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

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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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Week 4 Coach Speak

Posted on 28 September 2010 by Brian Billick

After my broadcast partner, Thom Brennaman, and I called an exciting overtime game in New Orleans when the Falcons beat the Saints, I taped this week’s edition of CoachSpeak for FOXSports.com.

I talked to the winning coach of the Atlanta-New Orleans game (and my brother-in-law), the Falcons’ Mike Smith on why he went for it on fourth down so much against the Saints and how he plans to keep his team focused this week after such a big win. I also spoke to the losing coach, Sean Payton, about how last Monday night’s game at San Francisco did to his team’s schedule, and the adjustments coaches have to make in that situation.

In my Billick 101 segment, we get a look at the Vikings check system with quarterback Brett Favre and running back Adrian Peterson through the eyes of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. We also go on the field with Ravens running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, who shows us the keys to a proper QB-RB exchange on handoffs.

I take a look at the 49ers’ firing of offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye this week, what that might mean to head coach Mike Singletary down the line, and what new OC Mike Johnson needs to do to help turn around the 0-3 49ers fortunes.

Lastly, we check out the Never Say Never Moment of the Week, including Leon Washington’s two kickoff returns for TDs for the Seahawks.

Here is this week’s version of CoachSpeak:

Video: Coach Speak: Week 4

This Sunday, Thom, field reporter Charissa Thompson and I head to Green Bay this Sunday as the Packers try to bounce back after a tough loss at Chicago as they host Jim Schwartz and the Detroit Lions on FOX.

But before that, I will be on WNST several times to talk about what’s going on in the NFL. If you miss any of those appearances, please check out the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to listen to all of the great interviews on WNST.

Talk to you next week …

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Did We Fall Asleep On The Steelers ???

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Did We Fall Asleep On The Steelers ???

Posted on 23 September 2010 by Rex Snider

As I look back to the early days of August and the outpouring of attention during Ravens Training Camp, I can recall the high expectations from anyone wearing a hint of purple.

Nearly every fan and local media observer predicted BIG things for “John Harbaugh & Company” as the preseason, and eventual regular season approached. And, our optimistic forecasts may very well come true.

After all, the Ravens have only played two games and we still await the first snap on the home turf. An enormous amount of football is lying ahead, and the remainder of the season will undoubtedly present a collection of peaks and pitfalls along the way.

Some teams start hot and others start cold. That’s the nature of competition in the National Football League. Nobody really believes in the quick starts by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears, right? I’ll also assume we’re not ready to bury the Dallas Cowboys or Minnesota Vikings, either.

As I look back just one season, I can distinctly recall an undefeated Denver Broncos squad rolling into M&T Bank Stadium, for a Week #8 matchup against the Ravens.

The Broncos didn’t return to Denver with that previously unblemished record.

In fact, they missed the playoffs.

That’s a prime example of how fortunes can change throughout the course of 17 weeks.

Falling into a blanketed belief in the home team’s preseason hype is an easy trap for all us whom merit a stake connected to the franchise. And, when nationally syndicated media jump on board, the temptations are even stronger.

At the same time, many of us predicted doom and gloom for the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. I’ll admit to it. And, if you’re being honest, you probably did the very same thing.

We reasoned a decent opportunity of the Steelers losing most, if not all of their games during Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension. After all, Roethlisberger defines the riches of the Steelers, right? He’s a winner; he’s a Super Bowl conquering quarterback.

Of course, we piled up the dissent on a competitive Steelers season with mitigating factors, like the tumultuous exit of the Raven killer, Santonio Holmes and a season ending injury to Willie Colon.

But, I think we might’ve really overlooked or discounted the return of one very important player …..
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As much as haters wanna chalk up the Steelers successes over the last few years to Ben Roethlisberger, an argument exists to suggest Troy Polamalu is every bit as important to that team.

What did the Steelers do without him, last year? They lost.

In 2009, Troy Polamalu played in 5 games. During that stretch, the Steelers were 4-1, while surrendering an average of 13.5 points, per game. In the 11 games without him, they were 5-6, while yielding an average of 23 points, per game.

Veteran defensive end, Aaron Smith, figures into the downfall of the 2009 Steelers season, as well. He missed much of the same action as Polamalu. And, Pittsburgh’s defense is much more dynamic with him in the lineup.

But, he’s not the heartbeat of the Steelers defense.

That unit revolves around Troy Polamalu. In some very distinct ways, Polamalu parallels the importance of Ray Lewis to the Ravens defense. While their personalities and mannerisms are quite different, they each command the team’s respective side of the ball.

Ray Lewis makes players better. So does Troy Polamalu.

The Steelers are 2-0, due to a dominant defensive effort. They haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in 8 regulation quarters to start the season. But, they’re winning and that’s all that really matters.

They’re headed to Tampa for a Sunday showdown with the undefeated Bucs. Yes, this is the point where you start chuckling at that game. Barring an upset of phenomenal proportions, the Steelers will carry an undefeated record into their final week of Roethlisberger’s suspension – and a divisional contest against the Ravens.

I’m not looking beyond this week’s home opener against the Cleveland Browns, but the Ravens must beat the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger on the field, next week. No excuses, they must do it.

That said, I’m suspecting Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and the remainder of the offense will be mindful of a reality many fans and media overlooked back in August …..

Troy Polamalu is every bit as important as Ben Roethlisberger.

After the Steelers’ surprising 2-0 start, I think it’s fair to say everybody forgot about the reality of Polamalu’s presence. Umm …. make that everybody, except Peter King. He was on it (prediction). He didn’t fall for the “Wicked Witch Is Dead” euphoria that many of us celebrated when considering the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger and overall prospects of the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Peter King wasn’t sleeping on them. And, I hope everyone else falls in line. The Pittsburgh Steelers remain ENEMY #1. And, Troy Polamalu is the primary reason we forgot about it. Then again, he’s made a career off quarterbacks forgetting about him.

How fitting, huh?

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Week 3 Coach Speak

Posted on 22 September 2010 by Brian Billick

This week on the show I host on FOXSports.com, Coach Speak, I talk with Eagles head coach Andy Reid about his two quarterbacks, Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb, I give my best “never say never” moments of the NFL’s Week 2 schedule, we get a tutorial from Jets’ defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman on how cornerbacks use press coverage techniques, Chargers’ tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski tells us about San Diego’s two-TE formation, I give my thoughts about not panicking when you have an 0-2 start like the Cowboys and Vikings have right now and I talk to Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh about one of his favorite subjects this week — too much protection for the quarterback.

Make sure you catch my on-air visits each week talking about the NFL on WNST during the football season. Here is Week 3′s Coach Speak …

Video: Coach Speak: Week 3

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Blog & Tackle: Week 1 NFL scoring struggles

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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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GAME ONE IS OVER. NOW, BRING ON MONDAY NIGHT!

Posted on 10 September 2010 by Shawn Credle

14-9. Not exactly what you thought the opening game of the 2010 NFL Season would be. Opening game jitters? Too much pre-game hype? Too much Super Bowl and NFC Title Game recollection? Whatever the reason, both teams were sluggish out there. But, the matchup of the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints vs. the Minnesota Vikings was good enough to kickoff the season.

The first drive for the Saints was, without a doubt, their best drive of the game. For the other 3+ quarters of drives, both teams seemed out of sync. Neither team committed to the run, as both Brett Favre and Drew Brees went pass-happy. And that caused the game to run a little longer than most expected (well, at least it felt like a long game).

So, what did we learn:
-Drew Brees had trouble dealing with the 4-man rush the Vikings were throwing at him all game. Very surprising, given the numbers Brees & company have produced in the past.

-While he showed some signs of greatness, Brett Favre still needs to dust off the cobwebs, just a bit. Favre was trying to force-in some of those throws. Threading the needle basically. He needs time to sharpen those skills. That time could have been preseason.

-The kicking game…WHAT THE HELL? A missed extra point and two missed field goals. Baltimore fans know how important it is to have a good kicker. (Does Baltimore really have one now?)

-The only bright side to this may have been the fact that both defenses stepped up and played well. And for the Saints, a win is a win. The Saints, and their fans, will take it.

Which brings us to Monday night, and the battle of the big mouths. Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens vs. Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.

The Jets end this game with so much “swagger” that may cost them in the long run. However, Baltimore has a very tought start on the road this year.

And while we don’t know what’s going to happen, something tells me that we will not have a repeat of the last game.

Now, that the NFL season is underway, time to predict who will win the divisions.

AFC East: New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
AFC West: Oakland Raiders

NFC East: Dallas Cowboys
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

What are your thoughts as to which teams will win their divisions? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Steve Hauschka: “I Think That There Is a High Standard Out There That The Kickers Have Set, And Anything Below That Won’t Be Tolerated”

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Steve Hauschka: “I Think That There Is a High Standard Out There That The Kickers Have Set, And Anything Below That Won’t Be Tolerated”

Posted on 30 August 2010 by Ryan Chell

Steve Hauschka
Everywhere Steve Hauschka has gone so far in this short NFL career, he has had to replace or has been around an NFL kicker who has been kicking clutch field goals for years.

Last year’s starting Ravens kicker for the first two months of the season had trouble replacing a hero here in Baltimore in Matt Stover, as the former NC State kicker struggled, kicking 69& of his attempts, making only 9 out of 13 attempts from last year, including a big miss in the Ravens October 18th loss to the Vikings that cost the game for Baltimore.

Hauschka beat 2008 Lou Groza Award winner Graham Gano for the starting job for the Ravens last camp after the Ravens decided not to resign Stover, who wanted a guaranteed contract going into training camp.

Hauschka said it wasn’t easy to fit into someone shoes like Stover.

“It’s not easy at the beginning, especially following up a guy like Matt Stover, whose had a real great career there in Baltimore,” Hauschka told Thyrl Nelson on Thursday.  “It wasn’t easy as a young guy. I did my best and I wish things worked a different way, but I don’t have any regrets.”

Hauschka was released by the Ravens a month after his fourth miss of the year. He later tried on with the Falcons, who signed him to a contract after trying to find a replacement for a struggling Jason Elam, and he competed with Matt Bryant the rest of the season, not seeing any attempts to prove himself or right his confidence.

Hauschka realizes and understands why his time in Baltimore was cut short. He knows he deserved it, given the nature of the position.

“I think that there is a high standard out there that the kickers have set, and anything below that wont be tolerated,” Hauschka explained. “That’s just the nature of the position.”

“It’s a really obvious thing when the kicker misses a kick, as opposed to a tackle missing a block or something like that. When a kicker makes a mistake, everyone in the crowd knows it.”

“It’s real easy to point, and I read the other day that is a ‘blame position’, along with the quarterback. Quarterback and kicker, pretty much the two blame positions where it’s easy to say they messed it up, whereas with other positions, it’s not so easy for the average fan. That puts more pressure on you, which is the nature of the position and I understand that and have accepted that. I think most of us NFL guys have.”

But Hauschka still feels like he has the physical skills to kick in the NFL, and he feels like he is a talented kicker for having only kicked professional field goals for the last seven years.

“I didn’t start till my sophomore year in college. I had played soccer and lacrosse before that. My roommate in my freshman year was a football player, and I went out one day and kicked with him. He told me that I had to come out and try out for the team. He convinced the coach to let me come to training camp, and the rest is history. I came out and won the punting and kicking job, and did that for three years.”

Hauschka said that in today’s age where there are only 32 kicking jobs out there and guys like Stover hanging in the league for so long, it makes it hard for young guys like himself to hold down and grab a kicking job in the NFL.

“A lot of factors come into play,” Hauschka said. “It’s not easy for young guys to break in. There is only a couple open spots, and those open spots are relative to, so they come with a lot of competition. So there is only a couple open spots every year. And if a rookie is put in one of those positions, they really have to show something. It’s tough coming up with that experience that guys in the NFL already have. Even a couple years worth of experience is head and shoulders over a young guy or a rookie.”

And now, he is in Lions camp with the Detroit Lions, as he is being asked to hold down the kicking position until longtime Lions kicker Jason Hanson is back and healthy as he is recovering from off-season knee surgery.

“I’ve been here about a week-week and a half now. Things have been going fine. I love the organization a lot, and I like it here in Detroit.”

Much like Stover, Hanson is a legend in Detroit. He is only the Lions’ second kicker since 1980, is the league’s 8th leading scorer, and is the only player in the league to play with his original team before the creation of the salary cap and free agency.

Unfortunately for Hauschka, Hanson has only missed one game in his 18 years in the NFL. But Hauschka knew going in that this was really just another chance to prove to all the other teams in the league that he is a capable kicker.

“He’s still the guy here,” Hauschka said of Hanson. “He’s had a great career. He really is a great kicker. I think everyone expects that he’ll be the guy this year again. I’m just trying to help the team however I can, and I know at the current moment Jason is recovering from a minor injury. That is the need for me right now. But I’m going to try and help out the team any way I can.”

And already he has turned some heads. converting four field goals and getting six touch backs on August 21st against Denver, prompting second year Lions coach Jim Schwartz to say he has that “Ernie Els” kick. He kicked five extra points against Cleveland on Saturday.

“I can probably see what he is talking about,” Hauschka said of his coach’s response. “I don’t know exactly, but I’m just assuming I’m swinging easy and that the ball goes far. Ernie Els definitely has a smooth swing. That’s kind of what I try and do out there. I ‘ve got plenty of leg to get the ball where I need to get it, so if I swing smooth, I’ll be a lot more accurate.”

But Hanson was seen warming up before Saturday’s game against Cleveland, and if need be, could have probably gone out there for the game. Hauschka knows his time in Detroit is probably coming to an end soon, but he wants to keep working on trying to be a full-time NFL kicker instead of a part-time, injury replacement.

“I’m always working on something here or there just like any guy is,” he said.  “I’m just kind of waiting for my next opportunity and putting my best out there every chance I get and taking advantage of those opportunities to show what I can do so that teams want to have me out there.”

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Best Of The Best: My Top 20 QB’s cont.

Posted on 19 August 2010 by Joe Giglio

10. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Beltway Joe is my guy. We often talk about young QB’s gaining experience by repetitions in pressure packed games. I don’t believe any 25 or under QB in the league right now has had the kind of on the job training as Flacco. He has already won 3 road playoff games in two seasons under center, and has been at least among the final four in the AFC both times. His completion percentage, yards, and touchdowns all rose from his rookie to sophomore campaigns, while his INT’s remained the same despite significantly more attempts. He might have the biggest arm in the league- I dare you do find me someone who throws the out pattern better than him. With Boldin, Stallworth, and a pair of young pass catching TE’s in Pitta and Dickson, Flacco has the weapons to lead Baltimore even deeper in the postseason.

9. Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings

Why only 9th after the season he had last year and the weapons on the Minnesota offense? Health and desperation. Brett Favre is tough as nails, but at some point all of these surgeries and injuries are going to cost him valuable regular season starts, which could cost Minnesota a trip to January. Also, I think Favre’s urgency to win another title erodes his decision making abilities in big spots. Letting the game come to him was never a strong suit of his, but I’m less and less convinced he can win a title every day.

8. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

Say what you want about his style, backwards hat, and too cool for school smile…Tony Romo can play. The back to back wins over Philadelphia in Week 17 and Wild Card weekend took away the biggest bullet that anti-Romo guys had in their arsenal. “He chokes in the big spot” was erased by his play down the stretch in wins over New Orleans and Washington, along with his picking apart of the Philly defense. He has show over the years an uncanny ability to slide within the pocket, doesn’t need a “true” #1 WR to put up big numbers, and has matured in his decision making when the game is on the line. If Dallas is to play a home Super Bowl, it is because, not in spite, of Tony Romo.

7. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

It took a full season for Aaron and I to see eye to eye. I didn’t like the hype machine centered around him and the Packers big pre-season numbers, was embarrassed for him when he let Jared Allen abuse him on Monday Night Football, and was loving it when his INT to lose the game in Tampa put the Packers at 4-4. Things started to change after that. The yards, touchdowns, and wins started piling up week after week. His performance on Wild Card weekend in Arizona sealed it for me that this guy could play. Can Green Bay win a Super Bowl with that style playing in the cold, snow, and wind of Lambeau? I’ve always thought it was more conducive to dome and warm weather teams (St. Louis, New Orleans, Arizona), but Green Bay has a chance because Rodgers can go point for point with anyone if he gets time in the pocket.

6. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

I realize that the “numbers” are better on Phil’s resume than #5 or #4 on my list, but I’m beginning to wonder if all that regular season dominance will ever translate into a Super Bowl trip. There seems to be a new excuse every year in San Diego. Whether it be the incompetence of Norv Turner, injuries to Tomlinson and Gates, simply running into a better team like Pittsburgh or New England, or the hottest defense in NY…this team and QB can’t finish the job. I was convinced that Rivers would win the MVP last year and get San Diego to a Super Bowl, but the guy came up small in January. I know he is tough and plays through injures, but if he wants to be a Top 5 guy in the league and crack the Top 2 of the Class of ’04, he needs to play in the Big Game.

5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Can’t stand the guy, but respect the player. If it wasn’t for one great drive vs. Arizona a few years ago he would be so many spots down this list. But that drive did happen and Ben does have two rings on his fingers. If the Steelers can get through his four game suspension at 2-2, plenty of fans will peg them as a sleeper in the AFC. More interesting to me than the team is how the city responds to him when he returns. Not many two time Super Bowl winning stars get booed in their home stadium, but Pittsburgh and Ben might be the exception to the rule. The relationship in Pittsburgh might be irreparable, but if I need to win a title, there aren’t many guys I’d rather have.

4. Eli Manning, New York Giants

Look at the talent levels, production, off the field issues, and past performances in the biggest games and tell me why you would put anyone else in this spot. Eli is no longer Peyton’s younger brother or the QB that got hot for a Super Bowl run. Lost in the Giants wretched finish to 2009 was Manning’s ascension to the top of the rung of NFL stars. Over 4,000 yards behind an aging offensive line, non-existent running game, and a slew of neophyte receivers was quite impressive. He had to come out of his play action comfort zone and operate out of the shotgun more than ever because of the opponent lighting the scoreboard up on his porous defense. Eli is now not just the leader of the Giants, he’s the best player on the field for them.

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

His Super Bowl victory launched him into the #1 or #2 spots for some fans in our poll, but it simply inducted him into the club on my list. He’s no longer a distant third after the untouchable 1-2 of Manning-Brady (or Brady-Manning for some). I now look at the Big Three on this list as 1-2-3. They are all elite, can all lead a team to a championship, and all give defensive coordinators nightmares. Brees ability to release the ball quickly and keep seemingly every single WR on his roster involved in the offense is superb. He revived a fan base, helped revive a city, and is carving out a plaque in Canton as each game passes.

2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Don’t sleep on Brady. 28 TDs and nearly 4,400 yards the first year back from major knee reconstruction surgery is incredible. The Patriots have become flawed in almost every area outside of Brady. The shine has come off the pretty car the Pats had become prior to their Super Bowl loss to the Giants. Last year’s playoff beat down in their building at the hands of Baltimore was a shock to the football community, but Brady and New England shouldn’t be counted out. If knee injuries truly take two years to come back to full strength, watch out for Brady in 2010. If I need to win a Super Bowl I still want a guy that has more than anyone else on this list.

1. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts

The best I have ever seen. Over 4,000 yards in 10 of the last 11 seasons. Mark him down for 11-13 wins a season. I have never seen an athlete take over a game mentally they way Peyton does. He dissects defenses as if he is watching film of their previous games in his head as the play happens. I know his loss to Brees in the Super Bowl makes these Top 3 very close, but when I add in durability, making those around him better, smarts, will to win, work ethic, and consistency, there isn’t anyone better for my money. If I absolutely need to win, Peyton is my guy.

Agree with Flacco at 10? Who would you have put at #1? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Blog & Tackle: Sweet tune could return

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Blog & Tackle: Sweet tune could return

Posted on 06 August 2010 by Chris Pika

A familiar tune, played with pride during some of Baltimore’s greatest football moments, and mournfully after one of the city’s darkest, could return to herald Ravens touchdowns in M&T Bank Stadium this season if fans have their way.

The Ravens through their website, are giving fans the chance to decide whether the current fight song, written in 1998, should remain, or if an alternate version rewriting the words of the old “Baltimore Colts Fight Song” to fit the current club should replace it — with the melody familiar to generations of Baltimore football fans.

According to Baltimore’s Marching Ravens band director John Ziemann, the fight song has been a part of Baltimore football history since it was written in 1947. “Six pro teams used it,” he said. “The 1947 (AAFC) Colts, the 1950 (NFL) Colts, the 1953-83 Colts, the USFL’s Baltimore Stars in 1985, the CFL’s Baltimore Stallions in 1994-95 and the Ravens in 1996.”

BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 29:  The band of the Baltimore Ravens performs before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium on November 29, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Steelers 20-17. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

When the melody was played by the Colts Marching Band, it was as familiar to Colts fans as “Fly, Eagles, Fly” in Philadelphia, “Skol, Vikings” in Minnesota and even “Hail To The Redskins” in D.C. The tune was recognized among football fans nationwide as almost no NFL Films piece on the Colts was produced without the melody playing in the background.

When the Colts left in 1984, the band played on — as they did when the original NFL Colts left after the 1950 season — and the fight song was performed wherever they traveled to play, especially in NFL cities for pregame and halftime shows, carrying the torch of a love lost and hope of a new start.

That bond between the city and the melody became even stronger when the band played it in front of the Maryland State House in 1987 before a key vote on stadium complex funding. The emotional response of seeing the band carry the tune helped the measure to pass.

The NFL did return in 1996 when the Browns moved to Baltimore, and the club, out of respect for the previous history, did not adopt the song as the Ravens played at old Memorial Stadium — but the band played the tune during the ’96 season to celebrate Baltimore’s return to the NFL.

“In 1998, the Ravens decided they wanted their own identity, and a great fight song was writen by John Modell (son of Ravens’ owner Art Modell),” Ziemann said. The same year, the name of the band changed to Baltimore’s Marching Ravens as the team moved to the new downtown facility the band had helped secure in a small but meaningful way almost a decade earlier.

BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 22:  A band member for the Baltimore Ravens plays the tuba before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on November 22, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Colts defeated the Ravens 17-15. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)

The organization did its best to ingrain the current fight song with the fans. But it never really seemed to fit in a city that reveres its history — especially when it comes to football. Over the years, fans contacted the Ravens about restoring the beloved melody.

The opinion of the organization changed when movie producer and Baltimore native Barry Levinson became part of ESPN’s “30 for 30″ documentary series. Levinson chose to spotlight the band and its’ contribution to the city in great football times and especially in the years without the NFL. Just as Levinson had used the “Baltimore Colts Fight Song” to effect in his movie “Diner,” the ESPN movie, “The Band That Woudn’t Die,” gave new life to the melody in an unexpected way.

“The Ravens organization has always had a close ear to the needs and views of the fans,” Ziemann said. “And last year, when the premiere of the ESPN movie was shown at M&T Bank Stadium, the Marching Ravens did a pre-concert on the field. We played the ‘Baltimore Ravens Fight Song,’ and it got applause. But when the ‘Baltimore Colts Fight Song’ was performed, the place went wild. This started the Ravens rethinking about restoring the song.”

That was just the start. New words were needed to fit the melody, making the appropriate changes while keeping some of the historical aspect of the original. “New words were written by musical director Todd Clontz and myself, and focus groups were formed for opinions on it, taking all the necessary steps,” Ziemann said.

The “Baltimore Fight Song” was born, again. But the Ravens organization did not want to make the decision to restore the song on its own. It would be up to the fans to voice their opinions.

“The Ravens, to be fair to the fans, have put it up for a vote on their website,” said Ziemann. And if the song is restored, it will be performed August 12 at the first home preseason game (vs. Carolina).”

This potential switch in fight songs will not sell one more ticket or another piece of merchandise for the Ravens, but the change would return a sweet tune back where it belongs in celebration of a city and its football heritage.

For up-to-date Tweets on the NFL and the Ravens, please follow me on Twitter (@BlogAndTackle).

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Comcast Morning Show Live Blog (1/20/10)

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Comcast Morning Show Live Blog (1/20/10)

Posted on 20 January 2010 by Jack McManus

9:43-

Chad Reuter is live in Orlando. He is covering the East-West Shrine Game. He states that many of the players in this game have great potential. Reuter discusses some of the wide receivers available. He explains that the underclassmen who declared early have boosted the class of pass-catchers. He calls Golden Tate a possible target for the Ravens in the draft. on the topic of quarterbacks, Reuter explains that after the second round, not much talent will be available. He also believes that Tim Tebow will drafted much higher than many people expect.

tate

9:27-

Dave Steckel of the Capitals is now on with Drew. Steckel scored the game winning goal last night against the Detroit Red Wings. He talks about the leadership Alexander Ovechkin provides as a captain. Next, Steckel talks about maintaining focus during a time where the team is running away with its division. Steckel also discusses the upcoming Olympic break. The players spend much of their time relxing before spending the latter part of the break to get back into shape.

9:10-

Bob in Parkville calls in to talk about the earlier segment on Marvin Harrison. Bob believes that Harrison definitely shot the man in question. He goes on to say that this type of issue is far too common in the NFL. He states that nothing in any other sport compares to this.

8:54-

Lomas Brown, of ESPN is next welcomed in. He begins by talking about the Colts-Jets game coming up this weekend. He is torn on which team he believes will win. As for the NFC Championship Game, Brown thinks the Vikings defense puts the team in a position to win. He states that Brett Favre came back to win a Super Bowl not just reach the NFC Championship. Finally, Brown talks about the CBA bargaining. The owners are asking for the players to assume a large loss in the percent of profits.

8:50-

Merton is the next caller. Drew quickly jumps on Merton’s offer to take the Orioles from Baltimore too. He thinks Indy could turn the team in to a winner just like it did with the Colts. He makes sure to treat us with the Colts fight song before he leaves.

8:46-

Art in Bel Air calls in. He wants to let Drew know he agrees that fans who no longer care for Matt Stover just because he played for Indy are wrong. He doesn’t care what team Stover chose to play for if it was the best situation for him.

8:25-

Head coach of the Towson basketball team, Pat Kennedy is the next guest. Drew lets Kennedy know that whenever he accompanies a local team to Philly they lose. Therefore, Drew will stay away from the city for now. Kennedy admits that the losing hurts his team, but morale is still high. He states that the team is doing well in the paint right now. He is not upset about the team’s level of play despite the fact the team has not met expectations.

8:07-

Jason Fagone of GQ joins Drew to talk about his story on Marvin Harrison. After publishing this story ESPN has revealed that the FBI is restarting investigations on Harrison. Fagone discusses with Drew how Harrison has returned to where he grew up despite his monetary success as a pro football player.

8:01-

Miles from Owings Mills wants to make it clear that most Baltimore fans would welcome Stover back with open arms if he were to return next season.

7:54-

Dan in Fallston is the next caller. He blames Stover for demanding a guaranteed contract from the Ravens when he knew the team did not give them out. Drew emphasizes that Ozzie Newsome made the decision on Stover and the idea of John Harbaugh not wanting Stover is false.

7:43-

Lots of discussion on Matt Stover this morning. Bill in Essex talks about Matt has almost destroyed his legacy in Baltimore by going to play for the Colts. Drew points out that the Stovers are very sensitive to these types of issues becuase of their desire to be a part of the community.

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