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Wednesday 3-Pointer: No Props for Dunk Props, A Wall With No Foundation & Ozzie’s Shopping List

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Wednesday 3-Pointer: No Props for Dunk Props, A Wall With No Foundation & Ozzie’s Shopping List

Posted on 23 February 2011 by Thyrl Nelson

Wednesday 3-Pointer

 

#1 – No Props for Dunk Props

 

The dunk contest seems to have more people bashing it these days than people willing to [admit that they] commit a Saturday evening to watching it. While the arguments seem to be persistent and valid, it also seems pretty clear that the NBA won’t be doing away with this event any time soon. That said, DeMar DeRozan’s frustration over the use of props in Saturday’s contest is both valid and misguided. It’s pretty clear that Blake Griffin’s use of the car in his final dunk made an otherwise ordinary dunk look spectacular, you might argue too that Griffin made it to the finals mostly on reputation. Ever since Griffin began unleashing his never-ending series of power boofs on the league, fans have been looking forward to his “dunk-porn” inclusion in the competition. Griffin’s power though plays much better in game situations, at full speed on the break while making posters out of the opposition. Still, DeRozan has been in the contest before, and certainly watched previous editions. The use of props is not only fair game these days, it’s the expectation.

 

JaVale McGee unleashed 3 insane dunks in his first 3 tries, but laid an (intentional perhaps?) egg with his 4th and final dunk of the contest, and as props go, setting up a second, regulation sized NBA rim next to the existing one is pretty forgivable. Serge Ibaka pulled down a stuffed gorilla from the rim with his teeth while dunking (a new and moderately less impressive version of the Gerald Green cupcake dunk). He also gave us the first true dunk from behind the free throw line in the contest’s history, a trick also widely overlooked by the judges (maybe a prop would have made it better).

 

 While it would seem that all of the dunks that are humanly possible have already been done, McGee at least proved otherwise. The dunk is still an evolving art form like so many X-Games types of tricks and stunts. Turn back the clock 10 years on one of those events, and the tricks that were winning contests then are part and parcel to everyone’s repertoire these days. While dunking should be the same, and can be, these are guys who get paid to play basketball, and therefore owe it to themselves and their families to practice honing actual basketball skills that they can use to refine their games and not acrobatic tricks. Outside of the rookie Griffin, none of this year’s other competitors are All-Star caliber players or even close, time spent in the gym working on things like trick dunks is wasted time dedicated toward an already maligned event.

 

As we continue to encourage players to not only compete, but to push the envelope and keep us interested, the compromise that has been the biggest issue overall with the competition, but seemingly a necessary evil nonetheless is the 2-minute clock with unlimited attempts to complete your dunks. As impressive as a number of the dunks on Saturday were, particularly McGee’s, the 5 failed attempts that preceded it clearly tipped the dunker’s hand and took some of the luster off of their masterpieces.

 

If McGee were paid to compete in dunk contests only, and had real time to dedicate to refining those dunks, then we could expect to hold him to a standard that doesn’t allow for misses, but as long as those guys are trying to hang in the NBA, that’s too much to ask.

 

In the end the fan voting component probably would have tipped the scales in Griffin’s favor anyway. Bieber-fever tainted the celebrity game vote on Friday night, and the NBA surely has a mean case of the Blake-plague.

 

 

#2 – A Wall With No Foundation

 

For those who have largely slept through the Wizards season to this point…welcome to the club. As a lifelong Knicks fan with little to cheer about (other than my fantasy team) from an NBA standpoint for quite some time now, I embarked on this season determined to find an interest in the Wizards and John Wall. They have not made it easy.

 

In rookie John Wall, the Wizards clearly have a franchise type of player to build around; and although his genius (no exaggeration here…he has a special understanding of lanes and angles for a player of his experience) has been somewhat lost at times as a member of the Wizards this season, look no further than his rookie game performance (12 pts. 22 asst.) to see what he can do in open space and with playmakers around him.

 

Playmakers after all are what the Wizards seem to be lacking these days. Aside from Wall, there are few players on the Wizards’ roster that look long (or serviceable) for a team looking to build itself into a contender around Wall. In JaVale McGee and Nick Young the team seems to have a front court and back court option that can at least be serviceable in a first off the bench capacity, with possible upside beyond that. Aundray Blatche is slowly rounding into form and could be a strong pick and roll partner for Wall for years to come. Everyone else however (with the possible exception of Yi who is surprisingly just 23 years old) looks to be just along for the ride.

 

Sometimes when you draft highly in the NBA you get a franchise player to build around, but just as often it seems the draft will be devoid of that type of top end talent. In those seasons serviceable, credible role-players can (and have to) be just as valuable. The Clippers and Knicks for example have been quietly accumulating some of that type of talent for the last few years (although the Knicks just sent most of it to Denver), in those cases, when infused with a star player and seemingly only then, they begin to realize the upside of some of the other talent they’ve assembled. In other cases (see Derek Rose’s early Bulls or Kevin Durant’s Sonics/Thunder & Tyreke Evans’ current Kings) the marquee player comes first and the talent has to fill in around him. Kyrie Irving or Josh Selby might sure look good in a backcourt next to Wall, or Jared Sullinger in the frontcourt. To their credit, the Wizards don’t look to play themselves out of a high draft pick anytime soon.

 

 

#3 – Ozzie’s Shopping List

 

Even though everything that we know about the history of the NFL would suggest otherwise, it’s still somehow impossible as NFL fans not to base next season’s expectations off of last season’s performance. Three straight trips into the playoffs as the Ravens have done should inspire confidence, but history says with each trip into the playoffs, the likelihood of returning becomes slimmer and slimmer. Even if that proves true for the Ravens this season, they have never stayed down for long, but as we try and look ahead hopefully, the number of apparent/potential holes on the team moving forward can be somewhat alarming.

 

Running Back – We’ve already discussed the likelihood of the Ravens parting company with Willis McGahee; LeRon McClain too in the minds of many is unlikely to be back next season, which may necessitate finding a fullback as well. Although the need here seems urgent, recent history suggests that you can get away with shoe stringing this position. Whether by design (Tampa, New England) or necessity (Green Bay, New Orleans, Indianapolis) teams have thrived while using second-rate talent at running back lately.

 

Wide Receiver – Anquan Boldin is back, Mason looks like he’ll be too, beyond that question marks abound. Most seem to think the Ravens need at least one speed merchant, field stretching wide receiver at least to round out their corps. Add that to the list.

 

Offensive Tackle – Whether you believe that Michael Oher is better suited for left or right tackle, most seem to be in agreement that the Ravens are better served with Marshall Yanda at guard. Whichever side of the line Oher winds up on (I’m still betting left) the Ravens will need another bookend for the opposite side.

 

Center – Regardless of how you feel about the play of Matt Birk going forward the likelihood of him being around much longer gets less and less. Sooner or later a replacement will have to be decided on. It’s not an urgent need, but likely a need nonetheless.

 

Quarterback – It looks like the Ravens will likely be in the market for a credible backup for Joe Flacco again. I’d guess that this is a need more likely to be filled through free agency with a veteran than through the draft with a rookie. It still seems like a pretty urgent need.

 

Inside Linebacker – Sooner or later Ray Lewis’ tank is simply going to run out. The sooner they start thinking about grooming a successor (preferably under Ray’s influence) the better.

 

SafetySee inside linebacker and insert Ed Reed.

 

Rush End / Outside LinebackerFreeney has Mathis, Harrison has Woodley and Suggs has Kruger and Kindle, sooner or later the Ravens need to hit on a complimentary pass rusher. Jarrett Johnson’s versatility is a strength here, but how much gas is left in his tank too?

 

Corner BackCan you ever have enough quality corners?

 

It seems that the only places that the Ravens can be completely confident are tight end (putting a lot of faith in a couple of second year players), defensive tackle, offensive guard (provided they find a tackle) and in the kicking game. Ozzie’s sure got his work cut out for him this off-season. When he gets to begin that work though is another matter altogether.

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Blog & Tackle: A look at Ravens-Steelers PR game notes

Posted on 13 January 2011 by Chris Pika

Every game of the NFL Divisional Playoff Weekend is a regular-season rematch as both of the AFC games are between division opponents — the first time since 2000 that two games feature teams playing for a third time in a season.

The nastiest matchup of the weekend is the first on the docket: Baltimore at Pittsburgh. The teams have waged wars in the AFC North over the years, and 2010 was no exception. Each team scored 27 points total in the two games, and the games are as physical as any in the NFL over the previous decade.

The Ravens continued to have playoff success on the road as they beat Kansas City last Sunday 30-7 in New Arrowhead. It was the third straight season with at least one playoff victory for Baltimore, the only club in the NFL to do so over the period. QB Joe Flacco joined Bernie Kosar (1985-87) and Dan Marino (1983-85) to start a playoff game in each of their first three seasons in the league. The Ravens will try to advance to the AFC title game for the first time since the 2008 season.

Pittsburgh survived the loss of QB Ben Roethlisberger to a four-game suspension to get to a 3-1 start which included a home loss to the Ravens. The Steelers won six of their last seven games, including a road win at Baltimore for the division title. Roethlisberger Has thrown a personal-best 158 straight passes without an INT, the longest for the Steelers since QB Kordell Stewart had a streak of 159 consecutive pass attempts without an interception in 2001.

The teams split the regular season meetings, with the Ravens winning in Pittsburgh 17-14 in October, and the Steelers winning in Baltimore 13-10 in December.

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Blog & Tackle: NFL one-liners through Week 13

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Blog & Tackle: NFL one-liners through Week 13

Posted on 09 December 2010 by Chris Pika

The 2010 NFL season has reached the three-quarter mark, and like any good game on Sundays, it’s usually the fourth quarter that decides success or failure.

It’s a chance to take stock of each conference after 13 weeks and 12 games with one-liners on each of the teams. Below are some stats, observations and conjecture as we look ahead to the final four weeks.

First, here is a look at the AFC by divisions. Records are through Week 13:

AFC East

New England Patriots (10-2): Patriots have won last four, including huge win over the Jets to solidfy their claim as AFC’s best team behind conference-best (+110) scoring differential; road to AFC title will go through Gillette Stadium and coach Bill Belichick.

New York Jets (9-3): Despite 3-1 stretch, Jets went from potentially being in line to host AFC title game to very vulnerable after shredding of New York’s vaunted D by the Patriots.

Miami Dolphins (6-6): Dolphins continue to confound with 5-1 road mark, but 1-5 home record — that will be main reason they will not make playoffs as well as offensive woes (-23 point differential).

Buffalo Bills (2-10): Bills finally saw results after 0-8 start with two straight victories, but close loss to Steelers and blowout defeat to Vikings has slowed Buffalo’s progress.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3): Steelers have grabbed choke-hold of AFC North after winning the war in Baltimore last week behind QB Ben Roethlisberger and stout defense; now Pittsburgh could host AFC Divisional Playoff at always-tough Heinz Field.

Baltimore Ravens (8-4): Only home loss of season so far to Steelers was costly as Ravens may have three straight playoff games on the road instead of one or two home games; predicted high-production offense has gone cold at bad times.

Cleveland Browns (5-7): Cleveland continues to be a “tough out” thanks to solid running game behind RB Peyton Hillis; if they get QB (and maybe head coach) situation settled in offseason, could be 2011 team to watch in AFC.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-10): The wheels have completely come off the cart for one of the preseason favorites to win the division — nine-game losing streak may spell the end of the Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5): Jaguars, after 3-1 stretch, find themselves on top in the division, despite worst point differential among all division leaders (-43) — only question is can they hold off slumping Colts?

Indianapolis Colts (6-6): Colts’ injuries have finally taken a toll; forget Peyton Manning for a moment, being in position of having to pass so much has allowed opponents to tee off in crucial situations — but Indy can still catch Jaguars for division title.

Houston Texans (5-7): Lack of strong starts have doomed Texans, 1-5 in their last six games — last chance for Houston (and maybe coach Gary Kubiak’s job) comes with Monday night visit by Ravens in Week 14.

Tennessee Titans (5-7): When you didn’t think anybody else could surpass Minnesota as NFL’s best soap opera, here comes the Titans; normally unflappable coach Jeff Fisher has had to deal with Vince Young, Randy Moss and owner Bud Adams in recent weeks.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs (8-4): Chiefs seem to have control of the division after a three-game win streak and perfect 6-0 home mark; can they hold off the Raiders and Chargers over the final four weeks?

Oakland Raiders (6-6): Progress has been slowed by 3-2 mark in last five games, but 4-0 division record could be factor if they get help before Week 17 showdown at traditional rival Chiefs.

San Diego Chargers (6-6): Amazing how one loss changes things after blowout defeat by Raiders last week that stopped four-game win streak; season on the line vs. Chiefs this week.

Denver Broncos (3-9): A three-game losing streak coupled with Spygate-like scandal in London finally cost Josh McDaniels his coaching job; Eric Studesville gets his audition but the supporting cast is not there.

And now for the NFC by divisions:

NFC East

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 11: Quarterback Matt Ryan  of the Atlanta Falcons converses with quarterback Joe Flacco  of the Baltimore Ravens after the Falcons 26-21 win at Georgia Dome on November 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Philadelphia Eagles (8-4): The Eagles are tied for the division lead, but arguably have the NFC East’s toughest schedule left with two games vs. Dallas and one each against the Giants and Vikings — for what was originally expected to be a transition year, a lot is still on the table.

New York Giants (8-4): Giants are playing as well as any team in NFC right now, but head coach Tom Coughlin’s team must navigate Minnesota, Philadelphia and Green Bay the next three weeks to stay in the division and Wild Card mix.

Washington Redskins (5-7): The Redskins season has become a trainwreck as head coach Mike Shanahan has had to deal with several distractions, including DT Albert Haynesworth’s suspension for conduct detrimental; the Skins defense should be suspended as well, allowing the fifth-most points in the NFC.

Dallas Cowboys (4-8): The Cowboys have gotten off the deck to become a team no one wants to face down the stretch; Dallas could play spoiler in the NFC East and help Jason Garrett remove the interim coaching tag.

NFC North

Chicago Bears (9-3): The Bears have won five straight to hold the division lead by one game thanks to resurgent play by QB Jay Cutler and LB Brian Urlacher; Chicago has murderous final four weeks capped by Week 17 visit to Packers.

Green Bay Packers (8-4): Despite injuries, Packers are firmly in the playoff mix, but key Week 12 loss at Atlanta looms large as well as final three games against New England, Giants and Chicago — win those and Green Bay will have earned its postseason ticket.

Minnesota Vikings (5-7): A change in head coach to well-respected assistant Leslie Frazier has helped the mood in Minnesota, but the final four weeks will be all about Brett Favre’s literal limp to the finish of his career (I think).

Detroit Lions (2-10): Some of the strides made early in the season by the Lions have been erased by the current five-game losing streak; coach Jim Schwartz is still looking for consistent winning formula.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons (10-2): The hottest team in the NFC with six straight wins, the Falcons may do something no Atlanta NFL team ever has — host the NFC Championship Game in January; but they have to get through Week 16 Monday Night game vs. Saints.

New Orleans Saints (9-3): The defending Super Bowl champions are playing like it for first time all season with a current five-game win streak as the Saints try to go stride-for-stride with the Falcons; back-to-back road contests at Baltimore and Atlanta in Weeks 15-16 are New Orleans’ key games.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5): The air has finally come out of the Buccaneers’ balloon with two straight losses, but Tampa Bay is just one game out of a Wild Card spot with favorable matchups in the next three weeks before Week 17 at Saints.

Carolina Panthers (1-11): The Panthers just want the season to be over, and the housecleaning will begin soon after starting with head coach John Fox; Panthers are a NFC-worst minus-153 in point differential.

NFC West

St. Louis Rams (6-6): The Rams have quietly put themselves in position to make the playoffs out of a weak NFC West, but don’t mistake St. Louis as a weak team — QB Sam Bradford is one of the league’s feel-good stories of 2010, and division could come down to Week 17 tilt at Seattle.

Seattle Seahawks (6-6): The Seahawks are in position to capture the NFC West, but head coach Pete Carroll’s squad still has worst point differential among NFC teams with a winning record (-49); Week 17 vs. St. Louis could be the decider.

San Francisco 49ers (4-8): San Francisco not officially dead in NFC West race, but last gasp could come this Sunday vs. Seattle; if they win, they still have games vs. St. Louis and Arizona — teams they have already beaten in 2010.

Arizona Cardinals (3-9): Cardinals have gone south for the winter as they have lost seven straight and hold NFC’s second-worst point difference (-138), but have three winnable games in final four weeks.

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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Blog & Tackle: Revisiting 2008 draft intrigue: Ryan or Flacco

Posted on 10 November 2010 by Chris Pika

With the focus this week on the quarterbacks in the Thursday night game – the Ravens’ Joe Flacco and the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, I was reminded of a piece I wrote after the 2008 NFL Draft evaluating SI.com’s Peter King’s reporting of draft-day intrigue involving the Ravens, Falcons and Rams.

Tuesday, King re-visited the 2008 NFL Draft weekend in his SI.com MMQB Mail blog on Tuesday, and he repeated his reporting from that time that the Ravens had offered St. Louis their first-, second- and fourth-round picks in 2008 plus a third-round pick in 2009 for the No. 2 slot in 2008, which King presumes the Ravens would have selected Ryan in that spot.

BaltimoreRavens.com writer Sarah Ellison made mention of King’s article Wednesday in her “Late For Work” blog on the club’s website, and it is worth mentioning that Kevin Byrne, the club’s VP of Public & Community Relations shot down that particular piece of reporting in his draft day blog of April 27, 2008. Byrne’s key observations in the “The Byrne Identity”:

I started thinking: Am I out of the loop on my team? I just left my guys and there was no indication this was happening. The reality: St. Louis was leaking info that the Ravens wanted the 2nd pick to select Matt Ryan. Why? They wanted the Falcons to react and give them a draft choice to move one space to make sure they got Ryan. Ah, the games continue.

I mention this here because the Flacco-Ryan debate and the choice both the Falcons and the Ravens faced was very hot in the days before and after the 2008 NFL Draft. It is my contention now that either quarterback would have achieved the same results in the other’s huddle.

Flacco was expected to be the “quarterback of the future” in Baltimore and back up either Troy Smith or Kyle Boller in 2008. With Smith’s viral infection and Boller’s shoulder injury, Flacco became the man earlier than expected and seized the job. Flacco inherited a playoff-ready club with a veteran defense in 2008, and did not have to carry the team with his arm.

Not so in Atlanta. The Falcons decision on who to take had far-reaching implications for a franchise in turmoil in the wake of the dual Michael Vick (indicted) and Bobby Petrino (abandoned team for Arkansas head coach job) sagas, as King reported in Sports Illustrated the week after the draft. Ryan had to beat out just Chris Redman for the starting job, and it was no secret that he was the better man very early in training camp.

Both Flacco and Ryan are solid quarterbacks and solid citizens. And because of the comparisons of both coming out of college, both are tied at the hip when anyone discusses the quarterbacks of the 2008 NFL Draft.

Since King re-visited the Ravens “offer” to St. Louis, you get a chance to re-visit my estimation on what actually happened that weekend. The key portions from my “Blog & Tackle” April 28, 2008 WNST.net blog “Interesting Moves And Disinformation”:

Now for the intrigue. (Kevin) Byrne said he had been in the Ravens’ draft room and that there was no indication of a deal working between Baltimore and St. Louis. His verdict was that St. Louis leaked the “trade” info to get the Falcons to move one space from No. 3 to No. 2 to secure Ryan and for St. Louis to gather picks.

Two things of interest here: Rams’ VP of personnel Billy Devaney was the former assistant GM of the Falcons until February of this year and (Peter) King worked from the Falcons’ media area in Flowery Branch and had access to the Falcons’ decision makers (who may have leaked or confirmed the “trade” details given by the Rams). Devaney, knowing his former bosses and some of the Falcons’ early draft plans, probably knew how to push some buttons in Atlanta.

The way it goes down is much like a poker game. The Rams call the Falcons and say in a nutshell, “Baltimore really wants Matt Ryan and has offered trade terms X. We are interested because Chris Long is our guy, we don’t need a QB and we could use the extra picks. What do you want to do? ” If you believe Byrne’s version, and I do, then the whole thing is a bluff by Devaney to get the Falcons to panic and jump one spot. In the end, Atlanta stood firm and the top three went off the board in the order most expected.

But regardless whether there was an offer or not, depending on who you believe, King’s final statement on the matter in his MMQB Mail piece Tuesday rings true for all involved:

So believe me, Atlanta’s happy Baltimore didn’t make the deal, and Baltimore’s happy the Rams didn’t take the deal. Baltimore has Flacco and Rice. Atlanta has Ryan. Both teams are living happily ever after.

Thursday night, both Flacco and Ryan lead their respective teams in what could be the best game of the NFL’s Week 10 schedule. But just for a moment, imagine Ryan in a Ravens jersey and Flacco in a Falcons one — would the paths the two franchises have taken since the 2008 NFL Draft been any different?

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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Blog & Tackle: Ravens-Falcons could be Super Bowl XLV preview

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Blog & Tackle: Ravens-Falcons could be Super Bowl XLV preview

Posted on 09 November 2010 by Chris Pika

Halfway through the NFL season, there is no clear-cut favorite in each conference to make it to the Super Bowl. Two of the major contenders will play Thursday night in the Georgia Dome in a possible preview of Super Bowl XLV — the 6-2 Ravens and 6-2 Falcons.

Both teams are very similar. Both clubs are 4-0 at home and 2-2 on the road, both will come into the game with a two-game win streak and a 4-1 mark in the last five games.

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 07: Quarterback Matt Ryan  of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates after a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on November 7, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Both are quarterbacked by young, impressive players who could have just as easily been switched as to where they were drafted. Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan are both solid characters on the field and solid citizens off of it who share almost identical nicknames — “Joe Cool” and “Matty Ice”. One had a playoff-ready team when he took over in the huddle, and the other had to become the face of the franchise almost immediately after a tumultous period in which the previous starting QB was indicted and the head coach bailed for Arkansas. You could put either man in the other’s huddle, and see the same results.

Both have a strong primary target at wide receiver. Atlanta has Roddy White, who was injured in Sunday’s win against Tampa Bay. White is one of the most-exciting deep-ball receivers in the game right now. Baltimore has veteran Anquan Boldin, who has provided Flacco with a legitimate vertical threat for the first time in his short career.

Safety valves? The Ravens have ultra-versatile back Ray Rice, who leads the team in rushing, and is Flacco’s second-favorite receiver. The Falcons counter with maybe the modern game’s finest tight end, Tony Gonzalez, who can still use his big frame to block and is Ryan’s second-favorite receiver.

The running backs? Baltimore uses the three-headed backfield of Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain to wear down opposing defensive lines, especially in the second half. Atlanta has a big bruiser, Michael Turner, who has bulldozed his way to big yardage all season.

Overall on comparison of the two teams on offense, Atlanta gets 22 more yards per game, converts 13 percent more of its chances in the red zone, 17 percent more in goal-to-go situations and has scored 2.6 points more on average than the Ravens.

The Falcons may need every bit of those numbers as the two teams are markedly different on defense. The Ravens give up 36 yards less overall, 45 less passing yards and 1.9 points less on average than Atlanta.

Baltimore Ravens safaety Ed Reed runs with the ball after intercepting a pass from Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne in the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in Baltimore, Maryland November 7, 2010.  REUTERS/Joe Giza (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

What the Falcons don’t have is the trio of all-world veteran defenders in safety Ed Reed, linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive end Haloti Ngata. They do have tough veteran defensive end John Abraham, who is paired with young DE Kroy Biermann, safety William Moore and linebacker Curtis Lofton.

The special teams edge belongs to the Ravens as punter Sam Koch and kicker Billy Cundiff have pinned opponents deep in their own end consistently. Atlanta’s punter/kickoff specialist Michael Koenen does not get the distance that either Koch or Cundiff does, but kicker Matt Bryant is a solid indoor kicker, as he has not missed a field goal in the Georgia Dome in 2010.

Coaches? One is John Harbaugh, who has made his team into a disciplined well-oiled unit after taking over for a very successful longtime coach who won a Super Bowl, and the other, Mike Smith, is related by marriage to that Baltimore Super Bowl-winning coach and who had to steady a team and a franchise after it was abandoned by his predecessor.

Sounds like the type of marquee game the NFL loves to showcase on their own network, and the country will see what these two teams are made of Thursday night.

It will be entertaining, it will be bruising, it has a chance to be high-scoring, and most importantly, if you happen to miss it on TV (for only catastrophic reasons), you might get to see the rerun on February 6 on a much-bigger stage in North Texas.

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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Blog & Tackle: Where Ravens and Steelers attack and defend so far

Posted on 01 October 2010 by Chris Pika

As the Ravens prepare to face Pittsburgh in a AFC North showdown this weekend at Heinz Field, it’s a good time to look at the numbers as to where the Ravens and Steelers run their offenses and where opponents are attacking them in return. Through the stat breakdowns at NFL GSIS, we get a snapshot of the first three weeks of plays.

RAVENS RUSHING: Last year, the Ravens ran mostly up the middle, with balanced run direction on both sides of the center. In 2010, there has been a slight shift to the left side of the offensive line.

Baltimore has run mostly to left guard (21 plays, NFL Rank-2) and left tackle (18 plays-NFL Rank 2). The success is shown at left tackle with a 6.11-yard average per play (NFL Rank-5), while the left guard runs average just 2.33 yards (NFL Rank-25).

The Ravens have gone up the middle just 10 times so far (NFL Rank-28), with a 2.6-yard average (NFL Rank-30). Compare that to 2009, when the Ravens ran 108 times up the middle (NFL Rank-16) and averaged 4.68 yards (NFL Rank-4).

The offense has run to left end (10 plays, NFL Rank-12; 3.1-yard avg., NFL Rank-24), which is as much as right guard (11 plays, NFL Rank-11; 2.45-yard avg., NFL Rank-19). Where they are not running as much is to right tackle (7 plays, NFL Rank-28; 3.0-yard avg., NFL Rank-21) and right end (2 plays, NFL Rank-31; 4.5-yard avg., NFL Rank-15).

STEELERS RUN DEFENSE: The Steelers have been stout on plays run up the middle (0.88-yard average; NFL Defense Rank-2). The only place where they allow more than four yards a carry is at right guard (8 plays, 4.25-yard avg., NFL Defense Rank-21).

RAVENS RUN DEFENSE: Last week, the Ravens run defense was shredded by unheralded Cleveland RB Peyton Hillis. So, where are the opponents’ run games testing the line? Baltimore opponents seem to favor running at right guard (19 plays, NFL Rank-3; 4.68-yard avg., NFL Defense Rank-25).

Otherwise, the preferred direction is left. Left tackle has been run at 16 times (NFL Rank-5; 6.5-yard avg., NFL Defense Rank-30), left guard 12 times (NFL Rank-6; 4.75-yard avg., NFL Defense Rank-21) and left end 10 times (NFL Rank-10; 7.9-yard avg., NFL Defense Rank-29).

Where do the opponents not want to go? Into Ray Lewis territory, by any means. A total of 7 opponent run plays have gone up the middle (NFL Rank-32) with an average gain of minus-0.43 yards (NFL Defense Rank-1).

STEELERS RUSHING: When Pittsburgh runs, the Steelers have mostly gone up the middle (24 plays. 4.21-yard average), and Pittsburgh is first in the league in average gain on plays run at right tackle (14 plays, 9.71-yard average).

The far right side isn’t in opponent play selection much with 9 runs to right tackle (NFL Rank-20; 4.44-yard avg., NFL Defense Rank-23) and just 4 plays to right end (NFL Rank-26). But those four plays have averaged 8.75 yards (NFL Defense Rank-30).

RAVENS PASSING: Looking at these numbers, keep in mind, short is 14 yards or less (including behind the line of scrimmage) and deep is 15 yards or more.

When the Ravens throw short, it’s mainly to the right (40 plays, NFL Rank-9) with an average gain of 4.25 yards (NFL Rank-30). Short left has seen 27 plays (NFL Rank-16) with a 4.78-yard average (NFL Rank-26). Short middle has accounted for 13 plays (NFL Rank-25), with a 5.62-yard average (NFL Rank-21).

When QB Joe Flacco goes deep, it’s equal opportunity left and right. Deep left has 13 plays (NFL Rank-2) with a 10.92-yard average (NFL Rank-14), while deep right has 12 plays (NFL Rank-1) with a 9.33-yard average (NFL Rank-16). Just four plays have gone deep middle (NFL Rank-23) with a 6.75-yard average (NFL Rank-28).

STEELERS PASS DEFENSE: If Flacco can avoid the Pittsburgh pressure, he might want to look down the middle. Steelers opponents have averaged 12.83 yards on 6 plays deep middle. Pittsburgh also allows 8.57 yards deep right and 6.71 yards deep left. Short middle is also a soft spot (6.22 yards), with 4.86 short left, and 5.68 yards short right allowed.

RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: Baltimore’s opponents also tend to go short right with 32 plays (NFL Rank-20) and an average gain of 4.81 yards (NFL Defense Rank-10). Short middle pass plays have been tried 19 times (NFL Rank-13) with a 5.74-yard average (NFL Defense Rank-12). Where the Ravens have slowed teams are on short left passes (17 plays, NFL Rank-30; 4.0-yard avg., NFL Defense Rank-4).

A total of 12 plays have been thrown deep in three games. Seven times, the opponents have gone deep right (NFL Rank-12) with a 2.86-yard average (NFL Defense Rank-4). Deep middle has been the target four times (NFL Rank-22) with a 5.0-yard average (NFL Defense Rank-2). But the surprise is that there has been just one play thrown deep left (NFL Rank-32) with a 0 average gain (NFL Defense Rank-1).

STEELERS PASSING: As you might expect with the quarterback issues Pittsburgh has had, the Steelers are in the bottom half of the league in throws to all six measured areas, including 31st to short left (2.57-yard avg.), and short right (5.55-yard avg.) and exactly 0 throws deep left. Because defenses have been cheating up to stop Pittsburgh’s running, when the Steelers go deep, they have gone for big yards. Five plays each have been run to deep middle and deep right, with average gains of 22.40 yards deep left and 27 yards deep right.

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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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Fantasy Flavor Week 3 Start Rankings: RB & K

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Fantasy Flavor Week 3 Start Rankings: RB & K

Posted on 23 September 2010 by Thyrl Nelson

Here is part two of the three part week 3 fantasy start rankings. The final chapter (WR & D/ST) will be up tomorrow. Click on the link below for this weeks QB and K rankings and a brief explanation of how the rankings are gotten. As always, keep an eye on the injury report, good luck and have fun. If you aren’t having fun playing fantasy football, then you’re doing it wrong. Good Luck.

 

 

CLICK HERE FOR WEEK 3 QB AND TE RANKINGS

 

 

Running Backs

 

1. Adrian Peterson vs. DET (10)

2. Frank Gore @ KC (12)

3. Ray Rice vs. CLE (13)

4. Chris Johnson @ NYG (16)

5. Cedric Benson @ CAR (25)

6. Rashard Mendenhall @ TB (25)

7. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. PHI (27)

8. Michael Turner @ NO (30) *watch his health

9. Steven Jackson vs. WAS (35)

10. Ryan Matthews @ SEA (38) *watch his health

11. DeAngelo Williams vs. CIN (39)

12. Knowshon Moreno vs. IND (41)

13. Pierre Thomas vs. ATL (43)

14. Tim Hightower vs. OAK (43)

15. LeSean McCoy @ JAX (46)

16. Ahmad Bradshaw vs. TEN (47)

17. Jamaal Charles vs. SF (48)

18. Brandon Jackson @ CHI (53)

19. Joseph Addai @ DEN (58)

20. Beanie Wells vs. OAK (60) *watch his health

21. Matt Forte vs. GB (63)

22. Arian Foster vs. DAL (63)

23. LaDanian Tomlinson @ MIA (64)

24. Jonathan Stewart vs. CIN (65)

25. Jahvid Best @ MIN (65)

26. Darren McFadden @ AZ (67)

27. Fred Taylor vs. vs. BUF (68)

28. Justin Forsett vs. SD (69)

29. Felix Jones @ HOU (72)

30. Clinton Portis @ St.L (72)

31. Ronnie Brown vs. NYJ (75)

32. Marion Barber @ HOU (76)

33. Ricky Williams @ NYJ (77)

34. Darren Sproles @ SEA (78)

35. CJ Spiller @ NE (86)

36. Thomas Jones vs. SF (86)

37. Peyton Hillis @ BAL (86)

38. Donald Brown @ DEN (88)

39. Brandon Jacobs vs. TEN (91)

40. Jerome Harrison @ BAL (92) *watch his health

41. Fred Jackson @ NE (92)

42. Jason Snelling @ NO (94) *put him around 20th if Turner can’t go

43. Shonn Greene @ MIA (95)

44. Willis McGahee vs. CLE (95)

45. Mike Tolbert @ SEA (100) *put him just ahead of Sproles if Matthews can’t go

46. Cadillac Williams vs. PIT (101)

47. Brian Westbrook @ KC (104)

48. Leon Washington vs. SD (105)

49. Chester Taylor vs. GB (105)

50. Correll Buckhalter vs. IND (105)

 

 

Kickers

 

1. Ryan Longwell vs. DET (7)

2. Nate Kaeding @ SEA (18)

3. Jay Feeley vs. OAK (21)

4. David Akers @ JAX (23)

5. Mason Crosby @ CHI (23)

6. Matt Prater vs. IND (23)

7. Stephen Gostkowski vs. BUF (27)

8. Rob Bironas @ NYG (29)

9. Jeff Reed @ TB (32)

10. Lawrence Tynes vs. TEN (37)

11. Joe Nedney @ KC (39)

12. Matt Bryant @ NO (40)

13. Ryan Succop vs. SF (42)

14. Garrett Hartley vs. ATL (46)

15. Robbie Gould vs. GB (49)

16. Billy Cundiff vs. CLE (52)

17. Adam Vinatieri @ DEN (54)

18. Neil Rackers vs. DAL (55)

19. Josh Brown vs. WAS (55)

20. Olindo Mare vs. SD (56)

21. Nick Folk @ MIA (56)

22. David Buehler @ HOU (58)

23. Dan Carpenter vs. NYJ (60)

24. John Kasay vs. CIN (60)

25. Rian Lindell @ NE (66)

26. Sebastian Janikowski @ AZ (69)

27. Jason Hanson @ MIN (74)

28. Phil Dawson @ BAL (78)

29. Connor Barth vs. PIT (78)

30. Graham Gano @ St.L (81)

31. Mike Nugent @ CAR (86)

32. Josh Scobee vs. PHI (86)

 

Here’s Where I’m Playing Right Now.

 

 

Gridiron Challenge at ESPN is a salary cap football game that allows you to change your entire lineup from week to week if you deem it necessary. Join my group.

 

  

 

 

ESPN’s Streak for the Cash is the safest way to gamble on the web. Compile the longest monthly winning streak for a chance at $25,000. Join My Group.

MLB’s Beat the Streak challenges you to pick one hitter per day and make a run at Joe DiMaggio’s all-time hitting streak for $3,000,000.  Also links to Beat the Homerun Streak and MLB Survivor. Join My Group.

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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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