeh led the struggling 5-11 Seahawks in both receptions and receiving yards in 2009. While he won’t be counted on to lead the 2010 Ravens in those two categories, he can still be an important part of Baltimore’s passing game as someone opposing pass defenses shouldn’t forget about when checking on Anquan Boldin deep and Ray Rice coming out of the backfield.

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Kurt Warner

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Kurt Warner on Former Wideout Boldin: “You Guys Are Going to Be In For a Tremendous Surprise”

Posted on 20 July 2010 by Ryan Chell

Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner was a busy man over his 13-year NFL career, but over the last several years, he has gotten to know two of the Baltimore Ravens’ biggest offensive weapons closely, and he says that Ravens fans this year should be in a real treat this year.

Everyone knows Kurt Warner’s story by now. How he came out of Northern Iowa, didn’t get drafted, and eventually found his way playing on Arena League teams-on top of bagging groceries at the local grocery store to make money.

But one injury in the preseason to Rams starter Trent Green put Warner on the map as an MVP and a Super Bowl champion.

“Who is this guy?”, people said in that 1999 campaign, which ended in a Rams victory over the Tennessee Titans. In that Super Bowl, Warner passed for a Super Bowl record 414 passing yards en route to winning Super Bowl MVP.

He was only the sixth player to win league MVP and Super Bowl MVP in the same year.

After winning another MVP in 2001 and taking the Rams to the Super Bowl again, Warner’s star in St. Louis began to dim. An injury to his hand in 2002 basically ended his career as a Ram, ultimately losing his job to current Ravens backup QB, Marc Bulger.

He then was the stop-gap between Eli Manning and the NFL for the Giants in 2004, but ultimately Manning grabbed the starting job and Warner’s career looked to be not only over, but dead, as he went to the abyss known as the Arizona Cardinals, whose idea of a good quarterback over the years was Jake Plummer.

Things looked to be the same as they were in St. Louis and New York early on as Warner lost his job to Josh McCown and Matt Leinart, but with a budding offensive team around Warner, head coach Dennis Green began to see the Kurt Warner of the late 90’s yet again.

Ironically, it was against the Ravens in Week 4 that Warner stepped in for Leinart with the Cardinals trailing 20-6.

What did Warner do you ask? He only completed 15 of 20 passes for 258 yards and 2 TDs, which tied the ball game. All in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens eventually won on a last second field goal by Matt Stover, but that was the beginning of the end of the Matt Leinart era in Arizona as long as Warner was on the roster.

Warner was a key piece in the Cardinals’ run to the Super Bowl in 2008, who lost to the Steelers on a game-winning catch by Santonio Holmes.

He is only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 100 TD passes for two different teams, as well as the only quarterback to throw for 14,000 yards for those teams.

One of his weapons for all those years in Arizona was Anquan Boldin, who came to the Ravens in the off-season for third and fourth round picks in this year’s draft. Somehow, it’s another Raven connection for Warner, and since Warner retired a few months back, he has been able to keep in contact with one of his former wide-outs about his new team.

“You guys are going to be in for a tremendous surprise,” Warner told Rex Snider during the “WNST Curing Cancer One Call at a Time” Marathon on Saturday.

“A lot of people think they know what Anquan brings to the table and what kind of a football player he is, but until you get a chance to see him, whether it be on a daily basis…he is a special football player.”

“And he brings an amazing leadership, competitiveness, and toughness to the football field. I guess its very much in the mold of what you think about when you think about Baltimore Ravens football.

Warner couldn’t be happier for a guy who really grew kind of disappointed with his experience out in Arizona the last few years waiting for a new contract.

“I’m excited for him,” Warner said. “It’s a new opportunity…one that I know he’s excited about.”

And now that he has even more time on hands after retiring in January, he also has taken quite an interest in the maturation of Joe Flacco as an NFL quarterback.

Flacco came to Warner’s charity flag football tournament in the off-season, and that was one of the first times Warner was able to chat with the third year man out of Delaware about what it takes to be a starter in this league.

And he got a good idea of how good Flacco is with a football in his hands just from him throwing footballs to 40-year old “corporate guys”.

“Obviously he’s big and hes strong, and he can make all the throws,” Warner said. “I’ve been very impressed with the times I have watched him and the times I’ve had to talked to him about what he brings to the table.”

And much like Boldin, Warner said Ravens fans are going to be surprised quickly how much of a bigger step he takes this year with guys like Boldin around him.

“I think he’s going to continue to get better and better. The big key for him is I think getting the pieces around him. Last year, Ray Rice came in and had a breakout, tremendous year and it took some of the pressure off Joe to have to throw the football.”

“Now you bring in guys like Anquan that I think are going to complement all the things they do, and allow some more of that pressure to come off Joe where he can continue to just relax, grow into the position, and not be called upon to do everything for that team, and specifically for that offense.”

WNST Thanks Kurt Warner for joining us over the Weekend for Our “Curing Cancer One Call at a Time Marathon” benefiting Harbor Hospital. If you still would like to donate, click here.

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No Offense to Ravens, But Consider Me “Unmoved” By Bulger

Posted on 24 June 2010 by Glenn Clark

Nestor Aparicio and I were chatting this morning on “The Morning Reaction” on AM1570 WNST, and something interesting came up. While discussing the Baltimore Ravens’ addition of former St. Louis Rams QB Marc Bulger, “The Nasty One” suggested that John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome were concerned with the back injury Joe Flacco suffered late last season, and would have felt more comfortable having Marc Bulger backing him up than Troy Smith and John Beck had Flacco been unable to play late in the season or in the postseason.

Of course, I couldn’t help but respond by saying “Marc Bulger wasn’t on a football field late last season.”

I’m not trying to suggest that in any way is the signing of Marc Bulger a BAD move for the Baltimore Ravens. Instead, the perspective I am attempting to offer is that I don’t necessarily know that this is a GOOD move. Hence, I’m UNmoved.

Marc Bulger has had a nice career in the NFL. He’s thrown for over 20,000 yards; connecting for 122 TD’s and 93 interceptions. He’s twice made the Pro Bowl, and has lead his team to the playoffs twice in his career. At this point, he is clearly better suited as a backup than a starter, as he has played a full 16 game season just ONCE in his 8 year career.

Marc Bulger quite obviously has a better background than either Smith or Beck amongst the Ravens’ reserve QB’s. After Bulger (presumably) passes his physical and gets under contract next week, he will immediately be installed as the team’s number two QB. With that being said, I would be lying if I said I suddenly felt more comfortable about the team’s Super Bowl hopes with Bulger on the roster.

If Joe Flacco were to get hurt in Week 6 this season against the New England Patriots, the Ravens would PROBABLY be better served with Marc Bulger on the field a week later at M&T Bank Stadium against the Buffalo Bills than they would be with Troy Smith or John Beck. However, if Joe Flacco were to get hurt in Week 6, they would be in NO better shape come Week 13 when the Pittsburgh Steelers invade Charm City with Bulger under center than Smith or Beck.

Bulger is an upgrade, but don’t get carried away. At this point in his career, he’s a MARGINAL upgrade. He’s a quarterback who a month before Training Camp opens found himself unemployed. That isn’t a mistake. A slew of teams around the NFL made (or needed to make) QB moves this offseason, and none of them took a $3 million (or so) shot on Bulger.

The Arizona Cardinals are going to defend their NFC West crown with either Derek Anderson or Matt Leinart under center. The Cleveland Browns will try to improve in the AFC North with either Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace under center. The Carolina Panthers will have Matt Moore and/or Jimmy Clausen throwing the ball. The Denver Broncos will play either Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn or Tim Tebow this season.

Any of those teams could have acquired Marc Bulger. They didn’t.

Bulger has had a nice career, and would likely be better served in an offense with better weapons and with a solid O-Line; which is expected to be the case in Baltimore. If healthy, he may be able to have a level of effectiveness at this point in his career. Of course, that’s a big if.

But this is the backup QB position we’re talking about. This isn’t about whether Marc Bulger or Troy Smith is a better QB. I know the answer to that question. This is about whether or not Marc Bulger gets the Ravens closer to winning the Super Bowl than they were before they brought him in. I’m not so sure that’s the case.

I’m not trying to just be negative. I’m really not. I don’t want this to be taken as me saying I don’t “like” the addition of Bulger. That’s not the case at all. I don’t like OR dislike the move. I’m just not particularly moved by it whatsoever. I thought the Ravens were a Super Bowl contender before Wednesday, and I think they’re a Super Bowl contender on Thursday.

I think the MOST positive thing that could come from the addition of Bulger would be the departure of Troy Smith from the Ravens locker room. Smith isn’t going to get the team any more than a 7th round pick at this point (and probably a conditional 7th round pick); but subtracting Smith from the locker room would likely do wonders for improving the culture John Harbaugh has tried to create in Owings Mills.

As we discussed in May when Drew Forrester and I put together our “Month of Jerks” list, Troy Smith is not a great dude. His attitude in the locker room is rarely overly positive; and there’s no doubt that letting him go could be an “addition by subtraction” type of situation.

I still call myself “unmoved.”

And to be completely honest, I hope that we’ll never know. If Joe Flacco plays every snap this season for a team that wins the AFC North, it will never matter whether or not I was moved by a backup QB acquisition.

There’s no question that it’s the best case scenario for any Baltimore Ravens fan.


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If Kurt Warner doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, then they should just blow the whole building up and start over.

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No Debating: Warner Belongs in The Hall of Fame

Posted on 30 January 2010 by Thyrl Nelson

If Kurt Warner doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame, then they should just blow the whole building up and start over.

Although he’d probably never say such a thing, it’s not Kurt Warner’s fault that the football world never fully grasped his greatness. After all, the only reason that Warner’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame, now that his career has come to a close, is even debatable, is due to the failures of 32 NFL football teams to realize that Warner was the truth. Forget about the numbers, Warner’s back-story alone is Hall of Fame worthy.


We’ve all known that guy, the one holding on to his pro sports dream for far longer than reason or common sense should allow. You try to encourage them, and hope that when reality inevitably sets in for them, as it did for all of us sooner or later, they won’t have wasted too much of their life. You can imagine the reactions that Warner must’ve gotten from his co-workers at the Hy-Vee market, as he espoused on his NFL dreams.


In a story too sappy to have been written for a Disney movie, Kurt Warner achieved heights that likely even surpassed what once seemed like little more than delusions of grandeur. Scour the landscape of sports, or American history for that matter, and you’ll likely find no better spokesperson for the concept of chasing your dreams, regardless of what anyone else may believe. Eventually, what Warner proved to us all was simply that doubting him was never a good idea.


Even as Dick Vermeil was giving his teary eyed, now famous, press conference, trying to convince the world that the team had confidence in Warner, it seemed he was likewise trying to convince himself. What he failed to realize at that time, what none of us could have realized, was that Warner had enough confidence and conviction to overcome what his teammates or anyone else lacked in him.


From there the rest should have been history. Warner’s exclusion from the NFL had been corrected to the tune of a pair of Super Bowl appearances, with a win in one, a pair of league MVP awards and a Super Bowl MVP award to boot. One might look at this season’s Super Bowl participants and the overall change of the NFL toward that of a passing game, and declare Warner and his “greatest show on turf”, the forefathers of modern offense.


Instead, Mike Martz instead declared himself the mastermind behind the “G.S.O.T.”, and jettisoned Warner to make way for Marc Bulger. One rocky season in New York, and Warner’s fairy tale ride appeared over. Shiftless and benched a few times in Arizona, Warner almost began to give the appearance of a guy holding on for too long. And who could have blamed him? After all he had fought to overcome to gain entry to the league, no one would’ve expected him to go out willingly.


A Sunday afternoon in Baltimore in 2007 saw Warner get another chance. Taking over for an ineffective Matt Leinart late in a 23-6 Ravens’ blowout, Warner led a memorable comeback effort, which eventually saw his Cardinals lose 26-23 in overtime. In a way it’s kind of fitting that it happened against the Ravens, the team against whom he made his improbable debut in 1999.


Now after leading the Cardinals, as he did the Rams, through an unprecedented stretch of success for their history, Warner rides off into the sunset; having put the exclamation point on not just a hall of fame career, but also a hall of fame story, a hall of fame pursuit of a dream, and is generally regarded as an even better human being than football player.


It’s kind of ironic that Warner goes out without much suspense or fanfare, not looking to command the spotlight, simply going away on his own terms, after fighting for so long to justify his belief in himself and his own belief that he belonged. Meanwhile, we prepare as well for the inevitable opposite as Brett Favre will soon begin the public spectacle that is his retirement watch. Especially interesting since Warner’s first taste of the NFL was as a free agent invite to Packers camp, hoping only to back up Favre, as unseating him would have been out of the question.


Forget about the numbers, which also stack up pretty well against current hall of fame quarterbacks, what Warner accomplished goes far beyond numbers. If ever there was a deserving Hall of Famer, Kurt Warner is the one.





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Head Coach Wanted – No Experience Necessary

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Head Coach Wanted – No Experience Necessary

Posted on 19 January 2010 by Thyrl Nelson

The NFL is a copycat league, there’s no denying that. Every off season, like clockwork, teams of little fortune try like mad to emulate the successful practices that they’ve seen implemented by other clubs. It’s a league of trends, and those left behind said trends are likely to find themselves out of contention and likewise out of favor with their fans.

One of the interesting new trends in the NFL of late has been the propensity of teams to look beyond the usual suspects in attempting to fill their head coaching positions. Perhaps in no small part due to the recent success of such upstart coaches as Mike Tomlin of the Steelers or the trio of rookie coaches in John Harbaugh, Mike Smith and Tony Sparano who all led their teams to playoff appearances in their rookie campaigns last season, teams have all seemingly begun to reach for the next young star in coaching.


After the early successes of Harbaugh, Smith and Sparano, the NFL reacted in kind. Eight head coaches were hired last off-season, and among them, only Mike Singletary who had coached a handful of games as the interim coach had previous NFL head coaching experience. What’s more, at the start of the 2009 season, only 3 of 32 NFL coaches even had rings as head coaches, Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Mike Tomlin.


It’s probably a good thing that Superbowl credentialed coaches like Brian Billick, Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher have settled nicely into the TV ranks, because based on current trends, it could be quite some time before the league could consider them attractive coaching candidates again. Guys like those are left hoping these days that the likes of Coughlin or Mike Shanahan can do big things in regard to reversing the current trend.


Look no further than Shanahan’s own situation to illustrate how far the plight of the recycled head coach has come. Do you really think that Washington was on Shanahan’s short list of attractive destinations before gauging the lack of perceived interest that the market seemingly had in him?


If this season had proven anything however, it may have proven that finding the next young rock star coach may be easier said than done. Of the 8 aforementioned head coaching positions filled last off-season, only Rex Ryan and Jim Caldwell saw their fortunes advance beyond the regular season. The rest of those teams are left to ponder whether their leap of faith was actually the right move.


In the playoffs however, a surprising, if not disturbing trend has arisen this season. In the 8 playoff games staged so far this season, all but one have been won by the teams with the least experienced coaches. Among the 3 coaches who went into 2009 with   Superbowl hardware, only one even qualified for the playoffs, and for his efforts, Belichick’s Patriots were rewarded with perhaps the playoffs’ most unceremonious ouster.


In the opening weekend, second year coach John Harbaugh watched his Ravens bounce the Patriots along with Bill Belichick, his 15 seasons of experience (10 in New England) and his three Superbowl rings right out of the playoffs. Additionally, Ken Whisenhunt, in his 3rd season saw his Cardinals eliminate the Packers led by Mike McCarthy in his 4th season at the helm. Rookie Jets’ coach Rex Ryan saw his team take out Marvin Lewis’ Bengals, in Lewis’ 7th season as head coach. And in the read between the lines match up, Andy Reid in his 11th season in charge of the Eagles lost to Wade Phillips, whose coaching career began 6 seasons before Reid’s, but Phillips only has 8 total seasons spread out over 3 cities of head coaching experience, and has only been in charge of the Cowboys since 2007.


The second round saw the only upset to the trend when 4th year coach Sean Payton saw his Saints eliminate Whisenhunt’s Cardinals. Otherwise, Brad Childress in his 4th season and the Vikings took out Phillips’ Cowboys, and a pair of rookies in Rex Ryan and Jim Caldwell beat out the oft-recycled Norv Turner and the grizzled second year vet in Harbaugh.


None of that likely gives us any indication of which way to go this weekend, as both championship games will feature head coaches of equal tenure. Childress and Payton, both in the head coaching ranks since 2006 will meet on the NFC side, while a couple of rookies in Caldwell and Ryan will duel it out for the AFC. And once the dust settles in 3 weeks, one thing will be for sure, there will be one more coach going into next season with that elusive Superbowl hardware, as a first timer is now guaranteed to win; it’s just matter of which first timer.


Experience is a funny thing. In a 16 game NFL season, every game is bound to pose a new quandary, we’ve seen evidence of that here in Baltimore over the last 2 seasons, as Harbaugh has found his way admirably, but has also endured a lot of lessons learned on the job. For years, we’ll be left to debate whether the Ravens’ success over the last two seasons happened as a result of the Harbaugh regime, or despite it. Hindsight will surely show that at least a few of the young coaches who saw success this season would fall into the latter category.


One thing that’s probably not debatable though, is that Harbaugh is surely a better coach today than he was two years ago. Heck, he’s probably a better coach today than he was on Saturday in Indy. Experience is what’s made him better, and what will continue to do so.


Why experience is no longer seemingly valued in the NFL is beyond me, but that seems to be the trend. It could make things very interesting going forward, as most of the veteran candidates for head coaching jobs will likely have to gravitate to college or coordinators’ jobs until their stocks rise again. If the NFL is a coordinators league anyway, the impact on the field could be interesting.


Once upon a time, experience made you rich; now, in the NFL at least, it just makes you undesirable. In this league though, everything is subject to change on a moment’s notice. Something tells me that there are a lot of former coaches secretly cheering for Coughlin and Shanahan.



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Despite the proclamations of many, the NFL still looks to be a running league, at least once playoff time rolls around.

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The NFL Isn’t a Passing League Just Yet

Posted on 14 January 2010 by Thyrl Nelson

Despite the proclamations of many, the NFL still looks to be a running league, at least once playoff time rolls around.

The NFL has become a passing league. You don’t have to look too deeply to find evidence of that. Quarterbacks are piling up unprecedented numbers, referees are calling penalties downfield much more tightly, and every so-called expert fit to offer an opinion seems to agree that the NFL, and football leagues at all levels for that matter, is becoming a passing league.


The question though is, are they quite there yet? Fans in Indianapolis, Arizona, New Orleans and even San Diego are sure hoping so. If the league favors the passing game these days, there are few teams better equipped than those to air it out and run it up. And with 3 of this weekend’s games being staged in domes, and the other in sunny San Diego, there’s virtually no chance that conditions are anything but ideal for primed offenses to open things up this weekend.


In terms of getting to the playoffs, a strong passing game may be the key, or at least a big part of the formula. Seven of the top eight passing offenses from this season qualified for postseason play, and 5 of those remain alive into this weekend’s action. That’s partly because 4 of those teams earned byes for the first round of the playoffs – a testament to their success no doubt – but among those who played only Dallas managed a win.


New England’s 3rd ranked pass offense fell to a Ravens club that finished the season 18th in passing yards, and only completed 4 passes themselves on Sunday. The sixth ranked Cowboys advanced as well, against the 10th ranked Eagles, and in doing so out rushed Philadelphia nearly 3 carries to 1. The 7th ranked Packers fell to the 12th ranked Cardinals in a shootout for the ages, and the Cards may consider themselves lucky to have escaped a game that most conceded would boil down to who had the ball last. It’s probably still worth mentioning though, that with a 17 point lead early, and a 31-10 lead just after halftime, Arizona probably wins easily if they use Beanie Wells and his 6.5 yards per carry for the game, more than 14 times. This weekend, the 2nd ranked Colts, 4th ranked Saints, 5th ranked Chargers and 8th ranked Vikings will try to join the Cowboys in reversing the run first trend.


When you look at running stats, the trend remains the same, where the Jets (1st), Ravens (5th) and Bengals (9th) are the only top 10 running offenses to gain entry to the playoffs without a top 10 passing game too. (The Saints and Cowboys are 6th and 7th respectively, but also boast top 10 passing offenses) But again in last weekend’s action we saw 3 of 4 games go to the team who ran the ball better during the season, and arguably all 4 went to the team better equipped and more committed to running the ball in their playoff games. (Make your own determination on what decided that Packers / Cardinals game)


If you’re looking for a read on this debate, from an offensive standpoint, this weekend’s games couldn’t provide a better “boxer vs. puncher” analogy, especially in the AFC. On Saturday the Jets will take a #1 running game and a #31 passing game to San Diego, where conditions should be ideal for anything, to face a Chargers offense ranked 5th in passing and 31st in rushing. On Sunday the Ravens will take the 5th ranked rushing offense and 18th ranked passing offense to see a Colts offense that ranks 2nd in passing, but 32nd (that’s last) in rushing.


On the NFC side the offensive match ups might be a little trickier than the numbers may bear out. When the Cardinals travel to New Orleans on Saturday, they’ll be offensively overmatched on both sides, at least statistically. The Saints pass offense ranks 4th in the league to the Cardinals at 12th, but the Saints also boast the 6th ranked rushing offense, while the Cardinals come in at 28th. In Sunday’s match up, Dallas brings the 6th ranked passing offense and 7th ranked rushing offense, the Vikings come in at 8th in passing and 13th in rushing.


While the Saints look better equipped in both ways offensively, the Cardinals have found some rhythm in their running game since expanding the role of Beanie Wells, still with the fear that either of their backs could put the ball on the carpet at any time, Arizona looks like they actually feel safer with Kurt Warner and the passing game, and probably have more top end talent in the passing game than New Orleans if not their depth, especially if Boldin is healthy. The Saints look like they can beat you offensively any way they choose, but also seem to have lost momentum over the seasons closing weeks.


While the Cowboys have the edge statistically over the Vikings in both offensive phases of the game, it’s tough to argue that there’s a more dangerous back in football than Adrian Peterson, and despite his down year offensively, a fresher Peterson for the playoffs could become a scary proposition if the Vikings choose to lean on him. The passing edge favors Dallas statistically too, but in a much closer fashion, whether you’d rather have Brett Favre or Tony Romo quarterbacking your playoff team may be a no-brainer, but both have been known to make some pretty curious decisions in crunch time, usually though, in Favre’s case they work.


While the AFC games seem clear cut offensively, with one team looking to run and the other to pass, in the NFC, it may come down to which team is better able, or better equipped to be the dominant clock controlling ground game on game day.


On the defensive side of things, the argument may look much different. As it pertains to regular season rankings and making the playoffs, 7 of the top 10 run defenses earned playoff berths, and four of them remain as week 2 approaches. However, in this weekend’s match ups, Green Bay and the leagues top ranked rushing defense lost to the Cardinals, ranked 17th against the run, although run defense was of little consequence in that match up, as both teams looked utterly off balance and unprepared when faced with the few rushing attempts they did see. And the 7th ranked Bengals rush defense lost to the 8th ranked Jets, in what was statistically a push going in, and was basically a push for the day too, with Bengals equaling the Jets’ yardage total, but in less attempts, for a better average, but less time of possession.


The 5th ranked Ravens run defense disposed of the 13th ranked Patriots, in a game where running and run defense was clearly the deciding factor, and the 4th ranked Cowboys run defense took out the 9th ranked Eagles, in a game where the Cowboys ran 35 times for 198 yards and 2 TD and the Eagles managed just 13 attempts for 56 yards and no end zone trips.


Of the top 10 pass defenses for the regular season, only 4 earned spots in the playoffs, and all 4 also had top 10 run defenses as well. Over the weekend it held up like this, the 1st ranked Jets and 8th ranked Ravens predictably disposed of the 6th ranked Bengals and 12th ranked Patriots, but the 23rd ranked Cardinals beat the 5th ranked Packers and made them look like anything but a top 5 pass defense, and 17th ranked Eagles lost to the 20th ranked Cowboys’ pass defense.


In this weekend’s match ups, the Ravens bring the 5th ranked run defense and 8th ranked pass defense against an Indy team that will look to test that highly ranked yet somehow highly maligned Ravens’ secondary. The Colts’ run defense, for their part, ranks 24th in the league, and may have benefited a lot from the Colts’ prolific winning streak and ability to force teams into catch up mode. As for their pass defense, the Colts come in at a middle of the road 14th. This one seems simple to figure out, the Ravens will try to run, and the statistics say that they should be able to. The Colts will look to pass, big surprise, and although it looks statistically like they might have some problems, and the Ravens secondary seemed to go to another level in Foxboro on Sunday, I’ll still believe that when I see it.


As stated above, San Diego will probably be looking to air it out against the Jets and will have their work cut out for them. It’ll be cut out for them no matter how they choose to attack a Jets defense that ranks 1st against the pass and 8th against the run. If the Jets defense does what they’re capable of, then this one could fall to rookie Mark Sanchez, or more likely the Jets running game. For their part, the Chargers rank 20th against the run, so they’ll have their work cut out for them there. The rookie Sanchez will have to deal with a San Diego pass defense that ranks just outside of the top 10 statistically at 11th, but who may have to load up the box in an effort to stop the Jets’ prolific running game.


On the NFC side, in what looks to be a shootout, Arizona is obviously utterly under equipped to deal with an offense like the Saints’. The Cards pass defense ranks 23rd in the league, and their run defense isn’t much better coming in at an unimpressive 17th. It looks like Sean Payton and Drew Brees will have their choice of how to attack the Cards’ defense, and if you saw them last week, it’s tough to argue that this Arizona team is ready for an offense like the Saints. Defensively the Saints come in ranked 23rd against the run, despite playing much of the season from far ahead. And like the Cardinals, the Saints’ pass defense is even worse ranking 26th in the league. Like Brees, Kurt Warner should have his choice of how to go after the Saints defense, but seems less likely to rely on the running game if it’s close. This may be another case of whichever team scores last wins, but the Saints didn’t look good before they elected to shut down, if they take time to get warmed up, this one could start like the Cardinals’ last game. We may get to see if they learned anything about running the clock from that one.


And in the other game, the Cowboys with the 20th ranked pass defense and 4th ranked run defense have a pretty clear game plan. They have to hope that their highly regarded run defense can minimize Adrian Peterson, and will have to take their chances against Brett Favre. If the Vikings decide to lean on Peterson though, Dallas may find out just how good he is, which could open up things for Favre and the passing game. The Vikings defense, ranked 7th against the run and 19th against the pass, will hope they have what it takes to minimize the damage from Dallas’ three headed backfield, and will have to hope that Tony Romo lives up to his reputation for making mistakes in crucial moments.


So whether or no the league has gone fully to a passing league, just yet at least, is still debatable, but this weekend’s games should provide an interesting case study in what wins playoff games, particularly in the AFC. I’ll stick with defense and running, until it’s proven otherwise, and last weekend’s games seem to support that notion. That’s playoff football; right?










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Blog & Tackle: Stats to check out on WNST.net

Posted on 13 January 2010 by Chris Pika

There will be plenty written and said in the next few days about the Ravens’ AFC Divisional Playoff matchup with the Colts on Saturday.

If you don’t know how much sports information resides on WNST.net, here is a great example of what you can find if you click on the grey bar at the top of the page where it says NFL: A head-to-head analysis of the Ravens and the Colts in 2009, and each team’s individual stats.

Ravens-Colts 2009 Comparison

2009 Baltimore Ravens Stats

2009 Indianapolis Colts Stats

I will have my “How I See It” column with a Ravens-Colts prediction up early Friday morning, but these team numbers should give you something to discuss with your friends leading up to game time.

All four games this weekend will be too close to call, in my opinion. The big surprise may come in New Orleans, where the Saints are vulnerable against the Cardinals. In fact, all four road teams (Arizona, Baltimore, Dallas and New York) have good reason for optimism against the division winners they face.

If you are not one of the many people traveling to Indy on the WNST Purple Playoff Trip or by other means, please join us at 8 pm here on WNST.net for the Playoff Purple Haze Live Chat with news and info from the Lucas Oil Stadium press box from Drew Forrester and Glenn Clark and your comments and questions during the game.

Click @BlogAndTackle to follow Chris Pika on Twitter

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