Tag Archive | "tj houshmandzadeh"

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Bench Flacco for Bulger? Are you people on dope?

Posted on 20 September 2010 by Nestor Aparicio

In the era of the internet, it doesn’t take long to ferret out the bitchers, moaners, whiners, complainers and bridge jumpers on a fall NFL Sunday afternoon. Being the social media zealot that I am, it’s easy to feel the temperature of the never-ending Baltimore “barstool” here at WNST.net during our Purple Haze live chats as well as all over Facebook and Twitter during games. For an old fart like me, it’s quite compelling (if not entertaining) to gauge the shaky and ever-changing morale of the purple fan base during each possession, each drive and each success and failure by the Ravens.

To say Sunday’s performance by Joe Flacco was a hot button would be an understatement. I could only hope that the Orioles 14-year free-fall would have such relevance and concern to the Baltimore sports community.

Sure, Flacco stunk. He stunk early and often and looked bewildered at different points during the first half of a 5-for-18, 23-yard first half. The second half started with a solo burst of offensive success as Flacco led the team into the Bengals’ end zone on the initial drive but in the end it wasn’t good enough as he threw four interceptions in a wretched 15-10 loss in Cincinnati, where the Ravens haven’t won since Anthony Wright was commandeering the purple ship. As Flacco said in his somber post-game comments, it wasn’t his best day or one that he’ll look back on with pride.

Seeing Flacco play through pain last December and January (while John Harbaugh continually lied to the fan base and everyone else while his quarterback limped on and off the field) and seeing him get up from brutal hits over and over again should speak to the resilience of No. 5. He’s not a particularly compelling personality or interviewee but you can’t question the kid’s toughness – physically or mentally at this point – and certainly his ability and the positive results speak for themselves.

If there’s ever a guy who we have to expect to bounce back from a bad day or should be given a “hall pass” for a stinker, it’s Flacco. In his two-plus years here, he’s been dubbed “Joe Cool” for a reason. Your blood might curdle and your emotions might shoot high and low, but Flacco is unflappable in most circumstances that I’ve witnessed – on and off the field.

So while the reactionaries and arm-chair head coaches are yelling the “Bench Flacco” refrains – and it’s more comical (if not sad, really) — the very real concerns I have are more about the locker room than the barstool.

It’s now common knowledge that Anquan Boldin went postal on Flacco in the locker room during a halftime rant that apparently has alarmed more than one person in the organization who witnessed it within the bowels of Paul Brown Stadium around 2:20 p.m. on Sunday.

Boldin, who is most famous around the NFL for chewing out his then-offensive coordinator Todd Haley during the NFC Championship Game two seasons ago, might’ve had his own way of motivating Flacco, who clearly responded in some positive fashion on the first drive culminating with a 31-yard TD pass to Derrick Mason.

But the demeanor of the locker room and the many outsized egos of the offensive personnel is a much larger issue than whether Marc Bulger should be inserted as a starting quarterback.

Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, whose new “rah-rah” coach in Seattle wanted no part of even having him on the roster four weeks ago, lived in a constant circus in Cincinnati with his offensive unit’s personalities. He’s grown up immersed in the drama of “gimme the ball.”

And Mason has been a grandstander (some might call it a “leader”) of the largest magnitude both in Tennessee and here in Baltimore over the past five years, especially when the ball hasn’t been thrown in his direction.

And running backs? Ray Rice is clearly the guy who should be getting the ball but former college superstar and first-round draft pick Willis McGahee thinks he’s still a No. 1 back. And fullback LeRon McClain would rather carry the ball than block and had his own level of success two seasons ago when he was asked to shoulder the load. McGahee got the ball three times yesterday and McClain just once.

Did we mention tight ends? The Ravens now have three legitimate weapons there with Todd Heap, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who are all more offensive-minded than stay-at-home blockers in the system.

So, here’s the biggest problem: they still only play with one ball in the NFL. There’s only one place Flacco can throw the ball at any given time and that’s only when he’s not running for his life after the offensive line deteriorates in front of him. Cam Cameron and Flacco have a lot of egos to feed, especially the morning after losses when the quarterback struggles and the wide receivers don’t get the damned ball.

It’s not hyperbole to say that the backup quarterback is always the most popular guy in town and with our fabled quarterback history here dating back to Vinny Testaverde, Eric Zeier and Scott Mitchell, yelling for the No. 2 will seemingly always be in vogue in tough times for many “real” and “educated” Ravens fans.

So, then, assuming the obvious that a quarterback change is the last thing on the mind of Harbaugh and Cameron, what’s really wrong with Flacco and the offense that a home game against the once-again lowly Cleveland Browns can’t fix?

Let’s start with better play from the offensive line, which hasn’t really done Flacco any favors in regard to giving him an appropriate amount of time to execute the offense with the injury to Jared Gaither and the constant flip-flopping of the personnel.

This week the Ravens will get a reprieve. They have a full week of rest. Finally, they’ll have a home game against the once-again 0-2 Browns, who have their own coaching and quarterback controversies to debate. (Unlike the Ravens, they have some real problems over on the shores of Lake Erie.)

Flacco has only led the team to two consecutive playoff berths and an AFC Championship Game in his two seasons in Baltimore. If he hasn’t bought himself a “free pass” for an awful effort against a rock-solid Cincinnati Bengals defensive unit, then we just have awful, unappreciative and uneducated fans.

The Ravens are 1-1. They were underdogs in both games and played on the road against back-to-back playoff teams that also used their respective off-seasons to improve. And defense and defensive pressure and scheme confusion are the calling cards of the Bengals and Jets defenses. (And if you look behind the bench, you’ll see two of the finest defensive minds in the game, who both sport gold, diamond rings with purple birds and “Invictus” slogans.)

Don’t jump off the purple bridge just yet!

And please don’t yell “Bench Flacco” or write it on Facebook or Twitter during the second quarter of the second week of the season and then expect me to think you know anything about football.

The Ravens lost 15-10. The defense was its usual self and if the Terrell Suggs roughing call wasn’t made there’s a decent chance the Ravens could be 2-0 this morning. And let’s not forget the special teams meltdown on the kickoff in the fourth quarter, which was the beginning of the end in Cincinnati.

It’s not time to panic. It’s certainly not the time to even discuss benching Joe Flacco for Marc Bulger in Baltimore.

Let’s discuss how to get the ball to these hungry and capable wide receivers, keeping them happy and putting the Ravens in the win column.

That’s the discussion we’ll be having this week and all season here at WNST.net and in all of the places on the internet we call a barstool for cogent conversation for intelligent Baltimore sports fans.

Hope to see you at Fattie’s in Essex tonight for the Coors Light Neighborhood Tour and some Monday Night Football and conversation.

And in case you missed Ray Lewis’ classic rant in the locker room yesterday, just click play and enjoy:

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Ravens vs. Bengals  -  5 Keys To The Game

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Ravens vs. Bengals – 5 Keys To The Game

Posted on 19 September 2010 by Rex Snider

Well, after months of dissecting the New Yorks Jets, followed by an emotionally draining Monday night contest in the Meadowlands, it’s time to get back to SUNDAY football.

The Ravens travel to the Queen City, this afternoon, for a 1pm matchup against the Bengals. It should be another tough, close game …. albeit from a diiferent perspective than the struggle against the Jets. The Bengals will most certainly feature a better passing game, while offering weaker resistance than Gang Green’s defensive attack.

Here are my FIVE KEYS to today’s game …..

1) STOP CEDRIC BENSON
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This was the one thing the intimidating Ravens defense could not achieve, in 2009. Benson rushed for 120 and 117 yards, respectively, in both meetings. And, he broke runs of 20+ yards both times, as well. This cannot happen today.

Cedric Benson’s success is undoubtedly tied to his large, athletic offensive line. Each lineman weighs in excess of 320 pounds and they provided a formidable shield for 100 yard gains, 8 times, in 2009. The Ravens must find a way to stop the running attack – if Benson is successful, again, it will leave the Ravens defense languishing on the field for long drives.

It would be nice to see “Mount” Cody helping to plug up the middle. Perhaps, we’ll see Paul Kruger – who runs around like his hair is on fire, as well. Regardless, they MUST stop Benson.
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2) WATCH RAY RUN
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It’s simple, see Key #1. Just as Cedric Benson succeeded against the Ravens, in 2009, Ray Rice realized lesser success. He managed 69 and 48 yards, respectively, in both games. The second matchup, in Cincinnati, exploits some misleading numbers. Rice had only 12 touches, with an average gain of 4 yards, per carry.

While the improved Ravens passing game will be a factor in today’s game, Ray Rice figures to offer that same ability to grinding positive yardage and keeping the Bengals defense on the field. It’s going to be 86 degrees and humid, in Cincinnati, today. It will undoubtedly be tiring conditions for each team’s defense.
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3) SHUT DOWN CARSON PALMER’S ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS
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Chad OchoCinco and Terrell Owens will make catches in today’s game. That’s fine. I worry more about the likes of Jordan Shipley, Andre’ Caldwell (remember him?) and Jermaine Gresham. Each of these guys offer varying targets for Palmer. And, I’m suspicious of rookie Gresham’s possible success across the middle. He’s a lot BIGGER than Dustin Keller and he’s quite athletic.

With Ray Lewis nursing a sore foot, I’ll be watching the middle pretty closely.
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4) FLACCO OUTGUNS PALMER
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Perhaps, today can be the DAY that Joe Flacco serves notice as the most prolific passer in the AFC-North. He now has a surrounding cast comparable to the likes of Carson Palmer. Translation – NO EXCUSES.

The additions of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were evident, last week. However, they can STAND OUT today. And, with Todd Heap hurting, we can rely on better backups than names like L.J. Smith and Quinn Sypniewski. Welcome to the show, Ed Dickson. We just might see some fireworks from one of the NFL’s next rockstar tight ends.

But, it rests upon the shoulders (and arm) of Joe Flacco. With Keith Rivers also nursing a sore foot and Jonathan Fanene OUT, the Ravens will likely benefit from a weakened pass rush. Flacco delivers today …..
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5) OUTCOACH ‘EM
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He absolutely did it to Rex Ryan, just 6 nights ago. Today, John Harbaugh is tasked with outsmarting Marvin Lewis in the strategical side of the game. Can it happen? Heck yeah …..

Say what you want, a big part of the Bengals embarrassing performance against New England can be attributed to being OUTCOACHED. Bill Belichick was hellbent on putting the Bengals in an early hole, while removing Cedric Benson from a revamped comeback agenda. It worked perfectly.

Today, Harbaugh & Company will need to have a shrewd strategy as the team enters enemy territory for the 2nd time in as many weeks. It starts with DISCIPLINE, and there is little doubt the Ravens will have that angle covered. Now, lets be smart …..
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Ravens 27 Bengals 24

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Is Mark Sanchez really a fruitcake? We’ll find out tonight as Ravens visit Jets

Posted on 12 September 2010 by Nestor Aparicio

If you don’t watch Hard Knocks on HBO, you won’t get the humor in the headline but I have a hunch you will be watching tonight as eight months of sports silence in Baltimore and a revenge game on national TV for Jets coach Rex Ryan should whet your appetite for the deliciousness of the next 17 weeks and beyond.

Tonight, the Ravens finally play football. For real…

I have been quite silent this summer as the Orioles have continued to tank it en route to a last-place finish but today I recommit to telling you what I think during the football season. I’ve been busy 24 hours a day building the new WNST.net that many of you are enjoying daily via our many means to reach you: the Morning Newspaper, text service, Facebook, Twitter, AM 1570, this very website at WNST.net, etc.

The Orioles are winning and no one is watching while the Ravens have been dormant since that dark night in Indianapolis eight months ago but have once again captured the imagination not only of the local marketplace but they’ve become the national media darlings and are expected to be in Dallas in early February by many pundits.

The locals have been waiting since January for a reason to cheer and tonight we’ll get it in prime time glory with story lines galore for ESPN to pitch America.

The world expects the Ravens to be a playoff team – a 10-to-13 win machine of big-time offense with an emerging Joe Flacco and a hard-hitting (if not hard-covering in the secondary) defense still led by the credentials of Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and some fresh faces on the back side.

Tonight we begin to find out not only what our Baltimore Ravens are made of but we’ll also find out whether Rex Ryan’s men in green actually “Play Like Jets” after talking incessantly for the past month in our living rooms via the loudest, brashest most reality-based reality TV ever made – “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets”

The harsh words have all been exchanged: Rex Ryan disrespected Ray Lewis who disrespected Mark Sanchez which led to Kris Jenkins and Bart Scott piling on in what the linebacker formerly known as “Hot Sauce” called “part of the show.”

It was a week of pre-game hype that Vince McMahon and Don King could both appreciate but Ray Lewis summed it all up here:

Honestly, I was actually blown away when I finally watched last week’s “Hard Knocks” on Saturday afternoon to hear what Rex Ryan actually said on the show that set off No. 52 in a tirade for the ages. Before he spoke, Ray Lewis admitted that he didn’t watch it and still went nuts with the notion that the Jets could somehow be more relevant or favored in tonight’s game.

I was five feet away from Lewis when he went nuts.

I went over to him in the locker room 15 minutes later and told him that I’d seen ALL of the press conferences over the last 15 years and it was his finest moment. “Really, you think so?” he said with a smile.

Yes, Ray! That one was for the ages and has this city inspired to spit purple lightning at 7 p.m. tonight.

So how will this go tonight?

Here are the five things I’ll be on the lookout for from Sect. 324 of the upper deck of the New Meadowlands Stadium. If you like my analysis here at WNST.net feel free to join our Twitter page tonight or friend us on Facebook or chime in with your thoughts in our Purple Haze LIVE CHAT that will begin at 7 p.m. And if you’re coming to New Jersey this afternoon, make sure you join us in Parking Lot L for a BYOB pre-game party of biblical proportions.

Sanchez accuracy can’t be dirty

If the Jets are going to be a contender this year they need to utilize a strong receiving corps with a passing attack that was woefully lacking in 2010 as Mark Sanchez slogged through his rookie campaign until the last few weeks when their defense caught fire and led them to the AFC Championship Game in Indy. Sanchez was portrayed as a bit of a clown in “Hard Knocks” and was referred to by Mark Brunell as a “fruitcake.” I wasn’t impressed with Sanchez on or off of the field this past month in preparation for tonight’s game. I think he’ll throw the Ravens a few opportunities to change the game. What they do when he does that will dictate the Ravens fortunes because with a few turnovers I believe the Ravens could win this game in a rout. And that’s without Ed Reed!

Jets taking care of the ball

The Jets were quite sloppy in many facets of the game in the preseason and turnovers were a major problem. Their running game seems to be a strength in their attack and you’d have to believe that running up the middle against the Ravens will be a tall task for an aging LaDainian Tomlinson and company. In general, I’m wondering how the Jets will attempt to exploit the Ravens through the air because it’s their best chance to win, lining up mismatches in the secondary and hoping Sanchez will be protected and can deliver the ball accurately.

Revis rusty?

We know that Cam Cameron will be mixing it up with this compliment of offensive weapons that Ozzie Newsome has assembled in the offseason. This team went from having Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton to having Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh become a true No. 1 and 2 with Mason almost certainly to move into a more complimentary role as the season wears on. Not that this is a bad thing: Mason will be a true weapon come December and other teams wear thin in the secondary as the weather chills. But the real secondary story tonight will be the return of Darrelle Revis who will be out on the island tonight chasing Boldin in many cases with just five days of practice under his belt. They say he’s the best in the business. Well, tonight he’ll face live bullets and there’s no doubt the communication of the Jets’ back line will be put to the test early and often by Flacco and company.

Flacco directing the offense and multiplicity

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has had three years in the system now and the list of weapons he has is impressive by any measure. The best offense Baltimore football fans have seen since 1977 will take the field tonight. How will Ray Rice be used? When will Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain get the ball? How will Todd Heap and Ed Dickson be used? What role will Houshmandzadeh grow into in this offense? Tonight we get answers including the protection up front that Flacco will need to deliver in this ramped up offensive attack.

The New Meadowlands as a weapon

The Jets have always been the second citizens of Giants Stadium. The team is a generational under-achiever. This year there’s more heat than there’s ever been due to Rex Ryan’s boasts and the braggadocio of the entire franchise being led by a cool, cussing, confident leader who expects to win tonight and every night. Tickets started at nearly $300 and have fallen to less than $100 to get into the game tonight. I know they’ve expanded the stadium but I thought the expanded expectations would expand their horizons to pack their own stadium in a sea of green for a Monday Night Football debut against a real contender and Ryan’s former franchise for a revenge bowl of biblical proportions. It will be interesting to see if the crowd can affect Flacco, who’s earned a bit of a reputation for being Joe Cool when impacted on the road. Flacco has won playoff games in Miami, Nashville and New England in his first three years in the league. I’m not sure the bright lights of New York will affect him tonight.

Quite frankly if Sanchez is the “fruitcake” Brunell alleged, the Ravens will waltz tonight at The New Meadowlands.

My prediction: Ravens 24, Jets 13

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Live from Owings Mills: Webb a “game-time decision,” Cousins expected to play against Jets

Posted on 11 September 2010 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With an opening night encounter against the New York Jets only two days away, the Baltimore Ravens took the practice field on Saturday for a final tuneup before Sunday’s walk-through and train ride to East Rutherford, N.J..

Cornerback Lardarius Webb was practicing again on Saturday and is listed as probable on the official game status report released Saturday afternoon. Coach John Harbaugh,  however, labeled the second-year corner a game-time decision, which often means a player will be listed as questionable on the final injury report. Even if Webb does play, Fabian Washington and Chris Carr are expected to start against the Jets, with Josh Wilson working as the third corner.

“[Webb has] practiced 100 percent the whole week; he’s done everything,” Harbaugh said on Saturday. “We didn’t rule [him] out, and we haven’t said he was going to go. That’s kind of one we’re leaving up in the air for you.”

The Ravens are at least making it sound like Webb might play after defensive coordinator Greg Mattison claimed the second-year corner was “a lot closer” to returning following Friday’s practice. As he has said repeatedly since returning to the practice field last month, Webb will defer to the coaching staff to decide whether he plays in the opener,

“I think I can play if it came down to it,” Webb said. “I’m still leaving it up to coach  Harbaugh and [trainer Bill Tessendorf], but I am prepared and ready.”

Webb did not sound encouraged when asked about the potential chance of returning to the field for Week 1 after failing to receive any action in the team’s four preseason games. The cornerback missed training camp and the entire preseason as he rehabbed the surgically-repaired ACL in his right knee.

“It’s just all about the right timing,” Webb said following Saturday’s workout. “Me, [Harbaugh], and [Tessendorf will] come together and see what we want to do this week. We’re going to leave it to the game-time decision.”

The Ravens are keeping everyone guessing regarding the right tackle position with Jared Gaither already ruled out with the same back injury that has kept him off the practice field since early August. Oniel Cousins is listed as probable for Monday’s game and practiced on Saturday. Harbaugh’s comments following practice suggested all indications point to the young tackle being on the field against the Jets; however, it does not mean Cousins will be in the starting lineup. The third-year tackle said the symptoms from a concussion sustained in the final week of training camp have disappeared over the last few days.

“I don’t believe [Cousins] is touch-and-go,” Harbaugh said. “I would expect him to play. I shouldn’t speak for the doctors, but it looks to me like he’s ready to play.”

Cousins had made comments on Friday suggesting he may not be ready to go against the Jets. Tony Moll or starting right guard Marshal Yanda would be the most logical candidates to start should Cousins be held out. Moving Yanda to right tackle would force top reserve Chris Chester to move into the starting lineup at right guard, a position at which he split time last season with Yanda, who was still working his way back from a devastating knee injury suffered in 2008.

The preseason hype machine has been as loud as ever in Baltimore with expectations soaring for third-year quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense. The receiving trio of Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Derrick Mason appears tremendous on paper, but the question remains whether the young quarterback can keep all three former Pro Bowlers content by spreading the ball around in the passing game. The three possess similar traits, but none have a strong ability to stretch the field, making the trade of Mark Clayton a perplexing short-term decision with speedy receiver Donte’ Stallworth out with a broken foot until at least the bye week at the end of October.

Despite Houshmandzadeh being a Raven for less than a week, Harbaugh expects the veteran wideout to receive extensive playing time against the Jets. The former Bengals and Seahawks receiver wants to play as much as possible but is realistic about his limitations after only practicing four days with the team.

“That’s what I’m used to doing is playing the entire game,” Houshmandzadeh said following Saturday’s practice. “I’m not a fool, I know that’s not going to happen. But I want to play as much as I can.

All signs point to safety Tom Zbikowski returning punts against the Jets, as he is listed as the top returner on the team’s official depth chart and was again fielding punts in the portion of practice open to the media on Saturday. Webb has also fielded punts in practice this week, but one would think the coaching staff would prefer not to use Webb in the return game before he establishes himself as fit to contribute on defense.

There were no surprises among the players absent from practice, as Gaither, Stallworth, and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (knee) were absent from practice again on Saturday. All three have already been ruled out for Monday night.

NOTES: Ed Reed celebrated his 32nd birthday on Saturday and celebrated by working out on the side field at 1 Winning Drive. Several teammates wished the free safety a happy birthday during the portion of practice open to the media. Reed will miss at least the first six weeks of the season after being placed on the reserve Physically Unable to Perform list last week. … Walt Anderson will be the referee in Monday night’s game. His crew officiated the Ravens’ Monday night loss to the Packers last season in which a total of 23 penalties for 310 yards were called between the teams.

Check out the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Harbaugh, Webb, Cousins, and Houshmandzadeh following Saturday’s practice in Owings Mills.

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2010 NFL Forecast: Will the Ravens raise the Lombardi Trophy?

Posted on 08 September 2010 by Luke Jones

With the beginning of the 2010 NFL season only hours away, expectations have never been higher in Baltimore as the Ravens have their eyes fixed on their first Super Bowl title since the 2000 season.

Questions remain in the secondary and whether Joe Flacco can reach elite status with an abundance of new weapons in the Baltimore offense, but contenders and pretenders alike face some level of uncertainty on the eve of Week 1.

Easy schedules — and the unsophisticated attempts to predict a team’s fate week by week — in early September frequently transform into daunting slates in the unpredictable nature of the NFL. An injury to a key performer at the wrong position can derail even the strongest teams’ championship aspirations.

Inevitably, a sexy preseason contender or two will collapse under fatal flaws, and an anonymous outfit that no one is even pondering as a victor will find itself playing long into January.

We just never can tell.

And with that digression, I toss my hat into the futile, but enjoyable, pool of forecasting the 2010 season. If nothing else, predictions offer damning proof that most of us (all of us?) really don’t know what we’re talking about when the dust settles in early February.

AFC East
New England – The Jets will continue to steal the headlines, but the Patriots will happily take the division title.
New York – Rex Ryan speaks loudly and carries a big stick, but Mark Sanchez is not ready for the big stage yet.
Miami – No one is happier about Brandon Marshall’s arrival in South Beach than Chad Henne.
Buffalo – Did Chan Gailey really get another head coaching gig in the NFL?

AFC North
Baltimore – Can Joe Flacco keep three former Pro Bowl receivers happy in a potentially explosive passing game?
Cincinnati* – Coordinator Mike Zimmer and the defense will prove their No. 4 ranking in 2009 was no fluke.
Pittsburgh – An aging defense and a shaky offensive line will not be able to overcome Ben Roethlisberger’s four-game suspension and ensuing rust.
Cleveland – It’s rarely a good thing when all people want to talk about is the new front office.

AFC South
Indianapolis – Would the NFL have tweaked the umpire’s positioning if Peyton Manning had not been the one to complain the loudest?
Houston* – After being the chic pick for a couple seasons, Gary Kubiak and the Texans finally crack the postseason.
Tennessee – Does Chris Johnson hold up long enough to touch the ball over 400 times again?
Jacksonville – Three straight losing seasons could spell the end of Jack Del Rio’s eight-year stay with the Jaguars.

AFC West
San Diego – Ryan Mathews won’t make Chargers fans forget LaDainian Tomlinson, but the rookie back is poised for a dynamic rookie campaign.
Oakland – Picking the Raiders any place other than last seems foreign, but Tom Cable has some semblance of a football team if Al Davis doesn’t meddle too much. Good luck with that.
Denver – Kyle Orton is serviceable but not enough to make a difference in the Broncos’ fate.
Kansas City – Safety Eric Berry is a future star and one of several young players giving the Chiefs hope for the future.

NFC East
Dallas – No Cowboys coach has lasted longer than four seasons since Jimmy Johnson (1989-93), so Wade Phillips (entering his fourth year) needs a big season in Big D.
New York – The Giants’ Steve Smith (107 receptions in 2009) has officially turned the Carolina wideout into the “other” one.
Philadelphia – Kevin Kolb will seal Andy Reid’s fate as a genius or mark the beginning of the end for the coach in Philadelphia.
Washington – Donovan McNabb will limp through a hapless season without enough talent surrounding him.

NFC North
Green Bay – This might be the year that Aaron Rodgers exorcises the ghost of Favre by bringing the Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown.
Minnesota* – The absence of Sidney Rice will hurt more than Brett Favre’s ankle, taking the Vikings down a small notch.
Chicago – A fortune was spent for Jay Cutler a year ago and Julius Peppers this offseason, but a small return this season will mark the end for Lovie Smith.
Detroit – Rookies Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best give Lions fans two reasons to be excited for the future.

NFC South
New Orleans – Drew Brees might be the one quarterback in the league you wouldn’t grow tired of seeing in the Super Bowl.
Atlanta* – Though he took a step back in his sophomore year, far too many people are overlooking Matt Ryan and the Falcons this season.
Carolina – Whether the Panthers surprise or wilt with Matt Moore at the helm, it looks like this is the final act in Charlotte for John Fox, whose contract expires after the season.
Tampa Bay – At least they have those “creamsicle” throwbacks to look forward to at some point this season, right?

NFC West
San Francisco – Alex Smith is no Joe Montana or Steve Young — or even Jeff Garcia — but the 49ers are the strongest team in a pedestrian division.
Arizona – Cardinals fans wish Kurt Warner would be more like Brett Favre in his retirement practices.
Seattle – As if his first two go-rounds in the NFL weren’t bad enough, the shadow of the sanctions at USC makes Pete Carroll an easy guy to root against.
St. Louis – Sam Bradford has 50 million reasons to smile while he takes a beating in his rookie season.

* = Wild-card berth

Wild-Card Round
New England over Cincinnati
Houston over San Diego
Minnesota over San Francisco
Atlanta over Dallas

Divisional Round
Indianapolis over Houston
Baltimore over New England
New Orleans over Atlanta
Green Bay over Minnesota

AFC Championship
Baltimore over Indianapolis

NFC Championship
Green Bay over New Orleans

Super Bowl XLV
Baltimore over Green Bay

MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Offensive Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson
Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ryan Mathews
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamukong Suh
Coach of the Year: John Harbaugh

The exhilarating journey begins Thursday night.

Enjoy the ride.

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My NFL Predictions ....

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My NFL Predictions ….

Posted on 08 September 2010 by Rex Snider

Well, we’ve finally reached that point, right? The National Football League kicks off its season tomorrow night. So, the training camp perspectives can now be translated into your outlook for the AFC, NFC and ultimately, the Super Bowl winner.

It’s easy to sit back and forecast the Ravens to hoist the Lombardi Trophy into the Dallas night, on February 6th. That’s what our hearts say – regardless, of whatever cautionary measures our minds consider. You wanna pick the Ravens, because it feels good to do so …..

Of course, choosing Joe Flacco and company is a logical consideration, as well. This team identified vulnerabilities during the offseason, and they did their best to address current injury-related weaknesses over the past month. Overall, it appears to be a very stellar squad.

This Ravens team is much more lethal on the offensive side of the ball, specifically in the passing game. And, the defense appears to be primed for another strong campaign, even when considering the woes in the secondary. As for special teams play, management chose the leg that boots the ball deeper on kickoffs, and that makes me happy.

Am I picking the Ravens? You’re damned right I’m picking them. I’m rewarding my heart and my mind. And, like I said, it’s a logical proposition. As for my overall views, I’ll spend the next few days dishing on them. Today, I’m providing my picks for the AFC:

AFC EAST
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1) Miami Dolphins (11-5) – I’ve just got a feeling this team finally reaches its potential. Much of the hope will rest upon Ronnie Brown’s health and I’m suspecting he’ll finally stay on his feet for an entire season. Combined with Ricky Williams in the backfield and the addition of Brandon Marshall in the passing game, I think the Dolphins realize that next step.

If you recall, they were that one team NOBODY wanted to play for a substantial stretch of the 2009 season. That said, they started the season poorly and seemed to be climbing uphill through December. This year, it’s a different story. They’ll finish 11-5 and win the AFC East.

2) New England Patriots (10-6)

3) New York Jets (10-6)

4) Buffalo Bills (3-13)
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AFC NORTH
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1) Baltimore Ravens (12-4) – Yeah, I’m drinking the purple kool-aid and it’s for good reason; they’re a solid freakin’ team. When I attended the Ravens ’09 season ending press conference, during the first week of February, I distinctly recall Steve Bisciotti’s words. He said the organization was committed to building around Joe Flacco, and he obviously wasn’t kidding.

Here we stand a mere seven months later and Ozzie Newsome has added receivers Anquan Boldin, Donte’ Stallworth and TJ Houshmandzadeh, as well as rookie tight ends Ed Dickson and Vince Pitta as legitimate options for Flacco’s arm. The defense, while still primarily intact will continue to play at a level Ray Lewis demands of himself. They’ll be fine and this will be a very enjoyable season.

2) Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)

3) Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)

4) Cleveland Browns (5-11)
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AFC SOUTH
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1) Indianapolis Colts (11-5) – I would like nothing more than to predict doom and gloom for the Colts. But, they’ve still got a superior passing game with Peyton Manning continuing to make good receivers look great. This will be the season of a new favorite target for Manning, as Pierre Garcon will supplant Reggie Wayne as his favorite deep target.

I realize everyone is smitten with the Houston Texans passing game, as well. But, Matt Schaub and his stable of receiving targets will not be enough to overtake the Colts.

2) Houston Texans (10-6)

3) Tennessee Titans (10-6)

4) Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)
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AFC WEST
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1) San Diego Chargers (11-5) – Not a hard decision, huh? The Chargers, minus Vince Jackson and LaDanian Tomlinson are fairly intact as the unit that dominated the AFC WEST, last season. I think rookie Ryan Matthews is an upgrade over LT and the recently acquired Patrick Crayton should provide some support to the receiving corps.

Philip Rivers is really coming into his own as an elite NFL quarterback and in a similar fashion to Peyton Manning, his arm and intellect will make his targets look better than they would in a lesser system.

2) Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)

3) Oakland Raiders (7-9)

4) Denver Broncos (6-10)

Well, this is how I see the AFC shaping up. Tomorrow, I’ll give my predictions for the NFC and on Friday, I’ll post my postseason scenarios for both conferences, as well as pick my Super Bowl winner.

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SEATTLE - DECEMBER 20: T.J. Houshmandzadeh #84 of the Seattle Seahawks straight arms Sabby Piscitelli #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their game on December 20, 2009 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Buccaneers defeated the Seahawks 24-7. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

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Blog & Tackle: How TJH was used in 2009

Posted on 07 September 2010 by Chris Pika

The Ravens acquisition of WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh yesterday gave the club a tough receiver who will help Baltimore in the short term by giving QB Joe Flacco another target in the expanding passing game.

What kind of numbers will the about-to-be 33-year-old TJH put up in 2010? It’s obviously hard to say as the Ravens will have to get him up to speed on offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s playbook and Flacco’s passing style. But, we can look back on how he was used in Seattle last season, thanks to STATS, Inc.

SEATTLE - DECEMBER 20: T.J. Houshmandzadeh #84 of the Seattle Seahawks straight arms Sabby Piscitelli #21 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their game on December 20, 2009 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Buccaneers defeated the Seahawks 24-7. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Seahawks targeted him 61 times (31 receptions) on first down, 39 times (28 catches) on second, 31 times (18 receptions) on third and four times (two catches) on fourth down. Of all game situations of down and distance, he was thrown to the most on first down and between 8-10 yards to go — 58 targeted passes.

He averaged over 10 yards per catch, regardless of the down, and had six plays of 25 yards or more. Of his 79 catches, 52 resulted in first downs, a 65.8 percent rate.

After a two-touchdown day at Arizona in mid-November, he did not catch a touchdown the remainder of the season. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. He was targeted almost the same in each half of the season — 68 targets/41 receptions/417 yards in the first eight games; 67 targets/38 receptions/494 yards in the final eight games.

Seattle threw to him the most between the 40s (43 targets/29 receptions/311 yards) and also from their own 20 to their 39-yard line (40 targets/23 receptions/249 yards).

In the red zone, the Seahawks targeted him 19 times, and he caught just four passes for 19 yards and two scores. The four red zone catches were his lowest total since 2002.

Inside the opponent 10, he was targeted 10 times, and he made three receptions for six yards and one TD.

Where did Seattle throw him the ball, direction-wise? Mainly to the right side of the field with 36 targets to the right (23 catches), and 40 (21 catches) to the right sideline. He also caught as many balls behind the line of scrimmage (eight) as he did over the middle in 2009. But, interestingly, 13 of his 16 receptions caught on the left side of the field went for first downs, an 81.3 percent rate, while eight of his 11 catches to the left sideline moved the chains (72.7 percent).

The Seahawks looked for him the most in three-receiver sets (67 targets/34 catches/3 plays of 25+ yards/23 first downs) and in four-receiver sets (45 targets/31 receptions/2 25+ yard plays/17 first downs).

One oddity was that despite playing just four games on grass in 2009, TJH averaged more yards per catch (15.7 to 10.0), had more catches go for first downs by percentage (76.2 to 62.1) and had more 25+ yard pass plays (4 of 6) on the real stuff.

Finally in yards after catch, he averaged 3.6 per reception, which was 102nd in the NFL. Bookending him at 101 was Ravens TE Todd Heap (3.7) and former Baltimore WR Kelley Washington (3.6). TJH’s average was better than Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco (3.3), Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald (3.2) and now-former Ravens (and current Rams) WR Mark Clayton (2.6).

TJH was tied for 56th in the league in total yards after catch (284) with New England’s Kevin Faulk and Denver’s Jabar Gaffney. His YAC total was better than four players with at least 1,000 yards receiving — Derrick Mason (273), Carolina’s Steve Smith (246), Ochocinco (239) and San Diego’s Vincent Jackson (228).

While not one of his best overall statistical seasons, Houshmandzadeh led the struggling 5-11 Seahawks in both receptions and receiving yards in 2009. While he won’t be counted on to lead the 2010 Ravens in those two categories, he can still be an important part of Baltimore’s passing game as someone opposing pass defenses shouldn’t forget about when checking on Anquan Boldin deep and Ray Rice coming out of the backfield.

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Thursday Morning’s Crab Cakes and Light Beer

Posted on 19 February 2009 by Chris Bonetti

The Swinging Bunt

Roberts to sign until 2013.  The Sun’s O’s beat writer, Jeff Zrebiec, tells us that second basemen Brian Roberts will sign a new 4-year extension to stay here in Baltimore, even though he has started his career with 8 straight consecutive seasons in the Charm City.  Dictionary.com offers this for the definition of a “Masochist”:  One who gains gratification from pain, deprivation, degradation, and humiliation.  Yup I’d have to say that must fit the 31 year old, 2-time All-Star pretty well.  But it’s tough to feel too bad for Brian… he is married to one of Drew’s favorite sports trophies, Diana Chiafair.

MLB Power Rankings: Pre-season Edition.  Fanhouse lends their opinion on where they think the Orioles stack up against the rest of Major League Baseball.  On the list, the hometown team ranks #25 of 30, juuuust behind powerhouses such as the Reds, Marlins, Rockies, Royals, and even the Nats.  Wow, pretty high expectations.  Still ahead of the Pirates — Pittsburgh sucks, wahoo!

Chandler to OKC voided due to pending toe injury?  Shortly after wrapping up the CMS yesterday, news broke that Tyson Chandler had been traded to Oklahoma City for a couple former Terps, Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith, and some guys no one cares about.  Now, the trade is off because after taking his physical with the Thunder team doctor, Dr. Carlan Yates, it was determined Chandler’s left big toe was too great a risk to be re-injured; Chandler did have surgery on said toe in April ’07.  Very interestingly, the crazy thing to Chandler and everyone else is that for 1. The toe is perfectly healthy right now and 2. Dr. Yates obviously doesn’t have confidence in his own work!  It was none other than he who operated on Chandler while the Hornets sought refuse in Oklahoma City in post-Katrina New Orleans.  Pretty awkward and funny stuff.

Scanning the Blogosphere

SI NFL writer, Ross Tucker, says, “Like it or not the Ravens should let Ray walk rather than overpay.”

Pro Football Talk: “Ravens want to stake a long-term claim to ‘Sizzle’,” “Could McAlister link up with the Jets?” Also that T.J. Houshmandzadeh will draw interest from the Ravens and speculates who might get ‘tagged’ next.

SI’s Bucky Brooks sizes up the Top 10 Linebacker Prospects in the coming NFL Draft… might be of interest just in case #52 isn’t back in Black and Purple.

Connolly’s Corner Sports Bar asks, “Where does Brian Roberts rank among major league second basemen?”

B-More Birds’ Nest gives their thoughts on Suggs, and Roberts staying in Baltimore.

Bugs & Cranks tells O’s DH/LF Luke Scott, “We heard you the first time, Luke.”

The Schmuck Stops Here: “Ray’s Rebound,” “Sherrill Sore,” “Montanez is ready to compete,” and some “Quick Hits.”

Roar from 34: A Baltimore Orioles Blog gives, “100 Words or less about… the O’s off-season.”

SI’s Jon Heyman said that in the O’s off-season moves makes them a ‘Non-winner in a tough economy.’

Tracking the Terps break downs down are they really “Still in the Running?”

TSN College Basketball analyst Mike DeCourcey says the Terps next opponent has too many guys who need the ball.

Face Off gives some local lacrosse news in “Hodge podge from Baltimore coaches.”

Awful Announcing has the MLB Network’s talent and schedule for the WBC.

Medium Well has the newest Sports Center anchor duo for their new L.A. show.

Fanhouse reports that Steelers WR and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes got fined $10K for his Super Bowl touchdown celebration.

Fan IQ tells fans what to expect and “Who’s going Where?” on today’s NBA Trade Deadline.

CMS Video of the Morning

Last night WNST staffers and listeners alike took a Puck-Bus down to D.C. to see the Caps and a certain ‘Great 8′ tear up Les Habitants.  Here’s OV’s amazing goal from the Capitals shootout victory.  He’s pretty good at putting the puck in the net.

The Morning’s Final Thought

The men’s basketball teams at Loyola and Towson each were dealt with severe blows on their home courts this week and it just may signify a change in seasons for both.

Monday night at Reitz Arena the Greyhounds couldn’t hold on to an 11 point lead with 7 minutes to play, and lost to Canisius, the last place team in their conference, by a score of 69-67.  Loyola and coach Jimmy Patsos are now 6-10 in MAAC play and are owners of a 5 game losing skid.

Last night in the Towson Center, a weak William and Mary team was able to dominate the Tigers in a 22 win for the Tribe, 76-54.  Towson and Coach Pat Kennedy are just 4-12 in the CAA and have lost 5 of their last 6.

Even thought the weather will be a little chilly this Saturday, the Loyola-Towson lacrosse game is an event both athletic programs and fan bases are definitely looking forward to.  Barring a miraculous conference tournament runs in the MAAC or CAA, which seem highly highly highly unlikely, it will very soon officially be lacrosse season for the Greyhounds and the Tigers.

Loyola, #16 in the national polls, will host Towson, who hold a 27-23 series lead, on Diane Geppi-Aikens Field at 1pm this Saturday afternoon.

Lacrosse won’t be the only sport Towson will have a local rivalry game in.  If you still need to fill your hoops fix you can check out the Tigers as they will host Coach Todd Bozeman’s Morgan State Bears in a Bracket buster matchup at 4pm in the Towson Center.

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2008 Ravens Top 20 Moments: Nos. 20-16

Posted on 20 January 2009 by Alex Thomas

Despite the loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship game, the 2008 Ravens season was certainly one of the best sports experiences of my life. And in an effort to delay thinking about the dreadful upcoming baseball season, in my next few blogs I will be counting down my top 20 Ravens memories from 2008. It’s never too early to start looking back on such an exciting season.

20. Clayton Goes Crazy In Cincy – Mark Clayton snagged 5 balls for 164 yards, including a 70 yard one-handed touchdown catch on a bomb from Joe Flacco, as the Ravens pummeled the Cincinnati Bengals in The Jungle. Clayton also threw a touchdown pass to Derrick Mason on a wide receiver reverse option in the 34-3 route. I personally think that Mark Clayton has been a 1st round bust. He has a great performance every 5 or 6 games…but, in all fairness, when he has a great game, he blows the roof off the house. These are the typical makings of a #3 receiver (see also Steve Breaston in Arizona). I think he would be a great slot receiver along side Derrick Mason and ::insert name here::…TJ Houshmandzadeh? Steve Smith?

19. Rice Runs Wild – In a comeback win against the Cleveland Browns, Ray Rice showed us all why the Ravens drafted him in the second round. Rice rushed for 154 yards on 21 carries and also caught 3 passes from Joe Flacco, one of which converted a big 3rd and long play. He could possibly be the Ravens’ feature back in the future (doesn’t he remind you of Maurice Jones-Drew?), and he showcased his talents in week 9.

18. “Next Man Up” – One of the most impressive aspects about the 2008 Ravens season is how every man on this team was accountable for how they played as a group, no matter who was injured or who was on the field. Justin Bannan, Jim Leonhard, Fabian Washington, Marques Douglass, Joe Flacco, Chris Chester, and Frank Walker all stepped up to fill in for starters this season, as the Ravens were near the top of the league in players listed on IR. Granted, that’s not a stat that anyone should be proud of, but the Ravens persevered. The motto preached in the locker room all season was: “next man up.”

17. Flacco Ties The Game In Pittsburgh – In week 4 of the season, when the Ravens outplayed the Steelers in every facet of the game, they still found themselves down 20-13 in the fourth quarter on Monday Night Football with 9 minutes remaining. Against all odds, rookie Joe Flacco marched the Ravens 76 yards down the field, and ate up about 5 minutes of clock in the process, to tie the game and force overtime. With three key first down throws to Mason, garnished with some jaw-breaking runs by Le’Ron McClain, Flacco finally gave Baltimore a reason to believe in their quarterback. Ever since Bert Jones was last under center for the Colts, Baltimore has been desperately searching for a quarterback of this caliber. And despite the overtime loss, for the first time in Ravens history, a quarterback wearing a Ravens jersey had truly proven himself. This moment showed Ravens fans that this would be the first of many game-tying/game-winning drives orchestrated by #5.

16. Suggs Seals Win in Cleveland – In a game where a lot of the media were picking against the Ravens, Terrell Suggs sealed a come-from-behind Ravens victory by intercepting an errant Derek Anderson pass. The Ravens found themselves down 27-13 in the 3rd quarter, and despite the heroics of Browns’ star return man Josh Cribbs, a pass from Flacco to Mason tied the game at 27 early in the 4th quarter. After a Matt Stover field goal put the Ravens up by 3, Terrell Suggs picked off an attempted screen pass with 2:49 to go in the fourth quarter and took it to the house, giving the Ravens a 37-27 win over the Browns in The Dogpound.

Check back tomorrow for nos. 15-11.

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No overlooking Bengals here

Posted on 26 November 2008 by caseywillett

Despite the Bengals being 1-9-1, the Ravens are not overlooking them on Sunday. Several of the players today pointed out that this is still a dangerous team simply by the fact that they have Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh at the wide receiver position.

Here are some other highlights from the Ravens media session today:

– Several of the defensive players talked about how Ryan Fitzpatrick gets out of the pocket more than Carson Palmer, and will do so not only to throw, but can tuck the ball down and run with it.

-On the injury front, Adam Terry, Willie Anderson, and Jared Gaither, will all be listed as day to day and the Ravens will have to see how they progress through the week. They are hoping that they do not suffer any setbacks leading into Sunday.

-A lot of the talk today was about Willie Anderson and him facing his former team. Willie was inactive for the week 1 match up between the Bengals and the Ravens. T.J. Houshmandzadeh during his conference call today said that he still talks to Anderson, as recently as last night, and that they miss Anderson on the Bengals. Anderson said he has enjoyed being with the Ravens, and made the right choice in picking them over going to the San Diego Chargers. Houshmandzadeh even talked about how Anderson has told him all of the good things about being a part of the Ravens organization.

My opinion is that Houshmandzadeh would be a great pick up for the Ravens in the off season.

– The Ravens will have a practice tomorrow, then have the afternoon off to spend time with their families. They will return to work early Friday morning to finish preparing for the Bengals.

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