In honor of officially turning the page from football season into basketball, here is a veritable 3-pointer of topical suggestions for Monday’s water cooler.
Point #1 – Just as quickly as I talk about turning the page on football season, my first point is of course related to the Ravens. Am I the only one totally confused by the Ravens apparent interest in retaining Jared Gaither?
When it comes to Gaither and this season in particular there seem to be two different schools of thought or observation. The first is puzzling to me, but seems to have a healthy consensus supporting it. That’s the notion that Gaither, spurned by his relegation to right tackle this season, opted to teach the Ravens a lesson in the form of a mysterious back injury that cost him and the team his entire season. For the record, I am not in this camp, as I simply can’t believe that on the precipice of free agency and an apparent big payday Gaither would feign an injury, much less an undetectable back ailment thereby likely costing himself millions of dollars in the process.
The second school of thought, and the one to which I subscribe is that Gaither simply has an undetectable back injury that came at the worst possible time for both him and the team. In either case, signing him sounds like a hopeful decision at best. You’re either getting a guy of questionable character, now apparently ready to play ball although nothing about his future at right tackle will have seemingly changed. Or you get a guy with a mysterious back injury that has already cost him one full season and could certainly threaten to jeopardize his availability going forward.
Hopefully the Ravens will be talking with Gaither about a one-year, incentive laden, right guy right price, go out and prove yourself type of contract. Something tells me that if Gaither were looking to play under those terms it might as well be at left tackle where he stands to get paid, and therefore not in Baltimore.
Point #2 – A lot has been made throughout the season and in the immediate aftermath of the inability of Joe Flacco to call audibles and diagnose defenses or the unwillingness of the coaching staff to allow him to do so, and the subsequent speculation as to why. From my naïve point of view, I’ll go with the latter and here’s why:
In the true self hating fashion of a die hard Ravens fan, I have used the NFL Rewind service to re-watch a lot of Ravens games from what was in totality a pretty exciting season. While I won’t patronize you by saying that I was cutting up tapes, as I only watched the television broadcasts over again, and without claiming to have a coach’s eye, a couple of things seem to stand out. The biggest for me is that the Ravens do little to disguise what they’re’ doing before they do it.
A few years ago, I and other members of the WNST staff had the privilege of sitting with then Ravens Linebackers Coach Mike Pettine, in Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan’s office and watch some game film and talk some football with him. At one point in the conversation he mentioned the Chargers (who coincidentally had Cam Cameron as an offensive coordinator at the time) as a team that would just line up and beat other teams. He said that there was little deception in their game; that they simply had great players who lined up and imposed their will on other teams without much deception. He pointed to them as the exception to the norm.
While many want Joe Flacco to go to the line and carry out the elaborate chicken dances of guys like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and others, that doesn’t seem at all to be the biggest missing element. Let’s concede that often what we see from those QBs in their pre-snap dances is not an audible at all. More often than not, a quarterback walks to the line, points out the middle linebacker (or the guy he thinks will be acting as the MLB on that play) and thereby tries to help identify for the offense where the pressure is coming from, who to pick up with blocks and where to break off certain pass routes. Only if he thinks the defense is ready for the play that they went to the line with will the QB actually change the play. Let’s also concede that without doing the chicken dance, the Ravens do check out of plays, it may only be 2 or 3 times per game, and their keys seem to be much more subtle than most teams’, but the Ravens do call audibles. They just don’t call many.
The place where I have a hard time indicting the quarterback, but may point to the coaching staff with a philosophical deficiency is in trying to steal pre-snap clues from the defense with hard counts, and by calling out what they see coming before it comes. Lord knows the Ravens offense typically gets to the line of scrimmage with plenty of time to burn on the play clock, if they did a better job of making the defense impatient and keeping them off balance, it would force them to tip their hands before they’d like, and give the offense a better idea of what they were seeing before it came at them.
The reason that I’d call this a philosophical problem and not a shortcoming of any single player is simple, the defense played the same way. Go back and watch the Bills game, or the Texans. How many throws did quarterbacks make against the Ravens this year on a one step drop from the shotgun? That’s not a read that the QB is making after the snap, the Ravens gave up their defense too early…consistently. Go back and watch the last 3 games of the season, or the 2 post-season games, you don’t need much of an educated eye to see who’s rushing and who’s dropping back into coverage. The reason Matt Ryan looked like an audible machine in that Thursday night match-up was because the Ravens were telling him what to call, and where the holes would be. We as fans make a lot of whether the team sends 3, 4, 5 or 6 rushers, but keeping an offense off balance is often about disguising who’s coming and who’s not more than how many you send on a given play.
Sometimes an audible (or what appears to be an audible) isn’t a change of the play at all. Sometimes it’s just a hard count that makes a blitzer show his hand, followed by a knowing look between a QB and receiver, back, lineman or whomever that simply says “you saw that too right?” and “you know what that means”. That’s a battle that the Ravens seemed to lose this year consistently on both sides of the ball.
Point #3 - Maybe the way that the Super Bowl turned out is fitting in a lot of ways. The Packers, true to form, overcame a plethora of injuries to and found a way to win. Having seen 17 players succumb to the IR over the course of the season, and having lost stars in Donald Driver and Charles Woodson in the finale, the Packers should serve as an inspiration to all NFL teams that it takes a lot more than star power to win it all in the NFL. A strong nucleus of stars and the right system and attitude will take you as far as you deserve to go, and the Packers served reminder of that to everyone.
What’s more, as we head into an off-season of collective bargaining turmoil and tumult, the ultra-small market Packers should serve as a reminder to everyone that the NFL is still the only league where teams based in cities like Green Bay can play on par with teams from New York and Chicago (and Los Angeles if they had a team). That’s one of the big reasons why the NFL remains king of American sports, and hopefully won’t do anything to screw that up.
And 1 - Why the apathy toward Terps’ basketball? I hope that folks were just waiting until the completion of football season to get emotionally invested. If that’s the case, welcome aboard, it’s about to get interesting. For those who dipped their proverbial toes in the water for the Duke game and cashed out just as quickly, give them a chance, there’s big upside with this bunch and they’re a lot of fun to watch, and there are still 53 days until the Orioles opener…and counting.