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With Ravens fans snickering at Mason, has Boldin received a free pass in Baltimore?

Posted on 12 October 2011 by Luke Jones

After Derrick Mason’s abrupt departure from the New York Jets on Tuesday night, many fans have offered their zingers and potshots at the former Ravens receiver, whose poor production and crumbling relationship with the Jets coaching staff led to him being traded to the Houston Texans for a seventh-round pick.

While I couldn’t resist making a snide comment or two about the whole situation, I’m mystified at the amount of disdain hurled toward the Ravens’ all-time leading receiver who caught 29 touchdowns in his six seasons in Baltimore. Yes, he could be a cranky diva — not unlike most productive wide receivers, mind you — but far too many are discrediting his work. The reliability he provided for a rookie quarterback named Joe Flacco, who was thrown into the starting lineup out of necessity in 2008, turned a potentially disastrous situation into one of the most enjoyable seasons the Ravens have ever had and sparked a promising career of a franchise quarterback.

Yes, it was time for Mason and the team to part ways, especially with the 37-year-old’s high salary-cap number in 2011, as many expected his production to be absorbed by veteran Anquan Boldin in his second season with the Ravens.

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And that brings us to a different topic entirely.

Through four games in 2011, Boldin has just 15 catches for 222 yards and a lone touchdown catch on the Ravens’ first drive of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11. It follows his 2010 season in which the former Arizona Cardinals wideout caught 64 balls for 837 yards and seven touchdowns. The only season in which Boldin had fewer receptions and receiving yards was his second season in 2004 when he played in only 10 games.

In comparison, Mason has 13 receptions for 115 yards in five games as the No. 3 receiver in New York before the trade to Houston on Tuesday. I mention this not to suggest that the Ravens should have kept Mason, but it poses an interesting, and largely unspoken, question with Boldin’s numbers not exactly blowing Mason’s out of the water by leaps and bounds.

Has Boldin received too much of a pass in his first 20 regular-season games in Baltimore?

We’ve seen all the explanations.

He, Mason, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were too similar in what they did best as receivers.

Boldin matches up against the opposition’s No. 1 cornerback and deals with bracketed coverage on a regular basis.

Flacco hasn’t developed the same rapport with Boldin as he enjoyed with Mason and doesn’t target him enough while going through his progressions.

And — of course — it’s offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s fault for not finding better ways to get the ball to Boldin in the offense.

While all of these explanations undoubtedly factor into the equation to varying degrees, at what point do we begin to wonder whether the Ravens really got their money’s worth when trading third- and fourth-round picks to Arizona a year ago and signing Boldin to a three-year, $25 million extension through 2013 with $10 million guaranteed?

When do we begin looking at Boldin himself?

That’s not to say Boldin has been a bad player in Baltimore. Far from it, in fact. The 31-year-old has shown mostly-reliable hands other than a critical drop in the end zone in the fourth quarter of the Ravens’ heartbreaking 31-24 loss to the Steelers in the AFC divisional round last January. He had three 100-yard games a year ago, including a three-touchdown explosion against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3.

But, he’s yet to show himself as even a proper replacement for Mason during his best seasons in Baltimore, much less the impact receiver Ravens fans thought they were getting a season ago.

For those pointing to the injury of Lee Evans and the lack of talented receivers to deflect attention from Boldin, Mason wasn’t exactly reaping the benefits of playing opposite Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams over the years, but he still found ways to be very productive.

The great ones are able to find space to get open in order to produce, even when the circumstances are far from ideal as they are right now in Baltimore, with the Ravens relying heavily on unproven rookie receivers in Evans’ absence.

With the offense still searching for its identity in an otherwise successful 3-1 start, the Ravens would sure benefit from a Mason-like — or even better — boost from Boldin, in whom they invested a lot after seven superb seasons in Arizona where he became the fastest player to reach 400, 500, and 600 catches in NFL history.

We’ve seen flashes of the Boldin who teamed with Larry Fitzgerald to form one of the most feared receiving tandems of the last decade, but the consistency just hasn’t been there to the degree that anyone expected.

Perhaps the surge is finally coming after the bye when you consider the lack of an offseason and how that might have stunted his development with Flacco. Or, maybe this is all we’re going to get from Boldin.

So, before we continue finding amusement in what’s amounted to a humbling conclusion to Mason’s playing career — yes, much of it his own doing — ask yourself a question.

Are we sure the Ravens are really that much better off without him?

Boldin’s numbers don’t support it.

At least, not yet.

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Overcoming a trainwreck weekend and starting anew …..

Posted on 17 January 2011 by Rex Snider

I cannot recall the last time I greeted a Monday with such enthusiasm. Like nearly every other sane person, I usually kick and scream my way into accepting the reality of another work week.

But, today is quite different. I just want to get started – on putting this past weekend and its disastrous chain of moments and events behind me. Indeed, this is the official beginning of my NEW YEAR …..

It doesn’t mean I won’t agonize, at times, over the Ravens loss in Saturday’s divisional playoff game with the Steelers. Heck, I will never forget it. But, as Ray Lewis said “you can only get better, that’s all you can do”; so, I’m inspired not to dwell on this defeat, either.

We’re always going to complain about officiating. And, Saturday’s holding penalty that negated Lardarius Webb’s returned punt for a touchdown represents an official’s ability to impact a game with poor decisions. That said, every team suffers a fair share of questionable penalties.

The game wasn’t lost on the Webb play, nor Anquan Boldin’s dropped touchdown pass, or T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s failure to extend the Ravens final drive. All three of these plays could’ve led to a win, but they certainly don’t define the loss, itself.

Everybody knows how the game was lost – TURNOVERS.

Surrendering the ball inside your own 25 yard line, on three consecutive possessions will likely seal one’s fate, right? Well, it will at least surrender a two touchdown lead.

Good teams can and will make such mistakes. Great teams, however, usually capitalize upon such blunders. Today, that’s really the essence of how the most disappointing loss in Ravens history can be summed up. The Ravens cracked the door, and the Steelers kicked it in …..

Today is not just a new beginning for me. It also marks the first day of the next chapter for the Ravens, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots. All of these franchises can and will make changes – you can bet on that.

Here, in Baltimore, the popular consensus is Cam Cameron will be the greatest casualty of this past season’s fallout. Whether it’s the questionable play calling, sporadic offensive production or unrealized potentials, the artist of the offensive schemes is the rumored soul to be paying with his job.

However, I will offer up an additional “mitigating” reason for making a change at offensive coordinator. Perhaps, we’re confronting a potential crossroads with Joe Flacco and his command of an offense. With three seasons completely in the books, a fair argument exists with this quarterback …..

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This is Baltimore, you can help in winning this game .....

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This is Baltimore, you can help in winning this game …..

Posted on 12 January 2011 by Rex Snider

As we stand just a few days away from this latest showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, many of us are starting to imagine a proposed sequence of events unfolding at Heinz Field.

If you share my optimistic “feel” for this matchup, you’ll likely envision a game that features some very grueling and aggressive play from both sides of the field, right? I think we all expect to see the typical hardnosed style of football, which has been branded by the NFL’s most intense rivalry.

There will be at least a couple broken plays where Roethlisberger escapes Ravens defenders and finds his tight end for a crucial first down …..

On the flip side, Polamalu will likely get sniffed out on one of his blitzes; leaving a Houshmandzadeh or Mason wide open downfield …..

Don’t get too overconfident, I’m sure that even a “bearded” Flacco suffers a smashing visit or two, from Mr. Harrison ….

We just need to hope Lewis, Ngata, Suggs and company can deliver a more punishing effort against the Steelers offense ….

Whatever it takes to win the contest, right? After all, a trip to the AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME for a 2nd time in 3 years hangs in the balance. Obviously, we all feel a guarded optimism as Saturday inches even closer.

However, as this week comes to an end and a final result is realized in this latest chapter of slugfest football, the truth is life will go on. Win or lose, the sun will rise on Sunday morning and every day afterwards.

And, this is where today’s story and message becomes much more meaningful than anything we can feel from a football game …..

Last Saturday, my friends, Scott and Heather Speert lost their Westminster home to the one enemy homeowners fear most; a FIRE. Their loss included every furnishing, belonging and article of clothing owned by the family …..

Scott and Heather are blessed with the greatest gift that could emerge from such a tragedy; their son and daughter escaped the fire unharmed. However, the reality is their lives are in an extremely vulnerable state, right now.

They are surrounded by family and comforted under a warm roof by those who love them most. But, they have an immense challenge before them, as they cope with trying to rebuild their lives and ultimately a home in the harshest time of year.

The winter’s cold – which delivered a few inches of snow, last night, is one of the greatest challenges the Speert’s will face in dealing with the immediate aftermath and fallout from losing their home. As I said, they lost every piece of clothing – except what they wore upon their backs !!!!

But, these circumstances also serve as a very vivid representation of what WE AS A COMMUNITY can do to help the Speerts in their greatest time of need …..

They need clothing …. and they need it NOW.

The cost will not be minimal, as the Speerts are faced with furnishing both inner and outerwear for a total of four family members. But, as I’ve said, it’s an absolute necessity in these coldest months of the year.

I’m inspired with hope by my knowledge and experience in this WNST community. I know you’re generous and sensitive to the needs of neighbors. At WNST, we’re your community sports source, and you’re our stakeholder, right?

Together, WNST and the Baltimore community have done very special things – especially when it comes to helping our needy and ill. Today, we have special opportunity to help a different cause; a neighbor family that has simply been beset by tragedy.

In truth, the Speerts find themselves in circumstances that could affect any family, in Baltimore and beyond. Last week, they had the things many of us are taking for granted. Today, all of those things are gone.

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Top 5 moments of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry

Posted on 12 January 2011 by Luke Jones

Saturday marks the 33rd meeting (including playoffs) between the Ravens and Steelers in the 15 years since the NFL returned to Baltimore.

With Pittsburgh holding a 20-12 all-time edge and always coming out on top when the stakes are at their highest, the highlights are admittedly scarce from the Baltimore perspective despite the matchup blossoming into the most intense rivalry in the NFL. A conflict bred from off-field venom and disdain (circa 2001) has morphed into mutual respect and even tighter competition in recent years as the last six meetings in the regular season have been decided by four or fewer points (the Steelers won 23-14 victory in the 2008 AFC Championship).

The divisional-round encounter will add another memorable chapter to Baltimore-Pittsburgh lore, but before looking ahead to potential triumph or bitter disappointment, we look back at the top 5 moments (with a couple honorable mentions added for good measure) in the history of Ravens vs. Steelers — from the Baltimore perspective.

And for our Pittsburgh brethren lurking and ready to chime in, be sure to check back later in the week for the five worst moments in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry.

Honorable mention >>>

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FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 06: Tom Brady  of the New England Patriots greets teammates during warms up against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 6, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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I hope the Ravens watched Monday Night Football …..

Posted on 07 December 2010 by Rex Snider

When I plopped down into my Lazy Boy recliner for last night’s showdown between the New England Patriots and New York Jets, I prepared myself for a second straight night of hard fought football between two hated rivals.

Yet, what I observed was an absolute dismantling of a team that has flirted with LOSING for the last six weeks …..

Last night, Rex Ryan and his Jets were “schooled” by the quarterback and coach who’ve served as their obsession in the AFC-East. To say it was a beatdown kinda falls short of the absolute mastery displayed by the Patriots.

I was not surprised to see the Jets lose the game, but I was absolutely stunned to see Mark Sanchez and company get their heads handed to them. They’ve played excruciatingly close contests with the Lions, Browns and Texans over the past month, and whispers of OVERRATED have been getting louder and louder.

I’ll humbly admit that seeing Rex Ryan and GANG GREEN suffering a one-sided loss was pretty satisfying. I really, really like Rex and I think his personality will ultimately lead him down the path of becoming our generation’s next “John Madden” personality.

But, I’ve still got the putrid, pompous taste of last summer’s HARD KNOCKS burned into my short term memory. Based solely on the swagger and ego of the Jets, I’ve wanted to see them throttled. Thus, I found last night’s result to be pretty pleasurable.

However, I think this game really served a greater purpose, especially for a team like the Baltimore Ravens …..

I hope those minds assembled within the Ravens offensive braintrust were watching the Patriots bludgeoning of their divisional rival. I don’t care where they were watching, so long as they got a good look at it.

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 06: Tom Brady  of the New England Patriots greets teammates during warms up against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 6, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Why? It’s simple …. that’s how you kick another team’s ass !!!!

That’s how you find weaknesses and exploit them. That’s how you seize an early lead and methodically dissect an opposing defense, while ultimately forcing their offense to change its gameplan.

Call it what you will, the Patriots served up a blueprint for talented offenses around the National Football League …..

If you’re sitting back and thinking “well, the Patriots have Tom Brady,” that’s fine and certainly noteworthy, but the rest of their cast is arguably lesser talented than the playmakers comprising the Ravens offensive attack.

I’ll take Ray Rice and Willis McGahee over Ben Jarvis Green Ellis and Danny Woodhead ….

I’ll take Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh over Wes Welker, Brandon Tate and Deion Branch ….

Admittedly, the Patriots probably have a stronger offensive line; they’re certainly healthier. But, Brady isn’t solely dependent upon pocket protection. He typically holds the ball for an incredibly brief second or two, before hitting one of his targets for a usual 5-8 yard gain on a quick route.

The Patriots are innovative, yet predictably methodical in their unveiling of a singular strategy that usually emphasizes on wounding a defense, before bleeding them to death over a stretch of 60 minutes.

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ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 11: Roddy White  of the Atlanta Falcons pulls in this reception against Lardarius Webb  of the Baltimore Ravens at Georgia Dome on November 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Falcons win stunner over Ravens

Posted on 12 November 2010 by Chris Pika

It’s fortunate that the Ravens will have 10 days to regroup after a stunning 26-21 loss at Atlanta in a game that Baltimore seemingly had won with 1:05 to play in the Georgia Dome in a battle of two teams that seemed like mirror images of one another in 2010.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense had struggled for the better part of three quarters, trailing 13-0 before storming back with two touchdowns in a span of 4:37 late in the fourth quarter to take a 21-20 lead on a 9-yard TD catch by tight end Todd Heap.

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 11: Roddy White  of the Atlanta Falcons pulls in this reception against Lardarius Webb  of the Baltimore Ravens at Georgia Dome on November 11, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

But the other quarterback in the constant comparison of 2008 first-round draft picks, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, drove the Falcons 80 yards in seven plays and 45 seconds to win the game on a gutsy pass play to wide receiver Roddy White with 20 seconds left.

With Atlanta driving at the Baltimore 33 for what most thought would be a game-winning field goal attempt, Ryan rolled left and hit White at the 17, and White danced into the end zone for the 33-yard touchdown.

The Falcons were put in position to win on the previous play. Atlanta faced third-and-10 at the Ravens 41, and Ryan threw over the middle to tight end Tony Gonzalez, who was ridden to the turf for a defensive pass interference call on Baltimore’s Tavares Gooden.

The resulting 8-yard penalty gave the Falcons an automatic first down at the 33, and Atlanta cashed in. After the touchdown, the Falcons went for two points, but failed when Ed Reed picked off Ryan’s pass attempt.

Atlanta was also helped by an earlier third-and-10 catch for 24 yards by wide receiver Michael Jenkins during the drive. Jenkins appeared to juggle the ball as he went out of bounds. The replay booth upheld the call on the field, and the Falcons had a first down at their 44.

Baltimore’s David Reed made an ill-advised return of the ensuing kickoff, and was upended at the Ravens 9 with 16 seconds left. Three plays later, a fumble out of bounds after a catch by T.J. Houshmandzadeh ended a frustrating night for the Ravens.

The Ravens marched 72 yards in eight plays to take a 21-20 lead with 1:05 left. Flacco found wide receiver Anquan Boldin on a 9-yard pass on third down to the Atlanta 35 to keep the drive going. Three plays later, Flacco gunned a bullet into the end zone that Heap caught, but dropped to the ground after taking a couple of steps. The play was reviewed by the replay booth and upheld, and Billy Cundiff’s extra point gave Baltimore its first lead of the game.

But it was not enough as Ryan and the Falcons found a way through a tired Ravens defense at the end.

Ryan finished 32 of 50 passing for 316 yards and three touchdowns. White caught 12 of his 17 targeted passes for 138 yards and two scores.

Flacco finished 22 of 34 for 215 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He hit eight different receivers, including Boldin five times for 50 yards and a touchdown, and Heap four times for 57 yards and the late TD.

Atlanta was held to 60 yards rushing on 23 carries – paced by Michael Turner’s 39 yards on 17 attempts, while Baltimore got 116 yards on 21 rushes, led by Ray Rice, who ran the ball 12 times for 59 yards.

It was obvious from the start that the Falcons wanted to throw the ball on offense after most expected Atlanta to try to use Turner a lot early on.

The first quarter was nothing more than a punt-fest as each team had to kick away twice. Sam Koch’s second punt pinned the Falcons at their 9 with 3:02 left in the quarter, but Ryan began to find his groove.

Ryan completed four consecutive passes as the first quarter ended with the Falcons sitting on the Ravens 44. Ryan kept passing, and eventually the Ravens were able to drop White for a four-yard loss back to the Ravens 28.

On the next play, Ryan rolled out and found backup running back Jason Snelling alone on the right side. Snelling caught the ball 4 yards past the line of scrimmage, got a head of steam, and broke the grasp of Dawan Landry to score on a 28-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 11:24 left in the first half.

Baltimore did very little on their next possession, and a Koch punt pinned the Falcons deep again at their 7 midway through the second quarter.

Atlanta got out to their 27 and was forced to punt, but Lardarius Webb didn’t keep a strong hold on the ball during the return and it was stripped out. After a long discussion by Ron Winter’s officiating crew, the Falcons had recovered at the Ravens 43.

The Falcons methodically used the clock and took 12 plays, including a key third-down illegal contact call on Dannell Ellerbe, to stretch their lead to 10-0 just before the half on a Matt Bryant 28-yard field goal.

The Ravens had just 17 offensive plays in the half to Atlanta’s 43 (28 passes), and the Falcons had the ball for 21:14.

The Ravens second turnover of the game was costly as Flacco was picked off by Brent Grimes at the Baltimore 39 early in the third quarter. The Falcons needed just four plays for Bryant to kick a long 51-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead with 12:51 left.

Baltimore showed signs of life on its next possession as the Ravens went back to the run game. The Ravens moved 65 yards in 10 plays to score on a Flacco 5-yard pass to Boldin with 6:50 left in the quarter, as Baltimore cut the margin to 13-7.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons were the recipient of a key call against Terrell Suggs. On third-and-10 at the Ravens’ 33, Suggs was flagged for a facemask penalty that gave the Falcons a first down at the Baltimore 13 after it was tacked on to the end of a 7-yard pass to Snelling.

Three plays later, Ryan rolled out and led White across the end zone for a 4-yard TD pass and a 20-7 lead with 11:34 left to go.

The Ravens took over after White’s TD, and Flacco moved the offense methodically on an 11-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by a 6-yard TD toss to Derrick Mason with 5:42 to play to pull Baltimore to 20-14.

Atlanta racked up 362 yards of total offense to Baltimore’s 320. The Falcons were 12 of 20 on third downs, and had the ball for 35:09. The Ravens were 6 for 11 on thirds, and were penalized six times for 51 yards.

The Ravens (6-3) will be back in action next Sunday against another NFC South foe, as Baltimore travels to Carolina. The Falcons (7-2) travel to St. Louis next Sunday.

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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It was bound to happen; Ravens give game away

Posted on 18 October 2010 by Rex Snider

When it comes to yesterday’s loss to the New England Patriots, I suppose John Harbaugh’s team could point fingers in a few differing directions.

But, as we know, that’s not how the Baltimore Ravens absorb losses. Well, that’s not the way they publicly accept a loss, anyway.

In quite the contradictory manner, it’s EXACTLY how we cope with seeing the Ravens lose to a team it led by double digits, with a little less than 12 minutes remaining in the game.  Venting and casting culpability eases our frustration, right?

And, all of us think a certain component(s) of the team must shoulder these embarrassing meltdowns. That’s what yesterday’s ultimate loss to the Patriots became …..

AN EMBARRASSMENT.

I can sit here and reasonably suspect many folks are going to blame some prime individuals, both IN and OUT of uniform. That’s a fair assessment – and respective units had their own shortcomings, as well. But, in the end, the Baltimore Ravens lost their second game of the season, period.

Is it frustrating? Sure it is …. I absolutely believe the Ravens are assembled as a more talented team. But, yesterday’s disintegration of their energy and overall effectiveness really causes the more casual mind to take notice. Imagine what Bill Belichick must have been thinking?

Wanna blame the defense? They could’ve played better in the 4th quarter – they surrendered a DOUBLE DIGIT lead, when it mattered most.

Wanna blame the offense? Beginning with the Billy Cundiff field goal to start the 4th quarter, the Ravens offense had nearly 30 minutes of clock, (OT included), 5 possessions and 25 touches to squeeze out an additional 3 points and they couldn’t do it. Say what you will, they squandered unfulfilled opportunities.

After all, it’s not as if Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and Rodney Harrison were nailing down the Patriots defensive attack. But, I suppose Belichick’s young, inexperienced unit found its game in the final stages.

Wanna blame the special teams? Why not, they’re not above a critical assessment. The Ravens continue to improvise with punt returns, employing the likes of Tom Zbikowski, Chris Carr and a few others. Meanwhile, the Patriots rely upon a dynamic set of legs, in Wes Welker.

The Ravens have talent capable of excelling in an explosive return game. Yet, we’re led to believe the team is not willing to compromise health of crucial playmakers at the impending expense of injury. This reservation must not weigh too heavily on Bill Belichick’s mind – after all, he’s using his best receiver, who is bouncing back from a 2009 injury, to return punts.

Injury risk? Welcome to the NFL …..

As for specific impact of special teams production on yesterday’s game, just consider each team’s respective field position when taking over possession in the 4th quarter and overtime. The Ravens had an average starting position on their own 21 yard line, whereas, the Patriots started on their own 30 yard line, overall.

Aside from simple numbers, the Patriots feature more explosive threats in the kick/punt return game. In fact, on the game winning drive, Tom Brady assumed possession on the team’s own 38 yard line. I sensed the game was over before he took a snap during that series.

Wanna blame the coaching staff? Go ahead …. they deserve it. From Greg Mattison’s devotion to pursuing pressure with 3 upfront defenders, to Jerry Rosburg’s commitment to assembling a “who’s dat?” return corps and Cam Cameron’s evident fallback commitment to the “simpler things in life”, the coaching staff is not above reproach.

In fact, perceived coaching decisions can be one of the most frustrating elements fueling yesterday’s disappointing loss.

Why not use a more explosive player for punt returns? So, he’s vital to the offense or defense …. but, so is the return game.

Why not apply a different look to the pressure aimed at Tom Brady? When the dude sitting at home knows who’s chasing down the opponent’s quarterback, BEFORE IT HAPPENS, it might be time to get a little more creative.

Why throw more passes to Ray Rice (i.e. – dumpoffs) in overtime, than any other player? Was that really working in the quest of moving the ball? Was Anquan Boldin thoroughly covered? Was T.J. Hoshmandzadeh thoroughly covered? Was Derrick Mason thoroughly covered?

Yesterday’s game was absolutely a team effort. And, as a team, it was given away. Call it bad play calling. Call it poor execution. Call it anything you want …..

The defense gave up a double digit lead. The offense couldn’t score 3 more points. The return game was stuck in idle …. and reverse. The coaching was VANILLA-LITE.

In truth, the best team actually stood across the field, yesterday. The best team won the game. When they’re leading in the 4th quarter, they don’t grind it out and try killing the clock. They look to score more points and kill the opponent.

Conversely, if they’re behind, they’ll take any opportunity you give them.

That’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

If you’re willing to give them the game, they’ll take it. And, that’s exactly what they did yesterday.

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Was Sunday a ‘Dilfer-like’ epiphany for Flacco?

Posted on 05 October 2010 by Luke Jones

You just knew it was coming.

On a rainy, dreary start to the work week in Baltimore, fans bask in the afterglow of one of the finest regular season wins in franchise history. The Ravens went to Pittsburgh and did exactly what they had been unable to do since 2006.

Ben Roethlisberger or not — and Steelers fans are doing everything they can to remind you the Super Bowl-winning quarterback was missing from yesterday’s game — critics can no longer question whether Joe Flacco can win at Heinz Field. The third-year quarterback finally orchestrated a game-winning, comeback drive in the final seconds, even if a major assist went to the Baltimore defense for setting him up on a short field.

And with Sunday’s win vaulting the Ravens into the national eye as the slight front runner among legitimate Super Bowl contenders at the quarter pole, I began thinking about Trent Dilfer.

Yes, he is still the most revered quarterback in franchise history with the Ravens sporting a laundry list of failures and journeymen at the quarterback position over their 15-year history.

With Sunday’s enormous victory, someone had to bring up the Super Bowl XXXV winners and the quarterback who led — or managed — them to victory. It happens every time the Ravens win a big game and find themselves looking like legitimate title contenders.

In reality, my recollection of Dilfer as I watched Flacco throw the game-winning, 18-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 32 seconds remaining had nothing to do with the two quarterbacks as performers. Flacco is already more accomplished statistically than Dilfer ever was and will be asked to do far more than the former Tampa Bay quarterback did in the 2000 season. Dilfer has the Super Bowl ring that Flacco lacks, but there is no debate that Flacco is the better quarterback, even if only starting his third NFL season.

However, watching Flacco exorcise some early-career demons in the fourth quarter Sunday reminded me of Dilfer’s biggest regular season victory that set the tone for the remainder of the season. It came against the Tennessee Titans — then the Ravens’ biggest rival — at Adelphia Coliseum on Nov. 12, 2000.

Still getting his feet wet in the Baltimore offense after replacing Tony Banks several weeks before, the biggest knock on Dilfer had been his inevitable habit of making a disastrous mistake to cost his team the game. It happened over and over again during his time with the Buccaneers, a major reason he was jettisoned after six seasons.

With the game tied 17-17 and the Ravens driving for the game-winning score, Dilfer inexplicably threw an interception to Titans safety Perry Phenix who returned it 87 yards for a touchdown and a 23-17 Tennessee lead with 2:30 remaining. Anyone following Dilfer’s career could only throw up his hands and say, “Here we go again.”

The exact words uttered by many as Flacco threw incomplete to Anquan Boldin on fourth down from the Pittsburgh 2 with 2:40 remaining.

Another failure in a big spot.

Or so it seemed, as we would find out just a few minutes later.

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After his gaffe, Dilfer dusted himself off and marched the Ravens down the field, culminating with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Johnson with 25 seconds remaining. It not only gave the Ravens a 24-23 victory over the defending AFC champions, but the win showed Baltimore could go into Nashville and beat the Titans, something no one had accomplished since the stadium opened the previous season.

The rest was history as the Ravens did not lose again that season, which included another trip to Adelphia Coliseum where they beat the Titans again in the divisional round on their way to a Super Bowl victory.

Only time will tell whether Sunday’s win at Heinz Field was an epiphany for Flacco and the Ravens or more an aberration with Roethlisberger out of the lineup for Pittsburgh. As important as the win appears in the big picture, it currently represents a single victory and an early lead in the competitive AFC North heading into Week 5.

“It was very exciting,” said Flacco Monday afternoon. “It was one of the greatest wins we’ve had since I’ve been here. It was a great win, but honestly, we’ve already moved on [to the next game].”

His intended message is clear, but we know better. The jubilation expressed by the normally stoic Flacco in the final seconds Sunday signified a proverbial monkey being lifted from his back. It was only one step — his struggles against Cincinnati and Indianapolis will continue to give his critics ammunition — but it sure felt like a big one in the young quarterback’s career.

In Dilfer’s case, the psychological lift provided by the Week 11 win in Nashville gave him the confidence to lead the offense exactly where it needed to go down the stretch, albeit with a far more conservative approach than the Ravens’ current offensive attack.

If Flacco goes on to reach new heights in his NFL career, we will look back at Sunday’s victory as a keystone moment where the young quarterback grew up even more than he did over five playoff games in his first two seasons.

He now has a last-minute comeback victory in Pittsburgh to draw from his psyche when placed in similar positions in the future. How he will fare is anyone’s guess, but you have to like his chances far more today than you did when he walked to the Baltimore sideline with 2:40 remaining in the fourth quarter as a frenzied crowd prematurely thought the Steelers had done it again to Flacco and the Ravens.

Perhaps they will find themselves back at Heinz Field in January, much like the 2000 team traveled to Tennessee again later that season. If they do, winning again will be a daunting task, but far more feasible than it appeared before Sunday.

When you do something once, you can always do it again.

Just ask Dilfer.

It will be fun to see where Flacco goes from this point forward.

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Houshmandzadeh - Another Fulfilled Example Of "Buyer Beware" ???

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Houshmandzadeh – Another Fulfilled Example Of “Buyer Beware” ???

Posted on 01 October 2010 by Rex Snider

When that WNST.net text flashed across the screen of your phone, the excitement started to overflow, right?

“T.J. Houshmandzadeh signs 1 year deal with Ravens” …..

Many of us ….. umm, scratch that …..

Nearly ALL of us thought Ozzie Newsome and his cronies just pulled the equivalent of a late night stickup at the local 7-11 store. And, we had good reason to think the Ravens cup runneth over on this particular deal.

Think about it …..

T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a sure-handed, veteran wide receiver. He is quite familiar with the AFC-North. He is a guy who backs up all his jawing on the field.

Oh yeah, and he came here from Seattle.

Baltimore has a recent run of success when importing players from Seattle …..
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Say what you will, but for all the bubble gum popping and easily-distracted maneuvers of Adam Jones, I would trade away Erik Bedard for his services a MILLION times over.

Thus, I have that buoyed optimism whenever something from Seattle arrives.

But, indeed, there is a malfunction in my madness …..

T.J. Houshmanzadeh does not play baseball. And, more importantly, the Seattle Seahawks didn’t trade him away; they gave him away. They didn’t ask for Mark Clayton. They didn’t ask for Prince Miller. They didn’t even ask for a crate of crabcakes or an autographed Elvis Grbac jersey …..
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The Seahawks were so eager to jettison Houshmandzadeh that they ATE his 2010 salary just to rid themslves of him. If you’re counting the beans, that’s $7 million in big bills.

Yet, all of us looked past that.

We envisioned the same T.J. Houshmandzadeh who tormented us with end zone catches in a Bengals uniform. Uh, speaking of the Bengals …. he’s the same T.J. Houshmandzadeh who dropped four passes, in Cincinnati, just two weeks ago.

Now, this morning, we’re learning that Houshmandzadeh is surprised at his lack of participation in the Ravens offense.

HERE’S THE LINK

Really?

Hmmm ….. he should try standing in the shoes of Pierre Garcon, in Indianapolis. That’s right, if you develop the “dropsies” in Indy, #18 looks elsewhere. And, you’re obligated to re-prove yourself over time.

This is absolutely GREAT. The Ravens are preparing for a road game against their nemesis, in Pittsburgh. T.J. Houshmandzadeh has played in this division; he knows the importance of battling the Steelers.

Yet, he’s chosen one of the most inconvenient times to question his role.

God bless Drew Forrester. He said this day was coming …..

Is there a silver lining to this drama? You bet. I take great comfort in knowing this guy will NEVER, EVER allow a verbal distraction to sabotage his team …..
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Ahh ….. I feel better already.

Happy Friday !!!!!

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Ravens shy from run, die by gun in loss to Bengals

Posted on 20 September 2010 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens offense mends its broken wings after a four-turnover debacle in Sunday’s 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the irrational cries for backup quarterback Marc Bulger and panic throughout the city is hardly surprising despite being wrapped in complete absurdity.

Little good can be taken from the defeat — against a team that swept the Ravens last season en route to the AFC North crown — other than another impressive defensive effort further enhanced by the return of cornerback Lardarius Webb, adding another key piece to a secondary puzzle suddenly looking far less problematic that originally feared.

However, the 1-1 Ravens find themselves in an all-too-familiar position with problems on the offensive side of the football despite the additions of former Pro Bowl receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the anticipated progress of third-year quarterback Joe Flacco.

Previously approaching deity status in the realm of local sports after leading Baltimore to the postseason in each of his first two seasons, Flacco suddenly finds himself under the most intense scrutiny he’s faced as a professional. Deficiencies previously assumed to be overcome in his third full season — with an increased number of offensive weapons — are now being labeled as roadblocks that might hinder the Ravens’ path to a deep postseason run in January 2011.

No sugarcoating can defend the awful play of the former Delaware quarterback on Sunday. He looked uncomfortable — with or without pressure in his face — and displayed terrible technique in throwing off his back foot repeatedly. Flacco forced throws into tight coverage and failed to see a wide-open Boldin streaking down the right sideline late in the first quarter for a potential touchdown that would have changed the tempo of the game. It was the type of performance expected from a rookie, not a third-year quarterback picked to win the league MVP award by a few national pundits.

Whether you are a believer in Flacco as the savior or have repeatedly pointed out his inability to read the middle of the field and go through his progressions quickly enough, no one can disagree his degree of incompetence on Sunday was extreme. It was, as many have pointed out in the hours following the loss, “Boller”-esque.

Why did it happen?

Of course, a variety of factors were at work, one being the Bengals having a pretty good defense that matches up well with the quarterback’s main weaknesses.

And this is where a large portion of blame lies with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Even before Sunday’s game, the book was out regarding Flacco’s struggles against the Cover 2 defense, with two losses to the Bengals and the playoff loss to Indianapolis a season ago as strong evidence.

Why then did the Ravens have just 23 runs against 39 pass attempts in a game in which Flacco was clearly struggling to find any semblance of competence let alone a rhythm.  Unlike the second loss to the Bengals in 2009 and the playoff defeat to the Colts in which the Ravens fell behind early, at no point did the Ravens need to abandon the run until falling behind 15-10 with 2:48 remaining in the contest.

Instead, Rice was used sporadically (16 rushes) despite picking up 5.4 yards per carry and Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain might as well have stayed in Baltimore (four combined carries).

Even worse, Cameron insisted on calling passes from the shotgun formation repeatedly, even in situations where the Bengals would have been guessing run or pass with Flacco under center.

In all, Flacco made 26 of his 39 attempts in the shotgun, completing only 10 for 78 yards. His 31-yard touchdown strike to Derrick Mason did come out of the formation, but so did the three second-half picks that helped seal the Ravens’ fate.

As simple as it sounds, the Cincinnati defense knew Flacco was throwing when working from the shotgun, making a passer who already struggles against the Cover 2 more predictable on top of that. While the Ravens occasionally call Ray Rice’s number from the formation, casual fans know the shotgun is used for obvious passing plays in most instances. Unless you’re Tom Brady and the 2007 Patriots, using the shotgun repeatedly will not lead to success. It tips your hand, which isn’t a problem on 3rd and long but isn’t what you want on 1st and 10.

Why make it so easy for the Bengals to figure out when a pass is coming in early-down situations?

While the shotgun does provide Flacco with a better look at the defense, it also makes the Baltimore offense more one-dimensional, taking a large number of running plays away from the equation as well as the play-action and roll-outs in which Flacco often finds success. In short, even if the Ravens insisted on passing instead of running, they needed to be far less predictable in their looks.

Instead, the Cincinnati corners locked onto receivers and the safeties settled into their deep halves, with little thought of the running game being a threat from the gun.

The shotgun can — and has been — a successful formation given Flacco’s comfort level in using it, but the look can be abused, as it was on Sunday.

Admittedly, Flacco struggled with pass plays under center (as he typically does in comparison to the shotgun) in the first half, failing to see an uncovered Boldin all alone down the sideline late in the first quarter and following that with an interception on the team’s next drive. As a result, Cameron completely abandoned the under-center passing game for the rest of the half with Flacco making his last 10 throws from the shotgun, finishing the first half 5 of 17 for 23 yards.

When the Ravens returned to the field after halftime and completed their most impressive drive of the game, Flacco was back under center to use play-action and rolling out on consecutive throws to Ed Dickson and Todd Heap for 36 yards, helping set up the scoring strike to Mason that came from the gun a few plays later.

Flacco generally looked better under center in the second half, going 5 of 9 for 70 yards compared to 7 of 13 for 61 yards and three picks from the shotgun. Cameron showed better balance in the looks he gave the Bengals in the second half, but his continued hesitancy in using the run doomed the offense with Flacco struggling.

After a 30-yard run by Rice and Flacco’s 12-yard completion to Boldin, the Ravens had  a first down at the Bengals’ 24, trailing 9-7 halfway through the fourth quarter. Rice, the Ravens’ biggest offensive weapon, never touched the ball again on the drive, as Cameron instead chose to have Flacco throw two passes to the end zone and a short completion to Heap on second down.

Yes, Cameron put it on the arm of his quarterback whose performance was sickly the entire afternoon instead of giving another touch or two to the running back who amassed over 2,000 yards of offense a year ago. The Ravens, of course, settled for a field goal. And the rest was history after a long kickoff return and Flacco’s third interception set up two Cincinnati field goals, giving the Bengals the 15-10 victory.

Sunday was not the first time Cameron and the Ravens offense have fallen into this trap, as we saw a few times last season, even when Flacco was red-hot in the first six weeks of 2009. Whether it’s the bravado and obsession many coordinators have with throwing the football or simply a desire to get his young quarterback on track, Cameron’s game plan was one of the major factors working against the Ravens in their first loss of the season.

The running game was needlessly avoided, and the looks the Ravens gave broadcasted their intentions to throw far too often.

On a day in which Flacco was irreparably off his game, it was a recipe for disaster.

And that’s exactly what we witnessed.

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