Tag Archive | "Bill Belichick"

NFL passes proposal banning New England’s ineligible receiver tactic

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NFL passes proposal banning New England’s ineligible receiver tactic

Posted on 25 March 2015 by Luke Jones

The “circus act” used by the New England Patriots in their divisional playoff win against the Ravens will be illegal moving forward.

On the final day of the league meetings in Phoenix, NFL owners passed a proposal forbidding players with eligible numbers to line up as ineligible outside the tackle box. Though the proposal was officially submitted by the league’s competition committee last week, head coach John Harbaugh has made his feelings about the tactic clear, reiterating his original protest that prompted an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third quarter of the 35-31 loss on Jan. 10.

Patriots running back Shane Vereen reported as ineligible and split out three times — while covered up by an eligible receiver — during a touchdown drive in the third quarter. Under the new rules, Vereen would be required to line up as part of the offensive line if he were to report as ineligible.

“We have jersey numbers for a reason. Let’s use it, like they do in college,” Harbaugh said Tuesday in Phoenix. “That was John Madden’s proposal and I like that proposal. Certain jersey numbers are eligible numbers and certain jersey numbers are ineligible numbers. If you’re eligible, you put on an eligible number. If you’re ineligible, you put on an ineligible number. They do it in college and they did it in the NFL up until, I don’t know, I’m going to guess the 60’s. That’s why they created ineligible and eligible jersey numbers so you can look at them and say, ‘He’s eligible and he’s not.’

“Now, we through kind of a circus act where we have to identify who is ineligible and who is not with signals. That’s what got the referees in trouble in the playoffs.”

Harbaugh has said his point of contention was with the tardiness in which referee Bill Vinovich announced which player was ineligible, but many have simply taken the Baltimore coach’s objections as sour grapes after his defense was unprepared to handle Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s unconventional — but legal — tactic. With the rule change passing, it’s clear that the Ravens had plenty of support as even Pittsburgh Steelers president and co-owner Art Rooney II agreed over the weekend that his AFC North rival had a legitimate gripe.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suggested after the game that the Ravens should “study the rulebook” when asked about Harbaugh’s objections.

The rule change now means such a tactic would result in a five-yard penalty as an illegal substitution.

 

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Deflate Gate and Wednesday rumblings

Posted on 21 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Lots of football news to talk about today, so I thought I’d put together a smorgasboard of things:

  • It was the Ravens coaching staff that alerted the Colts coaching staff that the balls were deflated. The Colts confirmed it when Brady threw and interception in their matchup. That’s the buzz around the league today.
  • Marc Trestman is a very good fit with the Ravens, will be a good offensive coordinator for them. Has ties to Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh. Concern is that he won’t run the ball as much as Kubiak. He may not, but he does like to involve his backs more in the passing game than Kubiak.
  • Expect Marty Mornhinweg to be named QB coach for the Ravens. He has significant ties to Marc Trestman. Was way over his head as coach of the Detroit Lions.
  • Scientific evidence as to how a deflated football helps a team – in wet conditions, it is softer, and therefore easier to grip, throw and catch; the mass of the ball is reduced, and it doesn’t go as far when thrown; if a team is going to run the ball, it helps the running backs “squeeze” the ball, which of course increases ball security and makes them less likely to fumble. Hmmm……….
  • ECU wide receiver Justin Hardy would look great in a Ravens uniform. He had a great first day at the Senior Bowl yesterday. Good speed, hands, separation, instincts. Tracks the ball real well in the air, catches it at it’s highest point. Cat quick in and out of his breaks. I was hoping he’d stay under the radar so the Ravens could get him in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL draft, but he’s no longer a secret. I’m afraid he’s moving up in to the 2nd round. Hopefully the Ravens trade out of the first, and use one of their picks to get him.
  • Patriots 3 prior Super Bowl wins tainted. They beat a supremely talented Kurt Warner/Marshall Faulk/Torry Holt/Isaac Bruce led team. Without the benefit of taping their practices and knowing what plays were coming based on alignment, don’t see how they could have beaten the Rams. Love to see them lose to the Seahawks, extending their Super Bowl losing streak to 3.
  • Would love to see the Pro Bowl turn in to something else for the players and for the fans. How about a “Super Stars” competition, just like ABC sports had back in the 70’s. The players could go through a series of events to see who was the strongest, fastest, etc. It would also be good for the fans see the players without pads.
  • Ravens loss to the Patriots and Colts subsequent loss to the same team, shows how close the Ravens are to competing for another ring. With another strong draft and some key free agent additions, I expect this team to go deep in to the playoffs next year, while giving us fans a home playoff game – or two. Being stout in the trenches on both sides of the ball enhances their chances.

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Looking at who’s going to win the NFL Conference Championships

Posted on 16 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

The NFL’s version of the final four is upon us, and the Seattle Seahawks are poised to defend their crown and repeat as champions. In the NFC, Russell Wilson is going after his second Super Bowl ring, as well as Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. In the AFC matchup, Tom Brady has a chance to climb the Mt. Rushmore of 4 time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, joining Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana. Andrew Luck leads the upstart Indianapolis Colts, as the only quarterback in the tournament who is attempting to win his first Lombardi Trophy.

Ever since the Patriots caught fire after their dismal performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in front of a national football audience, I’ve been predicting a Patriots – Seahawks finale. I still believe that after this Sunday’s games are over, those are still the two teams that will be left standing.

I expect the Patriots to activate Jonas Gray, and come out running against the Indianapolis Colts. Gray rushed for over 200 yards in Lucas Oil stadium, and with the addition of LeGarrette Blount, I expect more of the same this Sunday. Bill Belichick is a master of situational football, and just like he abandoned the run in the Patriots’ win over the Baltimore Ravens in the prior week, he will once again adapt his personnel to match his opponent.

On the other side of the ball, I do not believe that the Colts can go up to New England without a running game, and get away with it. They will go only as far as Andrew Luck will take them, and Belichick will take away what Luck does best, he will commit more players to defend the pass, and dare the Colts to run on his defense.

The Seattle Seahawks look to be a team on a mission. They are peaking at the right time, and their defense is the difference maker. They  have solid corners, unbelieveable safeties, active linebackers, and a defensive line that at times is dominant. They have a mercurial quarterback in Wilson, arguably the best running back in the NFL in Lynch, and they don’t beat themselves. They are also the most complete team in the playoffs.

The Green Bay Packers have come this far with sheer grit and determination, and on the arm of Aaron Rodgers. His calf injury has hindered his play, but on one leg he is still better than most NFL QBs on two legs. The key to the Packers having a chance is to unleash stout running back Eddie Lacy, but I do not see his offensive line opening up holes for him. He’ll have to make his own, and although he is capable of just that, I don’t believe it is going to be enough.

 

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Harbs

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Post game thoughts – Ravens vs Patriots

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

Had a great show Sunday morning, with relative predictable reaction by the Baltimore Ravens’ fan base. The scale was truly A – Z, from fans who were extremely upset, to moderately happy. The biggest issue that came up time and again was the decision that Joe Flacco made to throw the ball deep to Torrey Smith with just under 2 minutes left in the game.

Lots of Ravens fans second guessed that decision, and they wanted Flacco to continue to patiently work the ball downfield. In fact, on that play he had a wide open Marlon Brown streaking across the middle of the field.

It is my opinion that Flacco did in fact make the right call. The Patriots were in a single high safety formation, and Flacco knew that Torrey Smith was singled up by the DB on the left sideline. Smith got a couple of steps on his man, but the ball was under thrown and the safety came over and made a great play. It’s a simple as that. You take points when you can get them, and then you rely on your defense to make a stop, and win the game for you. Had the Ravens scored on that play, there’s no question it would have left the Patriots plenty of time to go down field and either tie the game with a field goal, or win it with a touchdown.

But first things first. I’ve seen too many games where offenses try to methodically go downfield in an attempt to score with seconds left, in order to leave the opposing offense with no time to move the ball. I’ve also seen turnovers happen in the form of fumbles and interceptions, mishandled handoffs and snaps. The ball is oblong, pointy, and bounces funny.  Oftentimes anything and everything that can go wrong…does. That is precisely why you take the points when you can get them.

The Ravens play aggressive football, and they have an aggressive nature about them. They are by and large well coached and relatively disciplined. No one complained when they went for it on 4th and 6th. When you live by the sword, you die by the sword. That’s how this team rolls, and that philosophy has played a big part as to why under John Harbaugh’s tenure, they’ve been in the playoffs 6 times in the past 7 years.

Speaking of Flacco, for 58 minutes he played a great game. He had two critical interceptions, but he also threw for 4 touchdowns. He should have had 5, but one of his throws bounced off of the hands of Owen Daniels. That was a huge play in and of itself, as it did factor in to the outcome. Flacco set a new NFL record with two touchdowns in eight straight postseason games, passing Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Drew Brees. That’s pretty good company if you ask me. The other question is this: if not Flacco – Ravens fans – then who? He didn’t let up a two touchdown lead, twice in the game. That was on the defense. Scoring 31 points in the NFL should be good enough for a win on any given Sunday. That was on the Ravens’ defense and their patched up secondary. Rob Gronkowski, some trickery, and Patriots’ half time adjustments were enough to pull out a win on their home turf.

There was criticism of Torrey Smith on the play that Flacco threw the pick on. Some fans felt that he didn’t do enough to break up the play. I’ve looked at the replays and he never had a chance to make a play on the ball. The safety was in good position, and got there at the ball’s high point. Smith is good, solid football player, but he doesn’t have the instincts to go up there and fight for the ball. It was not a lack of effort, and I’m not even sure that he saw the safety until the last second, so he didn’t have much time to react. I hope that he and the Ravens can come to a contractual agreement, as I believe he is a solid #2 receiver in this league, and adds value to the team.

Jacoby Jones looked tentative in the last two games, particularly on kickoff returns. He was not hitting the lanes hard, and maybe was putting too much emphasis on protecting the ball. He slipped on the opening kickoff versus the Steelers, and did not look good after that. I was hoping he would unleash himself in the manner that he did two years ago in the playoffs, but he was nowhere the difference maker this post season that he was then. I was disappointed with his performance, as I expected more.

The personal foul calls were troublesome, particularly on Torrey Smith. Coach Harbaugh should have also used a time out versus running on the field to get the refs’ attention. Not to mention he was wrong about the “deceptive practices” he alleged Bill Belichick was using. I under stand coach was frustrated after the bitter loss, but watching his presser brought to mind the phrase “never blame, complain or explain. I think Harbaugh is a solid coach, but hey coach, you got beat. Simple as that. Your defense blew a two TD lead – twice! Daniels didn’t come up with a catch – that Pitta would have probably held on to – in the end zone. Sending out 4 offensive linemen is nothing new. Alabama coach Nick Saban used it this season in overtime, in a 20-13 victory over LSU. I don’t recall LSU coach Les Miles complaining about the tactic at his press conference.

Bottom line is that the Ravens should head in to the off season with their heads held high. They battled through major off field distractions, 19 players on injured reserve, a late season suspension to a key player and still scratched and clawed their way to the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. They went toe to toe with a team that features a certain Hall of Fame first ballot quarterback and head coach, and gave them all that they could handle on their home turf.

Looks like offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is coming back, and with a strong draft and some health, the Ravens are poised to make a deep run in to the playoffs next season for sure. Hopefully they’ll win enough regular season games to get some home games in the playoffs, which will make the road to where they’re ultimately trying to get to a bit easier.

 

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Ravens-Patriots: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Patriots: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 10 January 2015 by Luke Jones

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — January in Foxborough is a familiar scene for the Ravens as they meet the New England Patriots in the AFC divisional round on Saturday afternoon.

Head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens are playing for the right to go to their fourth conference championship game in the last seven years, and they’ll have their starting left tackle available for the first time since Week 16 as Eugene Monroe is active. An ankle injury still limited Monroe in practices this week, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in his first live-game action since Dec. 21.

According to their depth chart, Monroe’s return would push rookie free agent James Hurst to right tackle and four-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda back to normal right guard spot. Rookie John Urschel had been filling in at right guard with Yanda moving outside the last two weeks.

(Update 4:05 p.m. — Based on pre-game warmups, it appears that Monroe will serve as the emergency backup tackle for Saturday’s game with Hurst remaining at left tackle.)

As expected, rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (foot/ankle) is active after being listed as probable to play and practicing fully all week. He will move back into the defensive line rotation as a substitute behind five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who returned from a four-game suspension at the start of the postseason.

With Monroe and Jernigan both active after missing the Pittsburgh game, offensive lineman Ryan Jensen and defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson were deactivated for Saturday’s game.

The Patriots listed running backs Jonas Gray and James White as inactive, which is interesting considering how much head coach Bill Belichick has liked to use a committee approach in his backfield this season. Of course, New England could struggle finding room against the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense, regardless of who is receiving the carries.

The Ravens will be playing the Patriots for the fourth time in their playoff history as they have won two of the previous three postseason games played at Gillette Stadium. Baltimore is 1-7 against New England in the all-time regular-season history that’s been overshadowed by four postseason meetings in the last six seasons.

The forecast calls for temperatures dipping below 20 degrees as the game progresses with winds up to 10 miles per hour.

The referee for Saturday’s wild-card game will be Bill Vinovich.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with black pants for Saturday’s game while New England dons its navy blue tops with silver pants.

Below are the inactives for Saturday:

BALTIMORE
DL DeAngelo Tyson
TE Phillip Supernaw
DT Casey Walker
DT Terrence Cody
DE Steven Means
CB Chris Greenwood
OL Ryan Jensen

NEW ENGLAND
RB Jonas Gray
OL Cameron Fleming
OT Jordan Devey
WR Brandon Boyce
TE Steve Maneri
DL Zach Moore
RB James White

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Saturday

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Saturday

Posted on 09 January 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have made a mostly-pleasant habit of traveling to Foxborough in January to take on the New England Patriots.

The latest chapter in this underrated rivalry will be written Saturday with Baltimore eyeing its fourth trip to the AFC Championship game under head coach John Harbaugh. Meanwhile, the No. 1 seed Patriots are seeking their first championship in a decade with 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady not getting any younger.

Joe Flacco will try to continue an impeccable postseason run in which he’s thrown 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions over his last nine playoff games. The seventh-year signal-caller has thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception in leading the Ravens to wins in their last five postseason contests.

Who will win on Saturday?

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It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Patriots meet for the fourth time ever in the playoffs — all have been in Foxborough — with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge. New England leads the all-time regular-season series by a 7-1 margin despite the Ravens’ postseason success at Gillette Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to hand New England another loss in the postseason …

1. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will be chased by Will Hill most of the day while catching a touchdown and posting 100 receiving yards. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will throw the kitchen sink at New England in trying to cover the All-Pro tight end, but Hill will draw most of the responsibility with little success. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound safety did an admirable job in holding New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham to six catches for 47 yards in late November, but Gronkowski has played at a different level than anyone at his position this year and is more physical. Brady will go to him early and often to try to offset a Baltimore pass rush bearing down on him.

2. Three of the Ravens’ sacks against Brady will come from inside pressure. Four has been the magic number for the Ravens as they’ve collected at least four sacks in their last eight wins and are 0-4 when failing to reach the plateau over that stretch. Brady was sacked just 21 times this year, but his quick release was a bigger factor in that statistic than an offensive line that’s been shaky in pass protection this year. The Ravens will exploit rookie center Bryan Stork and guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell with A-gap blitzing as well as the presence of Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee, and Timmy Jernigan in passing situations. Inside pressure will force Brady backward and give Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil time to reach him off the edges.

3. Steve Smith will have a quiet game, but Torrey Smith will catch a touchdown and fetch a key pass interference call. Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis is expected to match up against Steve Smith, which will spell trouble for the veteran wideout as Revis will match the 35-year-old’s physicality with press coverage. This will leave the 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner against Torrey Smith in a matchup that could determine the outcome of the game. The Maryland product will be challenged by Browner’s physicality, but the former Seattle defensive back is prone to penalties, drawing 15 flags in nine games in the regular season. The speedy fourth-year wideout draws pass interference calls as well as anyone and will fetch a big one inside the red zone in addition to catching a first-half touchdown.

4. Brady will pass for more yards, but Flacco will throw more touchdown passes. The Patriots will try to establish the run with their extensive collection of running backs, but they won’t find much room against the league’s fourth-ranked run defense, meaning the ball will be in their franchise quarterback’s hands all day. Brady will make amends for his 56.8 passer rating in his three previous playoff games against the Ravens, but Baltimore will clamp down inside the red zone. In contrast, the Ravens will find enough running room to keep Justin Forsett involved, and Flacco will have another efficient game like he did in Pittsburgh with 220 yards and two touchdowns to put his team in position to grab a victory in the fourth quarter.

5. Justin Tucker will kick the game-winning field goal to give the Ravens a 24-23 win. New England was the better team this season, but Baltimore has history on its side and — more importantly – the right tools to match up with the Patriots. If the Ravens are able to pressure Brady inside and out, it will make up for potential problems in the secondary and allow the Baltimore offense to keep up as it deals with an improved Patriots defense. This game could go either way, but it’s getting to the point where you just can’t pick against Flacco in the playoffs until someone finally cools him off. The Ravens won’t be scared playing in familiar Foxborough, and they’ll find a way to win there once again in January.

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Here’s your chance to watch basketball with me at the new SECU Arena

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Here’s your chance to watch basketball with me at the new SECU Arena

Posted on 16 January 2014 by Drew Forrester

I have to admit this: when the Ravens do something like initiate a search for an offensive coordinator, it benefits me and the rest of the professionals at WNST.

First, it gives us talk-radio fodder, which comes in particularly handy this time around because the Ravens are not playing football in this playoff campaign.

Next, it provides me and the others here a chance to gauge the temperature and sports-intelligence-level of our customer, either the listener or reader in WNST’s case.

It also allows for us to absorb what other members of the media in town are saying about the topic at hand.  What sort of “take” do they offer?  Is it knee-jerk and silly or well thought out and reasoned?

This offensive coordinator search has revealed an embarrassment of riches when it comes to all of those elements I listed above.

Unfortunately, the word “embarrassment” is more appropriate than I might have first realized.

It doesn’t matter to me what your position is with regard to the Ravens current search for a new offensive mind.  You are all welcome to your own opinion with regard to what candidate makes the most sense and which one should be disregarded.

Here, though, is the one incredibly DUMB thing I’m hearing and reading — from a lot of you — about any of the candidates.  And here’s where I’ll add that I heard at least two other local sports radio personalities author this exact same thought, so they’re just as dumb. Actually, they’re worse — more dumber (they used the word “dumber” in a movie title, I assume it’s a word) if you will — because they’re supposedly professional.

“Well, they better not hire Jim Hostler…have you seen his track record as an offensive coordinator?  He sucks.”

“Kyle Shanahan?  That guy just got fired in DC.  He couldn’t get along with RGIII, how’s he gonna work with Flacco?”

“Just say no to Childress.  He’s friends with Harbaugh.”

Dumb.  Dumber.  And more dumb.

Jim Hostler was the Offensive Coordinator in 2007 in San Francisco.  It was a brief, one-year tenure.  It didn’t go well.  The team out there, by the way, was going through a stretch of finishing .500 or worse over eight straight seasons.

Seven seasons ago Jim Hostler was the Offensive Coordinator of the 49’ers and he failed.  So, should that immediately disqualify him for this Ravens’ opening?  Really, should it?  You mean, in his six years in Baltimore, he hasn’t learned?  Hasn’t improved?  Hasn’t, perhaps, figured out a better way?  I’m not campaigning for Hostler in any way, shape or form.  I’m on record saying I think there are more qualified candidates than him.  That said, the one thing I won’t say is — “well, he can’t do the job, did you see what he did in San Francisco?”

If you sell tape recorders for The Smith Company in 2010 and fail miserably, does that mean you’re incapable of selling tape recorders for The Jones Company in 2016 when there’s an opening there?  What if during that six year span you had a better sales manager who taught you a lot while you were working for The Brown Company?  You failed in 2010.  Does that just mean you’re going to fail again in 2016?  Of course not.

That’s what you all have done in Baltimore with regard to Jim Hostler.

“He sucked in 2007 so he’s gonna suck for us, now.”

Not necessarily.

Maybe he’ll have better players at his disposal in Baltimore in 2014.  That would help.

I was the golf coach at John Carroll in Bel Air in 2011 and 2012.  We played sixteen MIAA matches in that span.  The team went 0-16.  We were shut out in 7 of the 16 matches.  Last year, I was hired by Calvert Hall and we won the MIAA golf championship for the first time since 1997.  Thank God the people at Calvert Hall didn’t say, “Have you seen what Drew did over at John Carroll?  They didn’t win a match.  We can’t hire that loser.”

If you want to point to Jim Hostler’s work in Baltimore over the last six seasons and question what role he’s played in the development of the team’s receivers, I think that’s VERY fair.  So would he, I assume.  But to harp on and on and on and on about one season in San Francisco back in 2007 is just dumb.  Sorry if that hurts.  But it’s dumb.

By the way, Bill Belichick was 36-44 in Cleveland in the 1990’s.  Look at HIS record in New England.

Tony Dungy fired and fell back in Tampa Bay in the early part of last decade.  Some good, some bad.  He turned out to be a champion and, most likely, a Hall of Famer.

People in sports get fired all the time.  It doesn’t make them a guaranteed failure down the road.

I’m glad we’re smart enough to pass that along to you.

I hope you listen.

—————————————————————-

The times, they are a changin’ over at Towson University.

And if you have a Twitter account and you follow @WNST, you just might see that for yourself next Wednesday night.

We all know the football team has experienced a glorious turn around over the last five seasons under Rob Ambrose, but are you aware that the men’s basketball program has also been rebuilt from a 1-win team in 2011-2012 to a legitimate CAA title contender in this, his 3rd season at the school?

It’s true.

Towson basketball has experienced a great rebirth and this year, they’re spending their first ever campaign in the brand new SECU Arena, located a stone’s throw from their outstanding football stadium.

Here’s where WNST comes in.

I’m taking eight of you – plus a guest you bring – to next Wednesday night’s home game against Northeastern at SECU Arena.  You’ll attend the game for free, sit in the SECU luxury box with me and the other WNST winners, and have food and drink supplied for free by the fine folks from SECU.  We even some courtside seats you can all share throughout the game.

What’s the catch, Drew?  Is that what you’re asking?

There isn’t one.

I’m just a nice guy.  And so are the people at SECU — and they’re proud of the arena with their name on it and they want you to see it next Wednesday night.

How do you win the tickets?

Easy — today, from 6am to 5pm, tweet the words “See You At SECU” to us (@WNST).  That’s it.  By doing that, you’re entered.  We’ll then pick four of you at random today and announce the winners via Twitter around 5:30 pm.

And if you don’t win today, we’re doing the same thing again tomorrow, Friday, January 17.

Go to Twitter today from 6am to 5pm and tweet the words “See You At SECU” to us @WNST and you might, actually, see ME at SECU Arena next Wednesday night!

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Ravens handed worst home loss ever as Patriots deliver “cleat of reality”

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Ravens handed worst home loss ever as Patriots deliver “cleat of reality”

Posted on 22 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

This time, there was no late-game heroics to save the Ravens.

No half-a-world-away kick from Justin Tucker.

No final minute punt return from Jacoby Jones.

No last gasp drive from Joe Flacco and the offense.

This time, it was just football for sixty minutes.

And, the Ravens got their rear ends handed to them by Tom Brady and the Patriots.  There’s no other way to slice it.  No fancy way to sugarcoat it.  Not on Sunday.  It was 41-7 in favor of the Patriots and the beating was as bad as the score would indicate, even if two of the New England TD’s were scored in garbage time.

It was a day to forget for Joe Flacco and the offense.  Going up against a beleaguered and injured New England defense, the Baltimore offense simply laid a colossal Christmas egg, coughing up the ball on four different occasions and failing to pick up a first down on two separate 4th and short situations in the second half.

On the first occasion, the Ravens were faced with a 4th and 2 at the New England 39.  They had already run the ball twice in the series — once for five yards and the other for three yards, but offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell eschewed the reasonable solution of running off the edge and instead asked Flacco to connect with Jacoby Jones on a short pass.  It failed.

Later on, at the New England four yard line, the Ravens had two chances to pick up one yard.  On 3rd and 1, Caldwell again called for a pass play, which was incomplete.  Facing a 20-0 deficit, the Ravens rightfully went for it on 4th down.  Flacco initially lined up in the shotgun with Rice to his right.  Just prior to the snap, the QB scooted under center and gave Rice the ball off tackle, where he was stopped for no gain.  Was that the play design coming out of a Baltimore time-out where the Ravens discussed a critical play-call?  If so, it looked sloppy at best, ill-executed at worst.

Those two 4th down failures didn’t cost the Ravens the game, but you can’t win football games in the NFL when you can’t pick up two yards and one yard with your season perhaps on the line.

Later, the Ravens made the wrong call on a field goal decision that all but sewed up the game for the visitors.  Trailing 20-0 and faced with a 4th and 5 at the Patriots’ 19 yard line early in the 4th quarter, John Harbaugh elected to send Justin Tucker on the field for a 36 yard field goal.  That Tucker would miss the field goal was almost poetic justice, for even if he would have connected, the Ravens still trailed by three scores at 20-3.  He missed it.

Sure, Tucker should make a 36-yarder every time, but the call there should have been to go for it on 4th down to try and get a TD on that series and make it a two score game.

If the game wasn’t over prior to Tucker attempting the field goal, it was over when he failed to connect.

The Baltimore offense has now scored one touchdown in its last eight quarters of action.  Six field goals last Monday night in Detroit and one “we don’t care if you score” TD allowed by New England on Sunday.  In fairness, one of those days where the ineptness of the offense finally catches up to the Ravens was bound to happen.  Other Sunday’s, Flacco and Company would figure out a way to put up a TD or two and add a few Justin Tucker field goals to win 23-20.

This was the Sunday where the football gods finally said, “You boys are gonna have to play some legit football on offense today.”

And, the Ravens didn’t answer the bell.

The Baltimore defense got picked apart early by Tom Brady, who used Julian Edelman like a fiddler with his bow.  When the Patriots took advantage of a pass interference call on Jimmy Smith in the end zone and a Flacco interception to go up 14-0, all they had to do from there was play smart, use the clock and not turn the ball over.  What quarterback in the world is better than doing those things than New England’s #12?

Brady expertly used the middle of the field as the Ravens’ secondary played a soft cover-2 that put little emphasis on physicality.

One week ago in Detroit, the Ravens defensive backs went toe-to-toe with Calvin Johnson from the first whistle and physically challenged him.

Against New England, there was very little of that press coverage scheme from Jimmy Smith or Corey Graham, although it’s fair to note Lardarius Webb was tight on his man most of the day.

The Baltimore defense put little pressure on the quarterback all afternoon.  Strong?  Yes.  Big in size?  Yes.  But the Ravens lack pace and speed in their defensive front seven and when they face a quick-release quarterback like the one in New England, there’s not much damage being done.

When Brady gets time to do his thing, it can get ugly.  Like it did on Sunday.

On the flip side, the Ravens offense was unable to solve the mystery of the New England defense that somehow constructed a method to beat Baltimore on the inside and give Flacco something to think about most of the day.  Horrible against the run, the Patriots weren’t challenged that much by Caldwell, who went to the air 42 times.  It was a weird combination, it seemed.  New England WANTED the Ravens to throw it and the Baltimore coaching staff did just that.

It all added up to the worst home loss of the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era.  With their playoff lives on the line, the Ravens turned in a stinker for the ages, at home no less, and made next Sunday’s game in Cincinnati a must-win affair.

Everyone’s shorts smelled on Sunday.

The coaches had a long day.

The offense had a longer day.

And the defense, which played respectably overall, got a lesson in how Tom Brady operates when the calls and the balls are both working in his favor.  He’s tough to beat.

Hell, Justin Tucker missed a 36 yard field goal.

You know you’re not winning if that happens.

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 December 2013 by Luke Jones

The Ravens renew what’s become one of the best rivalries in the NFL in recent years Sunday when the New England Patriots pay a visit with playoff implications for both sides.

A rematch of the last two AFC Championship games is compelling enough, but the Ravens enter Sunday with a chance to punch their ticket to the postseason for the sixth straight year with a win and losses by Miami and San Diego. New England will clinch its fifth consecutive AFC East division title with a victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

These teams have dealt with their fair share of changes since the last time they met in Foxborough last January, but they find themselves in a familiar position with new faces emerging to replace the big names of past years. Counting the postseason, Sunday marks the seventh time the Ravens and Patriots have met in the John Harbaugh era — it’s been a 3-3 split — with few teams having as much success against New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady as Baltimore.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to clinch another winning season under Harbaugh and set up an AFC North championship game against Cincinnati in Week 17. Baltimore is just 1-6 in the all-time regular-season series against New England, but the Ravens hold a 2-1 edge over the Patriots in the postseason.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to continue their four-game winning streak and keep themselves in position for January football …

1. Joe Flacco’s knee injury will affect his mobility, contributing to him being sacked four times for the first time since late November. One of the major factors for Flacco’s improved play down the stretch has been his ability to move around in the pocket and occasionally take off to gain yards on the ground, but the mild MCL sprain of his left knee figures to impact that to some extent. Trying to assess Flacco’s mobility during practices this week was impossible as quarterbacks only played catch from a stationary position during the open portion of practices, but he was still dealing with some swelling late in the week. The Baltimore offensive line has only allowed five sacks over the last three games, but Flacco will be more likely to stay in the pocket this week, leading to a few more sacks with defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich coming off the edges.

2. New England cornerback Aqib Talib will match up with Dennis Pitta, but the Ravens tight end will catch a touchdown. The Patriots have used the 6-foot-1 Talib against talented tight ends such as New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Miami’s Charles Clay, so don’t be surprised to see him covering Pitta from the slot position while New England tries to use Cover 2 to contain the deep-ball threats of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones on the outside. Talib is listed as probable on the final injury report, but he’s been dealing with a nagging hip issue, which might explain why defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Belichick moved him inside last week in Miami. Talib will prevent Pitta from having a huge day, but Flacco will still find his favorite target inside the red zone for a touchdown after the tight end wasn’t targeted once in three red-zone trips last week in Detroit.

3. Brady will find rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a touchdown to help the Patriots’ recent red-zone woes. New England ranks 16th in the league in red-zone offense, and the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski has only made that area of the field more problematic for the future Hall of Fame quarterback as he lacks a big target to throw to. The Patriots were only 1-for-4 inside the 20 in last week’s loss to the Dolphins, but the return of the 6-foot-3 Dobson will help complement smaller receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The Ravens must also keep tabs on Shane Vereen and his receiving abilities out of the backfield, but the league’s fourth-ranked red-zone defense will make the Patriots scratch and claw all day. Even with their personnel losses, the Patriots rank sixth in the NFL in points scored and Brady will connect with Dobson for a touchdown.

4. Backup running back Bernard Pierce will earn a season high for rushing yards with Ray Rice less than 100 percent. Rice and the Ravens have downplayed the mild quadriceps strain he suffered in the Week 15 win over the Lions, but it’s difficult not to be concerned considering how tough this season has been for the three-time Pro Bowl selection. Pierce has experienced his own struggles — averaging only 2.8 yards per carry — behind an offensive line that’s underperformed. If the Patriots do match up Talib with Pitta and rely on two high safeties against the vertical threat, the Ravens will receive better looks in the box against the league’s 31st-ranked run defense that’s surrendered 132.5 yards per game. It’s difficult to trust the Ravens to run the ball effectively against anyone at this point, but Pierce will eclipse his season high of 65 rushing yards set in Week 3.

5. An improved effort inside the 20-yard line will go a long way as the Ravens win a 23-17 final over New England. Baltimore has won four straight games but has only gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over that stretch, leaving a slim margin for error and too much reliance on kicker Justin Tucker. That being said, Flacco has gotten the best of Brady in recent years and the Ravens are feeling more urgency than the Patriots with their playoff positioning. Sunday will be a nail-biter and you can never count out Brady when the stakes are high, but the Ravens will once again rise to the occasion to finish 7-1 at home. The offense will have a respectable effort on the ground and make a few big plays through the air to complement another strong defensive effort as the Ravens set up a massive Week 17 showdown with the Bengals.

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Ravens vs. New England — It’s a “7-Star Lock” game

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Ravens vs. New England — It’s a “7-Star Lock” game

Posted on 20 December 2013 by Drew Forrester

You know how it goes in gambling.

There are games you “like”, games you “feel good about” and games where you say, “it’s a lock!”

I have a slam-dunk thing called the “7-Star Lock” that I only bring out for very special occasions.

I’ve only used the “7-Star Lock” twice this season.

It hit both times.

The first go-round was in Baltimore last month when the Ravens edged the Bengals 20-17 in overtime.  The Friday before, I ended our award-winning segment – “Picks and Comment” – with the stunning revelation that the game in Baltimore two days later was “the lock of all locks”.  Hence, the reason it was a 7-Star Lock.

You just don’t label a game a 7-Star Lock unless you know it’s a done deal.

In fact, the 7-Star Lock is just like a honeybee.  When a honeybee stings you, that’s essentially its final act, as it will perish hours later.

If the 7-Star Lock ever fails, it, too, is dead.  A 7-Star Lock can only be used while owning a perfect record.

Anyway, following the successful application of the 7-SL on the Bengals in Baltimore (“I don’t care what you say, Cincinnati isn’t coming to Baltimore and beating the Ravens this Sunday…”), I took a few weeks off before finding another 7-SL game.

Last Sunday in Miami, I called the Dolphins over New England a 7-Star Lock for the hometown ‘Fins.

You can up that record to 2-0 on 7-SL’s this season.

Oddly enough, New England will once again be involved in a 7-Star Lock game.  It’s this Sunday afternoon in Baltimore.

Baltimore 26 – New England 13

And, yes, you can make that a 7-Star Lock.

New England’s not coming to Baltimore and winning on Sunday.  They don’t have enough offense, even though they have the best QB in the league.  They don’t have a defense that can stop the Ravens long enough to let the referees work their expected late-game magic for Bill Belichick’s team.

They have a very good kicker.

The Ravens have a great one.

New England doesn’t have to win the game.

Baltimore does.

The Ravens don’t lose big home games.  Not under John Harbaugh, anyway.  Not in December.

The last time the Ravens spit the bit in a home game of this kind of magnitude was January 13, 2007 when the ’06 campaign ended abruptly with a 15-6 loss to the Colts in the AFC playoffs.

Ain’t happenin’ this Sunday in Baltimore, trust me.

Ravens in a romp.

Book it.

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