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Ravens, Rants and Rankings – week 8

Posted on 07 November 2009 by kevinpb

Ravens 30 – Broncos 7. This was the best game the Ravens have played all year. The Ravens offense again played well, but both the defense and special teams stepped up and played superlatively which led to a dominating performance against an overachieving Broncos team. Let’s be clear, this was a game that the Raven’s needed to win. This is not the type of Broncos team that we are use to here in Baltimore, they are much quicker and much more disciplined under Josh McDaniels, but the bottom line is that Kyle Orton is their quarterback and they are still not physical enough to deal with teams like the Ravens. Denver plays Pittsburgh next week, look for much the same outcome when they play the Steelers. I don’t believe for a minute that the Ravens were buying the BS being shoveled by their head coach that there is no “must wins”. The way they played belied that belief. Good win, good job all around, let’s see why they were so successful.
Offensively, the Ravens went back to the no huddle offense and used it about 75-80% of the game. It is not a coincidence that they seem to get their offense in gear when they go to this set. It was a smart move against the Broncos here, because a Mike Nolan defense is predicated on having the right personnel on the field in the right situation. Many times you saw the Broncos racing people onto the field to get in position before the Ravens could snap the ball. A lot of times the defense barely got set. How many times did they not get the right personnel on the field? It definitely took them out of their comfort zone. By the middle of the third quarter all this racing on the field and the sheer size and bulk of the Ravens offensive line had worn out the front seven of the Broncos. Jared Gaither made a world of difference solidifying the line. Michael Oher is a workmanlike grinder who is playing very well. Gaither is a special talent; as long as he stays motivated, his career will more closely resemble that of Jonathan Ogden, then that of Bennie Anderson. Between the two of them Elvis Dumervil is still looking for his first sack against the Ravens. Kelley Washington is really paying dividends as our 3rd receiver. Mark Clayton is having a very good year. Take away his drop in New England and he is really becoming a valuable target. More importantly every time I watch him I think I am watching a Derrick Mason clone; and that is a really good thing. Flacco is not afraid to go to him and he consistently makes plays after the catch.
Defensively the Ravens came to play. It was clear from the get go that there was an electricity in M&T Bank Stadium. Jarrett Johnson set the crowd at a frenzied level with his sack of Kyle Orton on the first play from scrimmage. Johnson does not get enough credit for the type of year he is having. He has 5 sacks, stuffs the run and has been very good against the past. He has been the best linebacker on the field for the Ravens this year, and that includes Ray Lewis. The Ravens sent more varied looks at the Broncos and at times had a free run at Kyle Orton. It is clear that they used the bye week to rethink their ability to pressure the quarterback, and it was evident that a return to what they do best put a spring in their step and a swagger back in their defense. In the defensive backfield they played a little more cover 2, but with constant pressure of Kyle Orton and his happy feet after getting his clock cleaned by Jarrett Johnson, covering the Broncos receivers was less taxing for our depleted secondary. It is simple really the less time the quarterback has to throw, the easier it is to cover. All that being said, the secondary played better and Dominique Foxworth was effective. Ed Reed was running around and hitting like he did prior to his neck injury.
The special teams had the best game I have seen in a long time from a Ravens special teams unit. As usual, Sam Koch was a stalwart kicking the ball. Steve Hauschka was perfect on field goals and extra points. He was also effective of kick offs. He regularly reached the goal line on kick offs and occasionally kicked the ball into the end zone. The true improvement was with the return and coverage teams. Denver has a dangerous return man in Eddie Royal and we never gave him a chance to get started. I think one time he got a kick return out to the 35. Also, he was never able to generate a head of steam on any punt returns. Lardarius Webb is a player. He catches the ball and gets up field fast. He hits the hole and doesn’t stop. There is no dancing in his game and this is important. When Webb got some regular playing time in the defensive backfield in the 4th quarter, he was flying around making plays and hitting people. This was good to see. I know the Ravens want to go slow with this young man, but he is quickly carving out a niche for himself on this team. Chris Carr fielded all the punts and got some positive yards on a couple. He also played better in the secondary. This is vital. Ed Reed also made his presence felt on special teams fielding a couple punts and almost blocking another punt. I may be reading something into his performance, but he was flying around the field on Sunday like he did 3 years ago. If Ed is healthy again, watch out NFL. The most important aspect of the special teams was that they did not shoot themselves in the foot with stupid penalties.
My only complaint is our desire to constantly collect bonehead penalties and our growing penchant for challenging the referees. That needs to be curtailed. Michael Oher has a costly roughing penalty(even that it was questionable) and Derrick Mason had no business chastising the referee even if it appeared that he was right. That is the game of football. Mark my words, if we don’t get this in check it will come back to bite us in the ass later in the year.
This was about as best as you could hope for coming out of the bye. The offense continues to evolve. The defense finally resembles what we are accustomed to around here and the special teams controlled the field position all day. It appears that confidence was gained in dismissing and undefeated yet, in my opinion, still overrated Broncos team. We need to go to Cincinnati and take care of business. Let’s return the AFC North back to what it is all about, Ravens v. Steelers for all the marbles. Now that is great football.

Rants
The New Yankees wer clearly the best baseball team this year. You have to congratulate them for winning their 27th world title. Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera have won their 5th title. For all the flack they get for buying pennants, this core have players has steered the Yankees to their 5th World Series title in 13 years. Pretty impressive feat! Two of the four are sure fire, 1st ballot Hall of Famers. The other 2 will merit consideration. Aside from the Pettitte daliance with steriods they have all done it the right way and have been consumate professionals for a long time. It is nice to see when perseverence and hard work pay off in the long run. One can only hope for such success for our Birds of Baltimore.
Hard not to second guess the Philadelphia Phillies and Charlie Manual though. I have no problem holding Cliff Lee back for the fifth game as long as you maintain the series lead, but once the Yankees came back and won games 2 and 3, and your are looking at facing Sabathia 2 more times, you have to then match up Lee against Sabathia at least for game 4. He gives you the best chance of beating C.C. and should have been on the mound in game 4 for the Phillies. Game 4 should have been played like it was game 7 for the Phillies, because if they lost it was all over but the shouting. I have to give some thought to a former college acquaintance of mine, Jamie Moyer. How bad do you think the Phillies brass would have liked to have a healthy Moyer to pitch one of those games. He would have given the Phillies a better chance to win Game 6 then Pedro Martinez in that position.
Hold on to your BCS crowns. This might be the year that topples the bowl championship series. This late in the season there are 7 undefeated teams in the country and the hottest team has 1 loss. It is not inconceivable that we could end up with at least 5 undefeated teams. Either Florida or Alabama will end up with a loss, but it is quite possbile that Cincinnati, Iowa, TCU, Texas and Boise State are going to end up undefeated. Texas will really have to stub it’s toe to lose a game even in the Big 12 championship game. It is possible Iowa will lose at Ohio State, but Cincinnati, Boise State and TCU all have a good shot to go undefeated. Which begs the question, if they have a bowl game between 2 of these 3 will anyone show up and will anyone watch? If form holds I am betting on a Florida-Texas showdown with the three non traditional powers undefeated on the outside looking in. Also, the hottest team in the country, Oregon will have to many tough games and to many hurdles to clear to ultimately make an impact on the title game. That is too bad, because they are certainly a fun team to watch. Last question, if there is a rematch between Oregon and Boise State in a BCS Bowl Game, does Oregon coach Chip Kelly have the stones to let LaGarrette Blount play in that game?

Bad boys, bad boys whatcha ya gonna do….In a master public relations move bad boy Brandon Spikes of the Florida Gators, who was caught gouging at a Georgia opponents eyes has turned his school mandated suspension of a half of a game into a full game. He decided himself that he will sit out the entire game to atone for his actions. What? Where did that come from? Talk about turning a villian into a martyr and improving his stock amongst his peers and in NFL circles. Brilliant move, to bad I find it hard to believe it was all devised by Mr. Spikes himself. What young kid would voluntarily give up any part of playing his sport if he did not have to. This reaks of Urban Meyer trying to turn a negative into a positive. It is a bold, inventive move to paint his player in an entirely different light. My only concern is all this would have shaken out the same way if Alabama was the opponent this week instead of Vanderbilt. Coach Meyer I think you have a future in politics.
Allen Iverson, just go away…Please! It took all of 3 games for Iverson’s trule colors to show. Signed in the off season by the Memphis Grizzlies, Iverson was happy to take the money and stated that he wanted to come in and do whatever to help the Memphis Grizzlies be a good basketball team. Three games in he is unhappy coming off the bench, and he is already making life a living hell for new coach Lionel Hollins. Hollins, who played for one of the most complete basketball teams ever, the 76 – 77 Portland Trailblazers, has to be questioning Iverson’s very existence on the roster. Allen Iverson claims he is not a bench player, and that he is not being selfish he is just being honest. Allen Iverson was a great player but he is not the elite player that he once was. His talent is no longer demands that he control the ball at every turn. His tantrum over playing time is only the latest selfish act in a career full of them. It is ashame, because there is a lot of young talent on the Grizzlies, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, OJ Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet just to name a few, but it is also an impressionable group. Who will the group follow, Lionel Hollins or Allen Iverson?
Andre Agassi, I have got to party with you cowboy! What in God’s name would possess you to write a tell all book about your extravagant lifestyle that embarrasses you and your family? The drugs, the sex, the parties, the confrontations and the hair weave apparently all is on display in his new book. If you are now happily married with children what would possess you to put this all out there as public record for you to be scrutinized and criticized. Look we have all done things we are not proud of during our lifetime. I don’t know to many of us that would write a tell all book describing those faults in great detail. What was Jerry Springer all booked up?
Elizabeth Lambert, you are a dirty girl – Check out University of New Mexico soccer player, Elizabeth Lambert. In a recent game against Brigham Young Univ. she was shown punching opposing players in the back and in the face, hip checking players to the ground and yanking a girl to the ground by pulling her ponytail. Even though I am a proponent of women’s sports, I find this type of action a little disconcerting. Maybe Ms. Lambert should petition to join the Broad Street Bullies circa 1975 or better yet she would be perfectly suited for a heel role on WWE.
One non sports thought. Do yourself a favor and check out the FX channel show Sons of Anarchy. It is, hands down, the best show on television. It is always action packed, it is a great story and it is superbly acted. Who knew Peg Bundy was such a good actress. Katey Sagal is that actresses name and she is absolutely brilliant in this show. Check it out you will not be disappointed.

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Ravens 30 Broncos 7 (The NOT SLIPPING THROUGH OUR HANDS Game)

Posted on 03 November 2009 by Derek Arnold

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From the game’s very first snap, you got the feeling that the Ravens were sick of it. Sick of letting near victories slip through their fingers in the final minutes of games. Sick of putting the game in the hands of the officials. Sick of hearing about how their defense had “gotten old” and was no longer a dominating unit. And just plain sick – of – losing.

And so it was, on that first snap, that Jarret Johnson came unblocked from Kyle Orton’s front side and blew him up with an 8-yard sack that was very reminiscent of Bart Scott-on-Baby Ben to Ravens fans. From that moment on, Orton NEVER looked comfortable in the game, and after a few more nasty hits on him by the rejuvenated B’More defense, he was pussy-footing in the pocket and you knew that this game was over, even if the scoreboard was yet to reflect the dominance the Ravens had brought to the table.

Double-J set the tone, but plenty of other Ravens’ defenders would soon get in on the act as well. Ed “Purple Blur” Reed was a man possessed, flying all over the field like the #20 of old, knocking Broncos’ helmets off, forcing fumbles, and nearly blocking punts. Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata were collapsing the pocket more effectively than they have all season. Terrell Suggs and Trevor Pryce were beating Denver’s tackles like rented mules. Rookie Dannell Ellerbe played well, and even the much maligned Chris Carr got on the stat sheet with a sack late in the game.

Speaking of Reed’s near-miss on the punt, though – we could watch every football game, on every level from Pop Warner to the NFL…and NEVER again see a punt go right through a players’ arms as Mitch Berger’s 2nd attempt did to Reed on Sunday. Add that to Jarret Johnson and Terrell Suggs BOTH dropping sure interceptions (and likely pick-6’s) and Ravens fans started to get a foreboding feeling that, despite the fire our club was playing with…it just was not meant to be our day. Add on the ridiculous non-call that led to Derrick Mason’s tantrum and subsequent 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the phantom pass interference on Dominique Foxworth (which the official 5 yards from the play did NOT see fit to penalize, yet somehow the gentleman trailing the play 30 or more yards away did, and IS ALLOWED TO – seriously, how is this possible?) and it seemed inevitable that the Ravens would again lose by the skin of their teeth to an undefeated team.

However, this was not to be a repeat of Minnesota. Rookie Lardarius Webb proved what we all suspected, that he SHOULD BE the kick returner for the Ravens, by breaking a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown on the first play of the second half, and in doing so turned the Ravens’ tenuous 6-0 lead into a much more poignant 13-0 version.

In the end, the good guys in purple would never trail, as all 3 phases of the game came to play for Baltimore, and a win in which the entire team played a part was the result.

Despite struggling early against the Broncos’ #1-scoring defense, the Ravens continued to stick to their game plan of short passes and runs to all parts of the field, and wore down Mike Nolan’s strong unit in the second half. This was a bit of a pleasant surprise, as the Broncos had dominated every second half they had been involved in through their first six contests.

Joe Flacco cares not for your prior successes. Flacco completed his final 14 passes, including each of the 10 he attempted in the final two quarters. The Ravens were 6/8 on 3rd downs in the second half, triple the amount of conversions Denver had allowed in the entire season to that point. Joe Cool finished a very cool 20/25 for 175 yards and one beautiful touchdown strike to Derrick Mason that sealed the game with 13 minutes to play. Flacco displayed his continually improving elusiveness and pocket presence, which was on full display as he dumped the ball off to Ray Rice for positive yardage even has he had All-World Safety Brian Dawkins hanging off of him like a Christmas ornament. His 80% completion percentage tied him with Elvis Grbac for best in a single game in Ravens history.

Ray Rice gained 84 yards on 23 carries, and Le’Ron “PAIN TRAIN” McClain got into the action in the 4th quarter, adding 3 carries for 31 yards, as the Ravens became the first team in 2009 to break the 100-yard barrier against the Rocky Mountain Horsies. Willis McGahee had 3 touches for 3 total yards, and at this point it just looks like Willis is in slow motion after watching Ray Rice for the past several weeks.

It wasn’t just the aforementioned Webb getting the job done on special teams. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give big props to Sam Koch, Steve Hauschka (3/3 FGs, several kickoffs in the end zone), Prescott Burgess (4 ST tackles), and the rest of the units that so impressively held Denver return man Eddie Royal in check. Royal, who scored TDs on both kickoff and punt returns a few weeks back against San Diego, had no room on either type of return Sunday, as the Broncos were consistently pinned inside their own 30 yard line.

And what of Mr. Brandon Marshall, who was supposedly going to give the Ravens’ secondary all sorts of fits, and have flashbacks of Sidney Rice and Vincent Jackson haunting the dreams of Ravens fans? B-Marsh had all of 4 catches for 24 yards, and short-armed several (T.O.-Style) once he realized the nature of the beast that he was on the field with. Also, as we alluded to here last week, Kyle Orton is NOT Brett Favre, Carson Palmer, or Philip Rivers. The Ravens put out the blueprint on how to beat Denver – unfortunately, their next opponent is the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens must build off yesterday’s win, as they now face a Cincinnati Bengals team who is atop the AFC North standings, and who will be coming off the bye of their own. That Denver-Pit game will have much more significance to us here in Charm City if the Ravens can go into the Jungle and exact some revenge on Marvin Lewis & Co.

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Ravens, Rants and Rankings- week 6

Posted on 28 October 2009 by kevinpb

Ravens, Rants and Rankings – week 6

Vikings 33 – Ravens 31. I started writing this blog 4 different times, and had to check myself. Where to start? The Ravens went into a hostile environment got down early and fought for 60 minutes. That is the good news. They went ahead late, had a last second chance to win and didn’t get the job done.
The offense is still a work in progress, but with every snap it is becoming clear that the Baltimore Ravens have gone from a defensive stalwart to a burgeoning offensive team. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are stars in the making. The offense can still use a big play receiver but our receiving corps is better with Flacco throwing them the ball. Ray Rice runs hard and catches the ball well out of the backfield. He is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. The offensive line again playing without Jared Gaither held up fairly well and got better as the game went on. There were a couple false starts and Flacco was under pressure, but still was kept upright enough to make enough plays to win the game. Derrick Mason caught 12 balls, Heap was terrific across the middle an Ray Rice was phenomenal on check downs and swing passes. Kelley Washington caught a couple of big passes late and there was even a Demetrius Williams sighting. Demetrius made a tough catch that extended a drive late. He also made an excellent block on Derrick Mason’s touchdown catch. Joe Flacco was terrific. He did everything he needed to for the Ravens to win the game. There should be no doubt who will lead this team for the next 10 -15 years. Our offense is certainly not a finished product but guess what folks, the offense is not our problem.
For 12 years we have been spoiled in Baltimore. Our defense was the backbone of the Baltimore Raven tradition. Not only did they stop most opposing offenses cold, they also picked the most opportune time to turn opposing teams mistakes into points. For years they carried a pathetic offense on their broad shoulders. The Baltimore Ravens circa 2009 are in real trouble on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line is still a capable bunch, but for a couple of years they have not produced a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Now it is clear that they are becoming pedestrian against the run. I, for one, am glad to see the most meaningless record in sports finally be a thing of the past. The fact that the Ravens had not allowed a 100 yard rusher in 39 games is finally a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong, playing strong against the run has been a staple of this defense for a long time, but this has been a meaningless record. There have been a few teams over the course of this record that have run the ball successfully on this team and when that happens the Ravens lose. Case in point, last year against the Giants, when all three of their backs ran rough shod over the Ravens.
Currently the Ravens problems are traced to their defense. The Ravens defense has always played with such aggression that they teetered on the edge. For the most part that has made this team an upper echelon team in the NFL for the last 10 years; but when the opponent can deal with that aggression and execute their offense ( like Indianapolis or New England) or when the other team matches our aggression (like Pittsburgh and Tennessee) our chances of success decreases. When the team has not been successful things can go south fast for this team. Players start taking chances and gambling to make plays, or players become unhinged and meltdown ( like in Detroit a few years back or the Monday night game against New England a couple of years ago).
There has been a very decided change in the Ravens philosophy this year. The players won’t admit it and the coaching staff won’t admit to it, but there is less risk taking. The defensive philosphy appears to be more cerebral as opposed to being more brutal. The defense is in transition with regards to this philosophy. The secondary has no big hitters to rattle receivers coming across the middle or to stick a running back when coming up to support against the run. In fact, our cornerbacks might be the worst set of form tacklers I have ever seen on a football field. They are not physical at all. They would prefer to run and cover rather then hit somebody. The problem is that when the ball is thrown down the field on them, while they may be in position to make a play they do not possess the phyical nature to make a play on the ball. This has proved to be true on numerous occasions this year. See any number of plays in the San Diego game. See the long ball caught by Chris Henry of the Bengals down the Ravens sideline after we had just scored. See the long balls caught by Sidney Rice of the Vikings. The Ravens cornerback was there but none of them had the ability to make the physical play. Dawan Landry has been a major disappointment at strong safety. He is not making plays at the line of scrimmage and he has been abused down the seams by tight ends for each team we have played.
In an effort to stem the tide of the big plays against his defense, Ed Reed has started to gamble more frequently. He was successful in guessing against Carson Palmer and took an interception in for a touchdown. Against the Vikings, in much the same set that he was successful the week earlier against the Bengals, he was late and picked off Fabian Washington on a quick slant that Sidney Rice caught and raced 65 yards with after the catch.
Additionally, the front seven which over the years has been as consistently vigilant in maintaining defensive assignments and gap integrity as it has been in being brutal and punishing, is pushing and taking chances looking for the big play. Several times in the last 2 games these gambles have led to giving lanes to the running backs and has led to big plays in the running game. That is something we certainly aren’t use to around here.
The pass rush has been in decline for the last couple of years. The fact that our defensive backfield is pourous is exaspirated by the fact that we can’t get to the quarterback without blitzing. This is not a recipe for success. Suggs and Pryce have not had success this year getting to the quarterback and of our defensive tackle rotation, none of them have a resume that indicates they are a premier pass rusher. The change in coordinator and philosophy has curtailed the amount of blitzes used in the course of the game, and the pressure we have created has suffered as well. When we do blitz and the offense hits the hot read or checks down to a back, all of the sudden we have a gifted playmaker with the ball against the worst tackling defensive backfield in the NFL.
The speical teams have been awful for the last several years, Sam Koch not withstanding.
We do not cover kicks and punts well, and we cannot get off the field without committing stupid penalties when returning the ball. Ladarius Webb is an upgrade returning kicks, he runs hard and hits the holes fast, but we constantly shoot ourselves in the foot. Early in the 2nd half of the Minnesota game, we had a great return on the kick off by Webb out past the 40 yard line nulified by a stupid penalty which backed us inside the 15. No one can forget the bonehead penalty in the AFC championship game last year. Instead of playing aggressively, we had to protect the football, ran it three times and punted. It boggles my mind that we supposedly have a great special teams coach and our head coach made his bones as a special teams coordinator and we are this awful. With regards to the missed game winning field goal, I will not beat up the kid. Everybody misses field goals. My feelings on the subject are best summed up this way. I can live with Matt Stover missing that field goal, I can’t live with Steve Hauschka missing that field goal. Steve Hauschka should never had been on the field in that situation, but hey what do I know.
My biggest concern is that the coaching staff is putting so much importance in the ability to play special teams that we are not putting our best 45 players on the field each and every Sunday. I do not think special teams is all that special, give me a reliable kicker and punter, be able to make strong tackles on coverage teams and give me a return guy who secures the ball and is smart on returns and I am happy. It is not that hard. The big question with regards to special teams is simple. If we have all this special teams knowledge, and we have placed an emphasis on everyone playing special teams, then why are we so bad in this aspect of the game? More importantly, if the 45 man game day roster is being decided by those players who are willing and talented in the special teams aspect of the game, then why are we so bad? Both Paul Kruger and Demetrius Williams have been criticized for not being able, or more importantly, not wanting to play special teams, and both have been relegated to the bench and even the inactive game day list. I think it is time to find out if these guys can contribute on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. I am not saying they are the answer but we at least need to find out if they can help this team. You can’t tell me it is more important for Matt Lawrence to be on the game day roster then for Paul Kruger. Kruger was drafted to rush the passer, let’s see what he can do.
For years we won football games by dominating with defense and special teams. Now both these aspects of our game are deficient and subpar. How hard is it to get your head around the fact that a Ravens team needs to outscore it’s opponent to win? Yes, play like a Raven certainly has a new meaning.

With all that being said the season can still be salvaged. We need to play more cover two in the back field, so that our corners do not get isolated one on one. Keep everything in front of us and make teams work the ball down the field. Stop giving up the big plays that have killed us. We need to find a pass rush, whether it be by switching personnel or by blitzing more. We need to make the opposing quarterback more uncomfortable, because with the upcoming schedule, if we let Palmer, Manning and Roethlisberger stand back there all day we are dead meat. With our burgeoning offense, we don’t need to be dominant on defense any longer, just competent. The Ravens have dug themselves a hole and with both Pittsburgh and Cinncinati playing well we will have to go 8-2 in the last 10 games to secure a playoff birth. The season starts Sunday against the Denver Broncos. I am sorry, I refuse to believe they are an undefeated team. The Ravens will show up on Sunday, I am confident about that. Let’s get loud out there and bring home a win.

I will get back to the rankings next week after the Ravens beat the Broncos.

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When Life Gives You Lemons – Read My Blogs …..

Posted on 20 October 2009 by Rex Snider

Stover Would’ve Made It …..

Damn, it felt good to say it. And, as preposterous and pig-headed as it sounds, you know the prospect of Matt Stover, lined up for a 44 yarder, crossed your mind. You envisioned it – DON’T LIE TO ME …..

I’m not sitting here saying “WHAT IF ….”

It’s impractical. But, more than a few Baltimore football loyalists have been wondering how Steve Hauschka would fare when finally fronted with a crucial game-deciding field goal attempt.

You’ve been to Training Camp – it’s easy to put the ball between the uprights on a steamy summer morning, in Westminster.

You’ve also been to the pre-game festivities, at M&T Bank Stadium, when kickers display their version of batting practice homeruns, with 60 yard field goals.

You’ve watched Steve Hauschka convert extra points and “low-pressure” field goals without much regard for his game breaking ability.

You waited for Sunday’s game to get here. It’s HERE. And, now, the Ravens have another thing to worry about, because everybody has this uneasy feeling in their stomach. One thing will cure it – getting another chance and making it.

Until that time arrives, we’re gonna allow lots of crazy things to cross our minds.

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Steve Bisciotti- Wasting Money ??? Say It Isn’t So …..

For years, we’ve been told the Ravens owner is a guy who’s made his money the old fashioned way – he’s earned it. We know the real-life accounts …..

A modest childhood, in Anne Arundel County …..

Working his way through school, including Salisbury State University …..

Starting his own business, with little more than an insatiable desire to succeed …..

Steve Bisciotti isn’t living the American Dream. HE IS THE AMERICAN DREAM.

Right?

Every person living within the borders of this great country knows the economy has truly struggled over the past couple years. Times are tough – and we’re subsidizing some companies, while bailing-out others.

Whenever I see a corporation that has landed in the lap of dysfunction and desperation, I’ve wondered “Hmmm …. How would Steve Bisciotti feel about this?” Does he support the free rides given to GM, Chrysler and AIG?

I’ve never observed Steve Bisciotti as a guy who wastes money. By all accounts, he appears to be a MONEY MAKING MACHINE – and correct in virtually every business decision.

But, now, I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m wondering if Maryland’s Most Notable Gazillionaire is feeling duped by his staff’s decision to give Domonique Foxworth enough money to buy 540 brand spanking new Corvettes?

Yes, that would be Domonique “The 27 Million Dollar Man” Foxworth …..

The return on investment? Well, he really looks good while chasing guys – who have a football in their hands, huh? Actually, Foxworth wasn’t the most pedestrian member of the Defensive Secondary, on Sunday, but he’s still done very little to earn that new contract.

In all fairness, the Ravens owner and his staff have made good signings, as well …..

But, I do wonder what “Bank Bags” Bisciotti is thinking these days …..

The Return of “Little Bill” on Nickelodeon

If you’re a parent of a son or daughter under 25 years old, you certainly remember the hit Nickelodeon cartoon, “Little Bill.” It featured storylines from a book series, by Bill Cosby.

Well, I’m happy to report I’ve started writing the screenplay for “Little Bill – 2,” which I will be submitting for Mr. Cosby’s review. I plan on keeping it elementary and consistent with the preceding version.

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In “Little Bill – 2,” our main character, Little Bill, played by John Harbaugh, imitates his hero, Big Bill, played by Bill Belichick. And, with normal human instinct, Little Bill repeats his role model’s moves, mannerisms and quotes.

Look for Harbs, as he continues coining his trademark Belichick bytes …..

“They scored more points ….”

“We need to do a better job ….”

“We will work hard ….”

Thanks, coach. Can we quote you on that? By the way, it seems more credible for coaches with fists full of Super Bowl rings to do things as they please. Whereas, the coaches who are still learning the job and the town, itself, might want to be a little more endearing and cooperative.

When the Patriots lose a couple games (which hardly happens), the fans can rely on the team’s record of FOUR SUPER BOWL appearances, in eight seasons, as evidence that things will be okay. Bill Belichick has the “cred” to bluntly suggest “don’t worry about it” in very few words.

Where did John Harbaugh develop such a resume’ ???

He hasn’t …..

Thus, when reporters and fans ask for some reassurance or hopeful outlook, would it be too hard a task to elaborate a little bit? In fairness to Coach Harbaugh, I’m not referring to the post-game pressers, when emotions still run high.

But, the dramatic three word clichés, as a formidable response to a plausible question, a day later, are not acceptable. Oh, they might be allowed, per policy. But, it’s as unacceptable as the efforts of some players.

So, repeat after me ……

BIG BILL
LITTLE BILL

BIG BILL
LITTLE BILL

See the difference ???

Well, well, well …..

In fairness to Ravens Head Coach, John Harbaugh, his former D-Coordinator – turned Head Coach of the New York Jets, hasn’t been spewing his very quotable and borderline pompous remarks lately …..

I guess that’s what a ‘lil bit of losing can do for you, huh?

Damn, it was getting to the point where I was starting to avoid another guy named “Rex.”

What’s Sexy-Rexy gonna do if his team keeps doing stupid things, or if young Mark San-CHISE keeps throwing strikes to players in the wrong colored jerseys?

If things don’t work in the Big Apple, I would think Mr. Bisciotti would borrow some money from Domonique Foxworth, and lure his former D-Coordinator back to Bawlmer, for a promotion to D-Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach/Official Team Spokesman …..

Seriously, can you imagine this exchange …..

Reporter – “Coach, what happened out there today ???”

Rex Ryan – “They scored more points.” “We will circle the wagons.” “We are men.” “By the way, that’s a good question.” “Our players are tough.” “Play Like A Raven.” “Thanks for the good question.”

Nah – NOT A CHANCE !!!!

The Trade Deadline Arrives …..

We will finish this off in the spirit of all good Orioles fans …..

To recognize the looming NFL’s trade deadline, I’d like to propose the following possible deals …..

Baltimore Ravens TRADE Frank Walker, Prescott Burgess, the rights to former Raven Dan Cody, a Michael Phelps’ autographed bong and a handpainted portrait of Al Davis on the underbelly of a blue crab ….. to the Oakland Raiders for Nnamdi Asomugha

Baltimore Ravens TRADE Justin Harper, Jason Phillips, Samari Rolle, the rights to former Raven Leon Searcy, an autographed copy of his new novel “Burning Down The House” by Peter Angelos and an unopened suitcase found floating in the inner harbor ….. to the Cincinnati Bengals for Rey Maualuga

Baltimore Ravens TRADE Willis McGahee, the rights to former Raven Chris McAlister, any future rights to Brandon Marshall and Anquan Boldin, an authentic Anita Marks-Miami Fury jersey and a pair of New York Yankees panties ….. to the New England Patriots for Randy Moss and Steven Gostkowski.

Let The Countdown Begin …..

Without providing any free advertising to other Baltimore radio stations, we have just 19 days until the start of 24/7 Christmas music on one particular affiliate …..

Merry Christmas & Happy Halloween !!!!

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The LACES WERE IN!!!!

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Vikings 33 Ravens 31 (The HAUSCHKA FAIL Game)

Posted on 19 October 2009 by Derek Arnold

Go HERE for the full effect of this post.

Fairly or not, when Ravens fans look back on yesterday’s game (and it will be one that we will remember for a LONG time), it will be Steve Hauschka who many remember as the goat.

The LACES WERE IN!!!!

Not the vaunted Ravens defense, who, suddenly awful, gave up 426 yards, 167 of those on the ground, and over 20 points AGAIN. The defense is giving up a woeful 21.7 points per game, and if you take out the Week 3 game against Cleveland High School, that number shoots to 25.4 ppg against “real” NFL teams. This is a full 10 POINT PER GAME increase over what 2008’s defense managed, with very similar personnel.

I’m not going to sit here and burn the 2nd-year kicker in effigy. Yes, it was a very make-able kick – 44 yards in perfect (indoor) conditions. Yes, had he made it, all the negatives that we saw from our purple and black during the previous 59 minutes and 58 seconds would have been seemingly washed away. And yes, going into the bye week at 4-2, in a virtual tie for the division lead, would be much more desirable than where we currently sit, riding a 3 game losing streak and a full game plus behind Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the AFC North.

But it was a game in which the Ravens’ defensive deficiencies, both on the ground and in the air, were on full display for the entire NFL to see, and any team that is worth their salt will be able to exploit this Ravens defense as it is currently constructed. Adrian Peterson started things off ominously, gaining 26 yards on his first touch. For the day he managed 143 yards on 22 carries, a video-game like average of 6.5 yards per rush, and the Ravens were unable to pry the ball from his hands even once, despite his well-documented fumbling issues.

And even when AD sputtered (basically throughout the 2nd and 3rd quarters), Old Man Brett (Favre) was able to torch the Ravens in the passing game. Favre was 21/29 for 278 yards and 3 touchdowns, his favorite target being Sidney Rice, who pulled in 6 for 176. When the Ravens were able to pressure Favre, he was rendered ineffective; however, those instances were far too few and far between to make much of a difference. Greg Mattison’s vanilla 4-3 defensive schemes are simply not getting the job done with the personnel he has at his disposal. Let’s hope he fully realizes and accepts that fact, and adjusts accordingly over the next 12 days.

The book on beating the Ravens has become painfully obvious for all to see. At this point, teams are likely to be calling the likes of Clarence Moore to sign for one game when they see B’More on their schedules. I kid, but barely – the aforementioned Rice stands 6’4″, and was yet another example of the intricate offensive scheming it takes to beat the Ravens: “send your tallest receiver deep.”

Yesterday, it was Frank Walker who was picked on during Minnesota’s final drive. However, Walker was only in the game because Fabian Washington had already been benched for his terrible play against Minnesota receivers up to that point. A huge disappointment, considering Fabe had started to step it up a bit since being named our “did not play like a Raven” in Week 2 against San Diego. On the other side, Dominique Foxworth had a slightly better game. His open field tackle of FB Naufahu Tahi stands out, but he whiffed on at least one other. And who’s to say that his “decent” game was nothing more than a function of Washington’s ineptitude?

The safeties were no better. Dawan Landry seems but a shell of the player he was prior to his spinal cord concussion last season. On Favre’s second touchdown pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe, Landry looked like the most confused person in the building, as he stood with his back to the line of scrimmage watching Shiancoe run his route uncovered. And, on the decisive 58-yard pass to Rice that set the Vikings up for the go-ahead FG late in the game, there was no safety to be seen. John Harbaugh said after the game that there was “supposed” to be help for Walker over the top, but “the safety” bit on an underneath route. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here assuming “the safety” wears #20. Skirting our responsibilities to freelance again, Ed? How many times does that have to bite you in the rear this season for you to realize that maybe, just maybe, you should stay in position?

Perhaps the most infuriating part of the defensive “effort” was that it managed to overshadow a Ravens offense that nearly pulled off an extremely improbable comeback. Despite scoring only 10 points over the game’s first 52 minutes, Joe Flacco had himself in prime position to out-comeback Favre the comeback king, leading the Ravens to 21 points in the game’s final 8 minutes. Those three touchdowns came on consecutive drives of 7, 3, and 1 plays, and the final (kick missing) drive was a beautiful 9 play succession that covered 41 yards and bled all but two seconds off the clock to set up what (would’ve, could’ve, should’ve) been the game winner.

Flacco finished the day with a career-high 385 yards and 2 touchdowns, with no turnovers. It was a good enough effort from Joe Cool to win. His defense just let him down, time and time again.

Of course, he had help. Ray Rice was absolutely outstanding in the loss, and is quickly becoming an NFL star. He led the Ravens in rushing (10-77-2) and receiving (10-117-0). His 33-yard scamper with 3:44 to go gave the Ravens their first and only lead of the game. If I had one criticism of Rice for the game, it would be that he did not do all he humanly could to get the ball to the middle of the field on his final carry, which COULD have helped Hauschka a bit.

Even though it’s never a good sign when a RB leads your team in receiving, the Ravens’ wideouts were far from invisible. Both Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason caught touchdowns, Todd Heap and Kelley Washington each had 3 receptions, and there was even a Demetrius Williams sighting, who caught his first pass of 2009 for 17 yards and a critical 3rd down conversion early in the comeback.

Sure, we had hoped to see Cam Cameron’s offense get back to the things they did last year, running the ball and controlling the clock, but an early 14-point deficit combined with terrible field position due to special teams ineptitude conspired to work against that plan of attack. Cameron looked like he had every intention of establishing the run, but in the end was forced to air it out to try to overcome the Vikes’ big lead.

The optimist will look at the Ravens’ last 3 games, each decided in the waning seconds, and say that they are, realistically, 3 plays from being 6-0. However, the harsh reality is this: over those 3 games, not once did the Ravens manage to put together 60 solid minutes of football on both sides of the ball, and THAT is the reason that those games came down to the wire like they did.

The Ravens, both coaches and players, need to do some soul searching during this much-needed bye week, and find those 60 minutes of football. If they do, then the playoffs are still very much within grasp, with games remaining against Pittsburgh (2), Cincy, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Oakland, and Denver in the AFC, along with winnable inter-conference matches with Detroit, Chicago, and Green Bay. But if they can’t, for instance, figure out a way to mask the gaping holes in the secondary, then a once promising season may be on its way down the proverbial toilet.

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Ravens vs. Patriots – It’s Not Just Another Game …..

Posted on 01 October 2009 by Rex Snider

I think the next four days will serve as that proverbial “snowball rolling downhill” as the excitement builds for Sunday’s showdown, in Foxboro.

It’s being billed with various descriptions in newspapers, website/message boards and blogs …..

“Flacco vs. Brady”

“Harbaugh vs. Belichick”

“The NEW Guard vs. The OLD Guard”

“Big Randy vs. A Bunch Of Smaller Guys …..” (Yep, I actually saw this !!!!)

If you think of a witty moniker for this game, there’s a real good chance someone else has already thought of it, and posted it – ON THESE MESSAGE BOARDS. Indeed, the week leading up to a big game is every bit as contentious as the 60 minutes spent on the field.

But, all the hoopla just fuels the collective fires burning within rabid fans of both teams.

In reality, we know what this is really about …..

It’s just another football game. It’s the Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots – a couple non-divisional opponents meeting for a regular season contest. Both teams have games the following week – and they’re equally as important. Or, are they?

In looking at both teams, if I’m going to consider any comparisons, I’m likely to point out that both organizations obsess on the TEAM concept. This town and anyone who follows the Ravens are familiar with John Harbaugh’s devotion to team unity.

And, Bill Belichick has amassed a collection of Lombardi trophies and gaudy rings by beating opponents with larger collections of “stars” on the game’s biggest stage. We can name dozens of reclamation projects utilized and optimized by Belichick, right?

Well, it’s also legitimate to admit Tom Brady has been the consistent factor on the team, as well.

The Patriots have dominated the last decade on a “next man up” philosophy. Obviously, the Ravens have that same mindset – and we’ve observed textbook examples, with Justin Bannan, Chris Chester and others. In fact, both Tom Brady and Joe Flacco were cast into their current roles through unexpected circumstances and at unplanned times.

And, the world knows neither guy let the opportunity or job title slip away …..

But, Sunday’s game is not about the legend of Tom Brady, or the emergence of Joe Flacco. Although, that’s what the cookie-cutter networks will say in their coverage. Pimping the quarterbacks has always been that “sexy selling point” with national, mainstream analysis.

I’m not suggesting Brady or Flacco will be mere bystanders to Sunday’s eventual outcome. Both guys are leaders and they’ll intimately impact what happens – as every quarterback does. But, will they have any greater effect than other Week #4 matchups, like Roethlisberger vs. Rivers, Sanchez vs. Brees or the most overblown duel, Brett Favre vs. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers & ENTIRE STATE OF WISCONSIN.

Good grief, I’ll be glad when that game is over. But, you know what I mean – the nationally syndicated media will market the quarterbacks. However, we know it’s much more complex than that.

This Ravens/Patriots game is bound to be determined by more relevant matchups and scenarios …..

• Can the Ravens Defense pressure the Patriots into hurried execution and a repeat of the unpleasant circumstances similar to that day at the Meadowlands, a couple weeks ago?

• Will the Patriots Defense finally do something the Chiefs, Chargers and Browns failed to accomplish – STOP the Ravens passing attack, which really enables the running game? They’ll have the home crowd to their advantage.

• Aside from the presence of Randy Moss, can the Patriots present difficult matchups for the Ravens secondary? Be cautious of the Patriots’ Tight Ends; they’re big and offer another option for Brady.

• Do “Blueprints For Success” exist for both teams? Specifically, did Philip Rivers reveal the Ravens vulnerabilities? And, did Rex Ryan’s Jets-D lay a similar plan for his former pupils?

• Has Prescott Burgess been spending hours under a bright light, in Coach Belichick’s office? Get the Velveeta ready …..

• Perhaps, it will come down to Steve Hauschka vs. Stephen Gostkowski. Just remember, the Ravens’ new kicker hasn’t really stepped into a “do or die” situation, yet. It’s coming …..

Let’s face it, an array of possibilities exist, as Sunday fast approaches. In reality, it’s just 1 of 16 games. But, it holds some significant potential …..

In a similar standard to the San Diego game, this contest could serve as a tie-breaker for postseason homefield, and it could also lead to an extended lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will really face a tough challenge, against the Chargers, in another game without Troy Polamalu.

To be fair, this game has important intangible factors, as well. The Patriots have a collection of Super Bowl Championships, over the past ten years. Beating them has gotta be significant for a team’s confidence. They’re also one of those upper echelon teams and the Ravens need to beat such opponents, if they wanna go to Miami, in February.

In fact, it’s absolutely fitting to suggest the New England Patriots demand that same reverence as the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts. And, do these 4 teams share a common relation with the Ravens?

You bet.

The Steelers, Colts, Patriots and Giants are jointly responsible for winning the past 6 Super Bowls. In the span of the last 24 months, the Ravens have played this collection of teams 10 times.

The Ravens are 1-9 against them. Did you get that? I said ONE WIN & NINE LOSSES.

This has to change. Forget about beating the bad teams. And, forget about beating the good teams. The Ravens absolutely MUST beat the GREAT TEAMS.

The ESPN Power Rankings, Sporting News Ratings and other in-season accolades are nice. But, there are no real awards for such distinctions. The prize is coveted by every NFL team, and it’s a Super Bowl Championship.

The teams responsible for the last half-dozen trips to Disney World have dominated the Ravens. The tables must turn. Maybe, Ric Flair was right – “to be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

Indeed, this is not just another game …..

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Purple Kickoff: What a difference a year makes…but not so fast

Posted on 09 September 2009 by Luke Jones

Some label it parity while others believe it’s mediocrity, or even just plain luck, but it’s clear to see why many claim the NFL actually stands for “Not For Long.”

How else do you explain the Miami Dolphins—owner of a 1-15 record in 2007—winning the AFC East in 2008? Or on the flip side, is it just a coincidence that every Super Bowl loser this decade—except for the 2006 Seattle Seahawks—has failed to even make the playoffs the following season?

With few exceptions, the NFL is a league of transient success and reversible frustration.

It was only a year ago that a certain NFL team entered Week 1 with a rookie third-string quarterback—pressed into action due to injury—and a new head coach that had never even held a coordinator position (offensive or defensive) at the professional level.  On top of that, the team’s best player was unsure if he’d be able to play due to a debilitating injury, and the offense was in need of not one, but two, reliable offensive tackles.

It looked as though a 7-9 season would be grounds for a city-wide celebration with the number of questions surrounding the organization.

Fast-forward a year and that same team—minus a couple of key departing players and a defensive coordinator—has a second-year quarterback coming off a historically-successful season (the first rookie to win two playoff games), an inspiring young coach, one of the best young offensive tackle duos in the league, and, of course, Super Bowl aspirations.

Of course the team to which I’m referring is the Baltimore Ravens, and the expectations now compared to a year ago when the Ravens were an underdog at home—against the Cincinnati Bengals of all teams—entering Week 1 are night and day.

Even with the departure of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, Pro Bowl linebacker Bart Scott, and safety Jim Leonhard, the sky is the limit for the Ravens.  John Harbaugh has command of the locker room, field general Ray Lewis is still going strong at 34, and young Joe Flacco appears ready to take the next step in becoming a legitimate franchise quarterback.

Naturally, there are questions that must be addressed, but the same can be said with any team in the league.  The wide receiver position continues to linger in flux, and key members of the defense are another year older, but there are no major obstacles that appear to be blocking this team’s chances of taking the next step from last year’s AFC Championship appearance to a trip to Miami in early February.

Life is good in Baltimore, especially compared to the thoughts of a year ago, right?

“We have got our eye on something, and everybody sees that,” Lewis said.  “When one guy wants to take a day off from practice, there’s 10 to 15 guys picking him up and saying you can’t.  The vibe is different this year because everybody has this taste [of redemption] in their mouth.”

The problem is that as quickly as the Ravens turned things around last season, circumstances can again turn south without warning in the NFL.

It was only two years ago when the Ravens, coming off a 13-3 season in 2006, were led by Brian Billick and had similar goals to what we’re hearing right now.  Injuries decimated the team, the locker room crumbled, and the Super Bowl-winning head coach was dismissed after a 5-11 season.

Will it happen again?  Everyone in Baltimore says no—including this writer—but you just never know with the NFL.  A couple of key injuries to a Derrick Mason or an Ed Reed, a handful of questionable coaching decisions, or even a few missed field goals by an inexperienced Steve Hauschka can turn a playoff team into a miserable loser.

Despite being considered one of the best organizations in the league, the Ravens have failed to enjoy consecutive winning seasons since 2003-2004.  Owner Steve Bisciotti and Harbaugh will attempt to break the trend this year—and then some.

“We’re both trying to build something special,” Harbaugh said.  “We’re both not afraid to say we’re trying to build a dynasty here.  We’re trying to create something that the NFL’s never seen before, where people are going to look back and say, ‘That’s the standard. We want to be what the Ravens were for that period of time.'”

Lofty goals for sure, but the Ravens will first need to prove they can sustain that high level of success beyond a single season.

My point?

As you proudly wear your purple this week and daydream about Festivus Maximus while firing up the grill on Sunday, just think back to that subdued, uncertain feeling entering the season a year ago and smile, but also remember the worm can turn very quickly.

We’ve seen it before here in Baltimore.

One game at a time, and one season at a time.

But, above all, enjoy the unpredictable ride.

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Final preseason game, final chances

Posted on 02 September 2009 by Luke Jones

The Charm City is abuzz over the Ravens’ preseason finale with the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.

With a victory in the Georgia Dome, the Ravens would complete a perfect 4-0 preseason and immediately stamp their ticket for Miami in early February.  After all, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens went 4-0 in the preseason and eventually raised the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa.  The stars are already aligning in the Ravens’ favor, right?

Alright, you caught me.  I can already hear the groans and see the collective rolling of eyes.

Yes, the Detroit Lions finished a 4-0 preseason a year ago and went on to complete a perfect—or imperfect—0-16 season.

And, on the surface, watching the fourth—and final—preseason game sounds about as appealing as attending an Orioles-Yankees game at Camden Yards in early September.

No one will remember the winner or the final score beyond the weekend, but if you look deeper and from a different perspective, you’ll find an otherwise hollow exhibition filled with consequence and meaning for both the Baltimore Ravens and a number of individuals struggling to secure a job in one of the most cutthroat businesses in the entire world.

For those focused solely on the team and its chances to improve upon a successful 2008 campaign that ended just minutes shy of the Super Bowl, Thursday night marks the last chance to evaluate potential contributors to the 2009 roster.

It will be the final exam for the kicking battle between Steve Hauschka and rookie Graham Gano.  Though Hauschka owns the clear advantage, both kickers have wilted at different points in the preseason, causing fans to daydream—and some to even pray—about the potential return of Matt Stover.

For these two—and special teams coach Jerry Rosburg—Thursday is a high-stakes playoff game.  And as much as we quip over the labeling of a kicker as a “true” football player, his leg can make or break an entire season.

Just ask Al Del Greco or Scott Norwood.

Others may not be engaged in a marquee battle, but the competition is just as intense.

Many players fighting for few precious spots may seem relatively anonymous now, but the strong likelihood of at least one or two of these unknowns becoming the center of attention—good or bad—at some point during the season cannot be overlooked.

It was only last year that Jameel McClain was an undrafted rookie linebacker from Syracuse clawing for a job on the 53-man roster going into the final preseason game.  And after a couple of safeties and key special teams contributions as a rookie, he is now only an injury away from starting at inside linebacker for one of the best defenses in the NFL.

And who can honestly say they knew who Anthony Mitchell was before he snatched a blocked field goal attempt out of the air and galloped 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown against Tennessee in January 2001?  Mitchell spent almost two full seasons in anonymity before his shining moment.

In all likelihood, one of these fringe players flying beneath the radar will swing the momentum in the Ravens’ favor (Mitchell) or crush a golden opportunity (Daren Stone in Pittsburgh, anyone?) at some point this season.  Who will it be?

And shifting the focus away from the actual football team and the lucrative money involved in professional football, we have a group of young men trying to fulfill a lifelong dream.  Sure, they’ve made a little money in the month of August, but it’s a far cry from the signing bonus inked by Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs in July.

For many of these players, Thursday night is the final opportunity to wear a Ravens uniform and to show enough skill to remain in Baltimore or garner the attention of one of the other 31 NFL teams.

Some will catch on elsewhere, whether in the NFL, UFL, or Canada.  But for others, Thursday will mark the end of a boyhood dream, and it will be time to move on to the next phase of their lives—away from the football field.

Whether you’re an average laborer or a world-class athlete, it stings to hear that you’re not good enough or that your services are no longer needed.  And that’s the exact message coach John Harbaugh will have to deliver to many players over the weekend.

As much as we try to remove the human element from the multimillion-dollar business of professional sports and sometimes treat athletes like emotionless machines, these guys have dreams that will ultimately fall short.  And in that sense, Thursday night will bring some sadness.

So if you’re grasping for any reason to stay tuned to a meaningless preseason finale on a work night, root for these fringe players—and yes, they ARE Ravens, even if not for much longer—fighting for their football lives and trying to hold onto a dream very similar to the one you or I may have had as a kid.  Most of them are good guys, humble and hard workers who are just starving for the chance to play in the NFL.

A few will fulfill that dream Thursday night while others will have to wonder what comes next in their lives.

A meaningless game?

Only on the surface.

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Preseason Game 3 – Ravens @ Panthers

Posted on 29 August 2009 by Derek Arnold

RavensPanthers

The “most important” of the fake football games is upon us, as the Ravens travel to Charlotte to take on the Panthers in preseason week 3. Week 3 of preseason is traditionally the game in which the starters play the most out of any of the four exhibitions. As such, we want to see our boys in purple and black looking sharper then we saw against either the Redskins or Jets.

What specifically will I be watching for from my couch?

Run Defense

Seeing an opponent rack up rushing yards is about as foreign to us here in B’More as a menu that considers “crab” snow crabs or some such nonsense. The Jets, though, were able to find some room on the ground, even when the Ravens starters were on the field. Baltimore fans have been a bit uneasy after seeing that, so we are all a little anxious about whether first-year defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s squad can plug the holes we saw in Week 2. Carolina was the #3 rushing team in the NFL in 2008, averaging over 152 yards per game. They will be without half of their lethal 1-2 rushing attack though, as Jonathan Stewart is sidelined with an injury. DeAngelo Williams (5.5 ypc in 08) will see the bulk of the carries, and will present a significant challenge for the Ravens.

Hindering the Ravens’ efforts will be the lack of DT Kelly Gregg, who injured his shoulder against New York. Word is that Kelly would play if this were a regulat season game, but will sit out just to be safe.

Linebacker Battle

Depth at linebacker is nothing new in B’More, but this preseason the Ravens are even more stacked at the position than normal. As a result, some guys that seemed to be a lock when they checked into the Best Western in Westminster now find themselves teetering on the bubble. Antwan Barnes, for instance, who saw action in 13 games and made 14 solo tackles as a pass-rush specialist in 08, finds himself neck-and-neck with such newcomers as Jason Phillips and Dannell Ellerbe. Ellerbe missed the Jets game though, and will need to suck it up and get some reps in Charlotte. Prescott Burgess is in a similar situation.

Speaking of linebackers, is it time to start worrying a little about T-Sizzle? He hasn’t seen the field since the first week of August, and now that the team is back at their complex in Owings Mills, it seems unlikely that Suggs is still just trying to avoid practice.

Kickers

This one isn’t so much a battle any more as it is a “hang on” situation for Steve Hauschka. He has a definite lead over rookie Graham Gano at this point, and as long as he hits his kicks from here on out, the 2nd-year player from NC State should find himself on the roster opening day. Hauschka might have some extra friends and family in the stands down in the Tar Heel State, so it will be interesting to see how he responds.

Pancake Man

Beast OT Michael Oher will see his first true test in the NFL, as he takes on Panthers DE Julius Peppers, who had 14.5 sacks last year. Oher, who has been calling out the likes of Dwight Freeney since he was in high school, certainly won’t back down from the challenge, but he will have his massive hands full keeping Joe Flacco upright.

Wide Receiver

Of course we couldn’t go an entire preview without touching on (beating) the ravens WR situation (dead horse). Mark Clayton, despite returning to practice this week and declaring himself available for the game, will be held out by Coach John Harbaugh. This will give the slew of guys competing behind Clayton some more precious reps to show that they can be the consistent option on the outside that B’More desperately needs. Kelley Washington has played well, but Demetrius Williams, Justin Harper, Jayson Foster, et al. need to step up, lest the Ravens be forced to hit the waiver wire over the next several weeks. Some sources have them coveting whatever WR the Philadelphia Eagles decide to cast off.

As always, the main point of focus in a preseason game is for everyone to come out healthy. These items (and more) though, will give us plenty of other sports-talk fodder for run up to the regular season opener.

How about you, see anything I missed?

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Getting down to 53: The final days of training camp

Posted on 18 August 2009 by Luke Jones

We’re in the final week of training camp in Westminster, but the Ravens do not need to make any cuts until Sept. 1, when they must trim the roster to 75 players.  The team must then narrow down to the regular season number of 53 by Sept. 5.

For those begging for help at the wide receiver position, the late cut dates mean any veteran receiver that could possibly shake free and help the cause in Baltimore probably won’t be available until right before the regular season.

I’ve listed the number of players I predict the Ravens to keep at each position in parentheses. This list does not include the practice squad of eight players the Ravens will keep in addition to the 53-man roster.

QUARTERBACKS (3)
LOCK: Joe Flacco, Troy Smith, John Beck
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: Cleo Lemon, Drew Willy
Skinny: It’s been an interesting week regarding quarterbacks, but Cam Cameron made it clear the Ravens are still committed to Beck as the No. 3 guy.  Smith’s play in the preseason has further cemented his status as the backup to Flacco.

RUNNING BACKS (5)
LOCK: Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain
BUBBLE: Jalen Parmele, Matt Lawrence, Cedric Peerman
LONGSHOT: Jason Cook
Skinny: Parmele is a favorite of Cameron, and Lawrence impressed during the preseason opener last week.  Peerman appears to currently trail these two on the depth chart.  Despite being the only other fullback behind McClain on the roster, Cook appears to be a candidate for the practice squad at this point.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
LOCK: Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams, Kelley Washington
BUBBLE: Justin Harper, Yamon Figurs, Jayson Foster
LONG SHOT: Biren Ealy, Bradon Godfrey, Eron Riley, Ernie Wheelwright
Skinny: Losing Marcus Smith for the season is a major blow to the special teams units, an area in which the second-year receiver thrived.  Williams’ inability to remain healthy continues to frustrate the staff.  Harper has a ton of potential but is very inconsistent.  Foster has put his name into consideration with a good performance against the Redskins and an ability to make plays during practice.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
LOCK: Todd Heap, L.J. Smith
BUBBLE: Edgar Jones, Davon Drew
LONG SHOT: Isaac Smolko
Skinny: Drew continues to be very quiet on the practice field.  Jones is a good special teams player and has played some H-back during camp.  His ability to play linebacker if needed makes him a valuable commodity on the 53-man roster.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LOCK: Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Chris Chester, Michael Oher, Marshal Yanda, Oniel Cousins
BUBBLE: David Hale, Tre Stallings, Joe Reitz
LONG SHOT: Robby Felix, Stefan Rodgers, Bryan Mattison
Skinny: The team should definitely look to add a veteran tackle, because Cousins is too inconsistent as the third tackle, but he’s improved from last season. Hale’s ability to play both guard and center will likely land him on the roster.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)
LOCK: Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata, Trevor Pryce, Justin Bannan
BUBBLE: Dwan Edwards, Brandon McKinney, Kelly Talavou
LONG SHOT: Will Johnson, Nader Abdallah
Skinny: Edwards and McKinney are the favorites to land the final two defensive line spots on the roster.

LINEBACKERS (10)
LOCK: Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Tavares Gooden, Antwan Barnes, Jameel McClain, Paul Kruger, Brendon Ayanbadejo
BUBBLE: Jason Phillips, Dannell Ellerbe, Prescott Burgess
LONG SHOT: Tony Fein, Will VanDeSteeg
Skinny: Ellerbe’s knee sprain was a disappointment considering how much he’s impressed over the last two weeks.  Burgess has been around for a couple years, but will it be enough?

CORNERBACKS (6)
LOCK: Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, Chris Carr, Lardarius Webb, Samari Rolle, Frank Walker
BUBBLE: K.J. Gerard, Evan Oglesby, Derrick Martin
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Rolle’s health continues to be a concern.  Walker is probably safe because his physical style is much different than the other pure cover guys in the secondary.  Considering how many talented, young linebackers are currently on the roster, I predict the Ravens will go with 10 backers and only six corners.  If they go with seven corners, Gerard, Oglesby, and Martin are all in the mix.  Martin has seen reps at both safety and corner this summer.

SAFETIES (4)
LOCK: Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, Haruki Nakamura, Tom Zbikowski
BUBBLE:
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: No drama at this position.  These four are locks.

KICKER (1)
LOCK: None
BUBBLE: Graham Gano, Steve Hauschka
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: It’s been a very close race so far, with Hauschka possibly holding the slightest of edges.  There are still three preseason games to clarify the picture.

PUNTER (1)
LOCK: Sam Koch
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Koch practiced some field goals this week to be prepared in an emergency situation.

LONG SNAPPER (1)
LOCK: Matt Katula
BUBBLE: None
LONG SHOT: None
Skinny: Ngata is the backup field goal snapper, and McGahee is the No. 2 long snapper for punts.  Let’s hope neither has to be called into action.

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