Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Okay, we have two weeks of regular season football left. The Patriots are still in "Pursuit of Perfection" (I am sure that ESPN has that copywrite on that by now, so all due apologies to them for any infringement. There is really no need to sue me. I have nothing of monetary value). Until this past Sunday, the Dolphins were in "Pursuit of Putridity" (I claim that one, unless someone can show proof that it has already been used). Luckily for Miami, the Ravens were on the schedule. It is apparent from the Ravens' 4-10 record that my predictions from the end of October were more than a little off. I guess I didn't foresee the depths of THEIR putridity. As was mentioned yesterday, Billick is definitely coming back for 2008. The debate rages back and forth around here about that. But in my (not so) humble opinion, the only question is who is out there to replace him that would in fact be a step up? As I also previously mentioned, Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino have made it hard for a team to go after any college coach, unless it is a coach who has NFL coaching experience. There is only one that immediately springs to mind, and that would be Pete Carroll. His overall NFL record over 4 seasons with 2 teams? 33-31. Playoffs? 1-2 in 2 appearances. Doesn't exactly leap off the page, does it? Brian Billick's record over 8+ seasons (including the current one)? 79-63. Playoffs? 5-3 over 4 appearances. Granted, the Ravens have not won a playoff game since the 2001 season when they were defending Super Bowl Champions. That is one of the big negatives with him. But losing in the playoffs is one of the big knocks on Marty Schottenheimer, and he is going to be in demand this offseason. Even if you extrapolate from Carroll's record with USC that he has learned a lot about coaching since he went to the NCAA, the Terrible Two (Saban and Petrino) have proved once again that college success does not necessarily translate into the pros (and vice versa, kind of like Chan Gailey proved at Georgia Tech and Al Groh is proving at Virginia). And why would Pete Carroll want to leave USC? Look at what happened to Steve Spurrier when he left Florida for the Washington Redskins? 2 years later he was back in college. They are two distinct separate mindsets, coaching in the NCAA versus the NFL, and for every success story either way they moved, there are probably 10 failures. So drop the NCAA from the conversation. In the pros, there are no uber-hot coordinators out there, no Romeo Crennell or Charlie Weis out there. Jason Garrett at Dallas is close, but Jerry Jones is grooming him to take over for Wade Phillips, and I don't think he would let him go without a big fight. And after one year, I am not sold on him being the second coming of Vince Lombardi (who was the Offensive Coordinator for the Giants before taking over in Green Bay. And who was the Defensive Coordinator for that Giants team? Tom Landry. No wonder that team was so good). Without any stand out prospects, what is left? Cowher is out for at least one more year (also previously mentioned. Aren't you keeping up with all of this?). Besides, I am pretty certain that he is holding out for the Carolina Panthers job. That is where he is from, and coaching at home would appeal to almost anyone. Of course if Butch Davis (another NFL head coaching retread) leaves UNC, I wouldn't be surprised to see him go there. So you have one coach with a proven track record in Schottenheimer, at LEAST two open coaching positions, and a bunch of retreads who have not shown the ability to win like Billick has. And the Ravens still owe Billick $15 million over the next three years. So factoring all of that in, even with all the hand wringing the fans are doing, it looks like Billick is the way to go.

So where do we go from here? Let's look at the draft...

If the draft were to be settled today, the Ravens would draft 8th (if my calculations are correct). How is the draft decided? With thanks to James Alder from http://www.about.com/, here are the criteria:

Determining Order of Selection

• The team with the lowest winning percentage at the end of the previous season drafts first in the NFL Draft.

• The rest of the teams are placed in order from lowest winning percentage to the highest.

• The Super Bowl winner drafts last, even if they do not have the highest winning percentage.

• The Super Bowl loser drafts next to last.

• Strength of schedule for the previous season is the first tie-breaker for teams with the same
winning percentage.

• Divisional and conference records are the next step in the tie-breaking procedure.

• As a last resort, a coin toss is used to determine the order of selection for teams with the same winning percentage.

• If a playoff and non-playoff team end the season with the same winning percentage, the non-playoff team selects before the playoff team regardless of strength of schedule.

The one thing this does not mention is head-to-head competition. If two teams play each other and then end up with the same overall record, the team that lost that game will pick before the team that won. So with two games to go, here are the division records...

NFC EAST
Dallas 12-2-0
NY Giants 9-5-0
Washington 7-7-0
Philadelphia 6-8-0

NFC NORTH
Green Bay 12-2-0
Minnesota 8-6-0
Detroit 6-8-0
Chicago 5-9-0

NFC SOUTH
Tampa Bay 9-5-0
New Orleans 7-7-0
Carolina 6-8-0
Atlanta 3-11-0

NFC WEST
Seattle 9-5-0
Arizona 6-8-0
San Francisco 4-10-0
St. Louis 3-11-0

AFC EAST
New England 14-0-0
Buffalo 7-7-0
NY Jets 3-11-0
Miami 1-13-0

AFC NORTH
Pittsburgh 9-5-0
Cleveland 9-5-0
Cincinnati 5-9-0
Baltimore 4-10-0

AFC SOUTH
Indianapolis 12-2-0
Jacksonville 10-4-0
Tennessee 8-6-0
Houston 7-7-0

AFC WEST
San Diego 9-5-0
Denver 6-8-0
Oakland 4-10-0
Kansas City 4-10-0

So who is drafting over us? As it stands now: Miami, NY Jets, Oakland, Kansas City, St. Louis, New England (they have the rights to San Francisco's pick from a previous trade), and Atlanta. Because the Ravens have a 1st place schedule thanks to winning (and we have already played and beaten the Jets, St. Louis, and San Francisco they hold the first tie breaker over us) if we end up tied with them (we are tied w/the 49'ers, the other two have one less win than us), they would draft before us. We cannot overtake the Dolphins for the top spot, they have that locked up. The BEST we could do would be the 2nd pick, and all of the teams except the Chiefs would have to win out (they play the Jets in week 17) for that to happen. There is a reason their records are as sucky as ours, so I don't see that happening. So let's look at us ending up with the 8th pick. Where does that leave us? Well, currently it leaves us with 5 picks. Why? The draft is 7 rounds. The Ravens traded their 3rd round pick for the 2008 draft as part of the deal to get McGahee. They used the 5th round pick in the supplemental draft (since this article is already long winded as all hell, for an explanation of the supplemental draft, go HERE) on Jared Gaither. That leaves the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th.

The Ravens have multiple needs (like every team not playing in a stadium not maned after a razor company). The defensive secondary (specifically cornerbacks) has been a sieve with the injuries / illnesses of Chris McCallister and Samari Rolle. The offensive line has some young promise, but their is the very real chance that Jonathan Ogden and Mike Flynn are either going to retire (both) or be released (Flynn). They already have one guy (Chris Chester) listed as the primary backup for 3 positions (center and both guards). So they are going to need more offensive linemen. But honestly, both lines could use some backup, and it is hard to have too many offensive OR defensive linemen. And then there is quarterback. I am afraid that Boller is just not going to work out. I still hold out hope that he can put it together, but I now think that if it happens it will happen somewhere else. Like the rest of the world, I have not seen enough of Troy Smith to have an opinion of his NFL caliber. Ozzie Smith is really high on the guy, and he has proven to know what he is talking about (remember, drafting Boller was Billick's play, and every scout out there said that he had all the tools. He just hasn't been able to put it together with any consistency). But either way, we would need at least a backup after 2008, no matter which one is the starter going forward (I am going under the assumption that Steve McNair is going to retire. It is a hard fact of life in professional sports, but he just doesn't have the ability anymore). There is always free agency, but at least when it comes to linemen (especially offensive linemen), it could be argued that they have been overvalued, so I don't know what they could do there. Defensive linemen might be an option, as well as cornerbacks. But what should the Ravens do?

If Petrino had stayed at Atlanta, I would expect them to draft Brian Brohm. But Petrino is gone, and Matt Ryan is available. I don't think that Ryan lasts to the 8th pick. Personally I am not that high on Brohm. I think he was more a product of the system that Petrino ran at Louisville and that he just won't translate to the pro game. That would be (at this point) the only player that I think is worthy of both the draft position and would fill the needs of the team in a manner that would be consistent with the money a top 10 draft pick would get. If he is there, the Ravens should grab him. He won't be there. So what should they do? Trade down. Pick up some more picks. Offensive and defensive linemen, as well as cornerbacks, are always available in the later rounds, and they are (more times than not) good, talented players. Look at the lines for the teams that set the standard for offense. The New England Patriots have ONE player they drafted in the first round as a starter. Indianapolis has none, and neither do the Dallas Cowboys. Anyone who really follows professional sports knows that you build your team in the draft and complete it with free agents (look what has happened to the Yankees since they went to the "GET EVERY OTHER TEAM'S FREE AGENTS!!" philosophy) and trades. The Ravens need to trade down, get some extra picks, and rebuild the team. The game is won and lost on the line, on both sides. Fix that, and use trades and free agency to fix the secondary and the quarterback position (unless something incredible falls into our laps during the draft in either position, in which case we jump at it).

Maybe I make it sound too simplistic, but it seems to me that too often people make things way more complicated than they need to be.

So what do you say? Do you agree or disagree? Drop me a line, leave a comment, and let me know.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Again, REALLY overdue to post here.

I am aiming (after the holidays when things calm down at one of he jobs at least) to post every Tuesday and Friday. Any questions or topics that anyone has questions on, send 'em in and I will try to cover them. But until then, a few random thoughts w / a smidgen of explanation...

  • DO NOT START TROY SMITH IN EITHER OF THE LAST TWO GAMES!! DO YOU HEAR ME BILLICK?!?!? It is bad enough that you are guaranteed to come back next year (but I DO have a theory on that. More in a sec), do NOT ruin this kid like you did Boller when you threw Boller to the wolves after your "QB Competition" which was a bigger sham than the end of the US-USSR '72 Olympics basketball game (don't know what I am talking about? Go HERE). And for those who are clamoring for him, let's look at this honestly. Against Indy he was basically playing against the 3rd stringers. It was an exhibition game at that point. Against Miami he was playing against a prevent defense at the end of he game, and the drive in OT was all runs except for one pass for 4 yards. Troy Smith might wind up being a good QB. Ozzie Newsome thinks so, and he has shown himself to be a pretty good overall judge of talent so far. Let him stay on the bench and keep learning, let the game slow down for him a bit more before he is thrown to the wolves.
  • Going for the field goal at the end of regulation was the right call I think everybody here knows I am not a Billick fan, but the fact remains that he made the right call at the end of the game. The fan in me was screaming for him to go for it, but it was 4th down, so it was do or die. The Ravens were mired in a (then) 7 game losing streak. A 5th round draft pick rookie just drove the team down the field (Darling should have rolled into the damn end zone. But that is another story). There was one possible positive outcome, a touchdown. Look at the negatives, and how many of them could have fallen on Smith. Incomplete pass, fumbled / muffed hand off, muffed QB / center exchange, interception...it just keeps going. Even with all I just said about what he did was against a prevent defense (everybody say it with me...what does a prevent defense prevent? VICTORY!), the fact that he did drive the team down the field by going 4-7 for 45 yards (not counting the spike to stop the clock), all of that could do nothing but give him the confidence that he can be a pro level QB. Why risk that positive momentum for him by putting him in a situation where he makes a mistake? At this point I am looking towards the future, and the negatives far outweighed the positives on that scenario. Billick going for the tie and OT was the sensible move (although I have no doubt that somewhere in the DC suburbs that Gregg Easterbrook was making his "Game Over" note in his notebook, and will undoubtedly have a smart yet pithy comment on that going for the tie instead of the win in his TMQ article this week. That being said, I am a huge admirer of Mr. Easterbrook, and read his column every week. I highly recommend you do the same).
  • Billick back in 2008 I know it wasn't what I wanted, nor what a lot of others wanted. But I have my usual conspiracy theory on that. It is well known that the Ravens had at least preliminary talks with Bill Cowher. Not much as made of it, but in the wake of the Bobby Petrino quitting (another topic I will have to hit ASAP), when Atlanta contacted him it was made public that Cowher said he was planning on staying in the broadcast booth for at least one more year (which is about right for coaches taking a break where THEY decide to leave a team and not have a team tell them that it is time to go. 2 years is pretty average off "recharging the batteries" time. Now factor in that Billick has 3 years at about $5 million per, and how much it would cost to land a big fish the size of Cowher, and the fact that he wants another year to relax with his cushy studio gig). It is a lot more palatable to a team to eat $10 million and get the hottest coach on the market (assuming he is back on the market) than to eat $15 million and go with either an untested Off or Def Coord. or a retread head coach (after Petrino and Nick Saban, I don't think there will be many college coaches who haven't already coached in the NFL coming up any time soon). You see where this is going? Stay tuned and let's see how close I am on this one.
  • The Mitchell Report I have to wrap this up, but I need to check in real quick on the Mitchell report. Honestly, it gained a LOT of credence after I saw THIS this morning. B-Rob was the one player that kept getting singled out as proof that the Mitchell Report was long on innuendo and short on facts. "A player said that another player said he tried steroids a couple of times, but he never saw him inject or take any steroids, never joined his housemates while they were cycling, and the one time the first player went to go buy steroids, the second player split before it happened"...I was just as ready to call bullshit over what sounded like a former teammate of Roberts (and close enough friend to have him in his wedding) who couldn't make it in the bigs and is now headed over to Japan to try and extend his career and is just jealous. But now, I just don't know what to think. I will touch on this again later, when I have time to really delve into the enormity of it all.

Okay, that is it for now. Talk to you soon (Hopefully it won't be a month and a half this time).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Baseball is done. Hockey is here (who noticed that? Anyone? Bueller?). Basketball is starting up. NASCAR is almost over (still can't get into NASCAR. Sorry fans, I just can't). Football is king, and it is steamrolling through the season.

The Ravens are 4-3 and coming off the bye week. They next play Monday night in Pittsburgh. I am not feeling overly confident on this one, and in fact am not feeling too good about the season in general. They have 9 games left, and this is what the schedule looks like...

@ Pittsburgh. They beat them down 2x last season. Steelers looking for payback? Probably. Steelers looking to gut punch a division foe and put the AFC North in a stranglehold? Most definitely. Hoping for a win, but not hopeful. This would make the record 4-4.

vs. Cincinnati. We should have beat them in Week 1. They have only 1 other win this season. Yes, Chris Henry is available to come off suspension for this game, but even so, I think this should be a win. 5-4.

vs. Cleveland. We should not have won this game, but only because of Billick's play calling and stupid decisions on defense by the players. The Browns are playing a lot better this year. Tossup game, but I am going with home field advantage and the Ravens' desire for payback from the last game. 6-4.

@ San Diego. A couple of weeks ago I would have said this should be a win. Now I am not so sure. The Chargers are playing better, it is in San Diego (where you cannot discount the residuals of the community banding together in the wake of the California fires as motivation for the team), and they are probably looking for revenge for the loss last year in a game that they probably shouldn't have lost. Unless they fall apart again (always a possibility with Norv Turner and Ted Cottrell in there) it looks like a loss. 6-5.

vs. New England. As of this post, New England is not only undefeated, it is undefeated against the spread. That is beyond comprehension. Barring an injury to Brady knocking him out of the game, I don't see how the hell we win this. and with the Patriots' defense, even WITH Brady out I am not feeling this one. 6-6.

vs. Indianapolis. This team has not been getting nearly enough respect or attention for the season that they are having (according to my recollection, they are only the 2nd team in NFL history to start 3 straight seasons 7-0 or better. No matter what you think of the franchise, that is pretty darn impressive). Our defense has not been near the level of last year. Another barring a miracle, it ain't happening game. 6-7.

@ Miami. Good chance that the Dolphins will still be winless here. Will it still be the Cleo Lemon experience, or will they have gone for the "look to the future" move and brought in John Beck. They lost Ronnie Brown for the year. Will Ricky Williams be back, or will be looking at Samkon (I couldn't make the cut with the Texans) Gado? If this is a loss, Billick should be fired by 8 P that night. 7-7.

@ Seattle. The Seahawks are not playing all that well (and much to the dismay of my fantasy team Shawn Alexander has apparently forgotten how to run towards the opponent with any level of intensity), but Seattle is one of the hardest places to play in the NFL (32-12 since Qwest opened in 2002 through this season). Toss up goes to the home team. 7-8.

vs. Pittsburgh. Final game of the season. If the Steelers have the division and / or a bye of the inability to get a bye settled by this game, it could go the Ravens' way. But I am not confident, and if the team really is 7-8 going in, there is a good chance that some of if not most of the players will have stopped trying so hard (which is an indictment of the pro athlete in general, who I think should hold him / herself to a higher standard). My bet? 7-9.

I don't want to opine on what the aftermath of this would be just yet. Let's see it play out.

A quick note on the Kevin Millar incident (read THIS). To those that had a problem with a guy who won a world championship with a team that still has many of those teammates and who got permission from his own club to do it, I say shut up. I don't think ANYONE can question Millar's loyalty to the Orioles as a player. Maybe if the Orioles actually MADE the postseason, it would be different. Let him get his props in a city that still loves him for what he did for them. And it isn't like he is throwing out the first pitch for the Yankees and their 26 World Championships. He was part of a team that ended an 86 year drought. That makes him part of something extra special and not a person of questionable character.

One last thing...this Sunday afternoon is the big New England-Indianapolis game. The Colts are 4.5 point home dogs last time I checked. The defending champs, undefeated, who beat this very team (albeit a much less loaded talent-wise team) in the postseason last year is a 4.5 point home underdog? As a rule, a team gets 3 points for being the home team if all the other things are equal. So this really makes the Patriots a 7.5 favorite. Now I know the line is set by who is betting on what team more than the actual teams, but that still seems off to me. And I am willing to bet that Tony Dungy is using that to his advantage. A lot will depend on if Marvin Harrison can go, and if the Patriots can find a solution to Dallas Clark (Adailus Thomas anyone?). The Pats got Richard Seymore (Seymoure? whatever) back. But can they stop Manning, Harrison, Wayne, Clark, and Addai? I am not as confident as everyone else seems to be. But the bigger question is can the Indy defense stop Brady, Moss, Welker, Stallworth, and the possibly returning Maroney? As I told a guy at work the other night (and as I mentioned a little earlier), the team has beaten both all the opponents put against them (of course, they have played the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills, who have a combined 3 wins. But you have to play your division, and they happen to be in a sucky one this year. Even if Buffalo is better than their record) and the spread that Vegas put on them, which is absolutely unprecedented. I cannot go against that. So I say the Patriots win this one. After this one, they have their bye, then play the following teams:

@ Buffalo
vs. Philadelphia
@ Baltimore
vs. Pittsburgh
vs. New York Jets
vs. Miami
@ New York Giants

I see a total of 2 games that MIGHT give them some difficulty, Pittsburgh and the Giants. But honestly, if they beat Indy, the only thing standing in the way of a perfect season is themselves and the possibility of resting their starters once home field advantage for the length of the postseason is secured.

Friday, October 19, 2007

I was looking back at some previous entries here, and I came across one talking about how Barry Bonds was going to break the career home run record (he did), and how I thought Alex Rodriguez would break the single season home run record (he didn't). However, he did have a career year, leading the American League in home runs, runs batted in, and runs scored. And I am still willing to bet that that he is going to opt out of his contract with the Yankees (especially now that Torre is gone, which I will get to in a moment) and sign a huge free agent deal (I am guessing in the neighborhood of $30 million per year for 5-6 years with some kind of club or player option). And although no one wants to believe me, I am still saying that he ends up with the Cubs. We shall see what happens.

Now on to Torre. I am officially naming him as the 2007-08 biggest name in free agency. I am also going to say that he is going to be the most overvalued free agent, and will NOT be successful in his new job (unless he gets into broadcasting, which I think he would be successful at doing). The thing I have noticed with managers/head coaches is that more so than almost any other job or position they are the culmination of a perfect storm rather than the driving force. By that I mean that they are the final complimentary part to a team that wins a championship. A quick glance at coaches that have won championships with one team and later coached another team shows this. Look at this list of World Series Winning managers...

World Series Championships - Ties Are Alphabetized

Joe McCarthy - 7

Casey Stengel - 7

Connie Mack - 5

Walter Alston - 4

Joe Torre - 4

Sparky Anderson - 3

Miller Huggins - 3

John McGraw - 3

Bill Carrigan - 2

Frank Chance - 2

Cito Gaston - 2

Bucky Harris - 2

Ralph Houk - 2

Tom Kelly - 2

Tommy Lasorda - 2

Billy Martin - 2

Bill McKechnie - 2

Danny Murtaugh - 2

Billy Southworth - 2

Dick Williams - 2
How many of these managers won these championships with different teams? Anderson (also the only manager to win a World Series championship in both the AL and the NL), Harris, McKechnie. That is it.
I think that we can all agree that a championship season in ANY sport (excepting for those "dynasties" like the 70's Steelers or the Yankees of too many dang eras) requires a mot of skill on the team and a lot of luck on and off the field. For instance, injuries to your team (or to your opponents/division foes/rivals) can have a HUGE impact. All in all, it is almost a perfect storm/confluence of events and players that leads to a championship. There is a reason that there has been no repeat winners, or even two time winners of the World Series since the 1999-2000 Yankees. Say all you want about big money/big market versus small market and buying teams. If that was the case the Yankees and the Red Sox would have won every World Series for the last 10+ years, and they probably would have played the Cubs at least 5 or 6 times. I am a firm believer in team chemistry (the 1972-1974 Oakland Athletics notwithstanding), and team chemistry is a very fragile thing.
Joe Torre was always lauded for his ability to handle the huge egos that came to New York with the giant contracts and make them work together. This is true, to an extent. But the other thing to think about is that when he was leading the Yankees to the World Series, he had a mixture of young players with talent and a hardcore work ethic (Jeter/Rivera ET AL) and a bunch of veterans who played the game the "right way", and weren't all about egos (O'Neill, Cone, Key, Wetteland, Boggs, Martinez...the list goes on and on). The team kept on winning, but those veteran players moved on and/or retired, and the Yankee's front office kept bringing in players with comparable (or better) stats, but not with the same work ethic and desire (Knoblauch, Giambi, etc). And Torre was able to keep them in line enough to get to the postseason (although with a roster as talented as they had, not getting to the postseason would have been BEYOND unacceptable), but he couldn't get them any further. Why is that? I am glad you asked...
Joe Torre was never a great tactician. He was a good motivator (not a great one, but a good one), but the X's and O's of the sport were never his strength. When he had that mix of young and old players fighting tooth and nail to get to (and win) it all, he looked like a genius. Once he had to start really playing chess, he started losing to managers that had to do it all season in order to win. Torre could just bludgeon most teams with superior talent, but without talent you won't make it to the postseason, and with talent and a postseason berth, anything is possible. Since Torre didn't have to make tactical moves NEARLY as often as most other managers, when the margin for error was so greatly reduced he didn't have the needed skill set to fall back on. Joe Torre was out managed by Jack McKeon in the 2003 World Series (did I just hear someone say "who"? My point exactly). A manager brought in halfway through the season as an interim manager led the Florida Marlins past the mighty Yankees. It REALLY shouldn't have happened.
Now as far as being in the broadcast booth, I think he would be excellent as a color man. He has a dry sense of humor, and a great knowledge of the game and the history of the game (hey, he's been part of the history for 40+ years, he HAD to have retained SOME of it). He is a warm, friendly guy by all accounts, and has a natural, pleasant way of explaining things that I think would not come across as condescending. So Joe, if you are reading this (and I am sure that you are. At least, SOMEONE named Joe is going to read this), call up Fox and get that cushy desk job doing the pre-game. Or take Dusty Baker's spot on Baseball Tonight. But don't grab that Kansas City Royals job. You REALLY don't want to do that.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Monday October 8th, 2007

It has been months since I posted here. To tell you the truth, I had pretty much abandoned this place. It kept getting pushed back because of other stuff, then I would look and it had been so long since I had posted that it seemed like there was no point in posting anymore (damn self fulfilling prophecies, or whatever the hell it is). Either way, I have been getting the itch to expound on my sports knowledge (and sometimes on my lack thereof) for a while. And since I had a request to post, I figured it was time to dust off my Madden-cap and get to it.

Lets begin with a subject near and dear to my heart, the Ravens. 3-2, with 2 wins that were great until the 4th quarter when the defense suddenly petered out, and one UGLY ass win yesterday. Mixed with two nasty losses (6 turnovers in one game? That is bush league crap, plain and simple) and you get where we are now.

Now yesterday's win was not pretty, but I am actually okay with it. The Ravens have had their fair share of injuries, and any time you have an offensive line with 3 rookies and a combined 8 years of experience (their most experienced player had a total of 25 games under his belt by the time the carnage was over, and the team had NO backups left for the line) and are down to your last tight end on your roster..well, you take your wins where you can.

All of this is not to say that the Ravens are off the hook for their lackluster play. Every team has injuries to deal with, and that is never an excuse. I have always liked Billick's mantra of "Next Man Up". That is the way that you have to look at it. A player goes down? Next Man Up. No excuses, no whining. Next Man Up. That is the way that it has to be. But ignoring injuries, the problem with the team this year has to come down to play calling. Let's look at the Cleveland loss for an example.

The Browns jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Granted, if Chris McCalister hadn't decided to guess on Braylon Edwards' 75 yard go route and instead played man coverage like HE WAS SUPPOSED TO, it might have been a lot different. But be that as it may, the Ravens are down by 2 scores before the first quarter ends. Add to that their starting QB has a groin injury severe enough for him to be pulled from the previous 2 games and replaced by the backup (and to anyone watching, the fact that he was not stepping into his throws, which was causing him to be very inaccurate and even less able to get the ball down the field (and to be honest, Steve McNair lost his long ball a few years ago), plus there is still over 45 minutes left in the game, and they have a RB that they traded 3 picks for then gave a $40 million contract to, that the defense needs some time to regroup and game plan for a team that is beating them off the ball and to the marks, and that the other team's defense is ranked 30th in the league in rushing, and what do you do?

YOU RUN THE DAMN BALL UNTIL THE OTHER TEAM CAN'T FEEL THEIR LEGS ANYMORE.

You deflate the momentum, keep their offense off of the field, give your defense a breather, and give the other team a steady dose of Willis McGahee and Musa Smith. Make the Browns stop them.

Fact - McGahee had 68 yards on 8 carries in the first half (8.5 YPC)
Fact - McGahee ended with 104 yards on 14 carries (7.4 YPC)
Fact - McNair ended the first half 9-17 for 95 yards with an INT (10.6 YPC, 5.6 YPA)
Fact - McNair ended the game 34-53 for 307 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT (9.03 YPC, 5.8 YPA)

So what does all of that mean? Simple. Billick panicked, or at least he didn't think the game through and got pass happy, even though the few times he did call for a run, the running game delivered. And to make matters worse, he got pass happy with a QB who couldn't make the throws because he was injured, but for some unknown reason he didn't pull the QB for the healthy backup, even though he had the week before. Why is that? I think to avoid a budding QB controversy by the small brains who sit there and say that if you pull the starting QB and the backup has ANY success than BOOM there's a QB controversy. It's like the old saying goes "Who is the most popular guy in any NFL city? The backup QB" (even here in Baltimore). Even at the half, when the Ravens were down 24-6, they still had PLENTY of time to run, run, run the ball, eat the clock, and beat down the Browns. Instead McNair threw 2x as many passes in the 2nd half as he did in the 1st.

I am not known as a Billick basher any more than I am known as a Billick fan. But I am a fan of common sense football, and when you have someone who could be considered an elite RB (you would be hard pressed to name more than 5-6 backs better than him without having an argument on your hands, and you better have some solid stats to back up your claim. Personally, at this time I would rank him behind Tomlinson, Addai, Alexander, Johnson, and pretty much tied with Parker - and don't be surprised if Johnson falls off of this list in the next year or two as his body pulls an Earl Campbell on him) and an opponent that is so bad at stopping the run that only 2 other teams in the league are worse than them at it, you have to run the ball a lot. A total of 20 carries is not going to get the job done.

This leads me to my overriding problem with Billick. He keeps trying to make the team fit his idea of what they should be instead of being what they re. He is the guy who designed the offense that has (or had, it is possible that the Colts beat it) the record for most points in a single season back when he was the OC for the Vikings in 1998. He cannot let that go. I am convinced that the only reason the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2000 is because Billick didn't have enough built up hubris as a head coach to override what he saw happening (big ball control offense and devestating defense with timely special teams). Now he cannot help himself. He has to be right, he has to show that his system will work, even if it isn't working. Look at Don Shula. He won Super Bowls with a big bruising running game and an underrated defense. When Marino falls into his lap, what does he do? He retools the offense for its biggest asset and keeps on winning. Billick cannot do that. He is convinced that it is the system that makes the players, but really it is the other way around. The players make the system.

I have one other thing that I need to make a point of. Last night at work, someone was calling Jonathan Ogden soft for not playing because of a toe injury. And I have heard others mocked for missing multiple games with injuries like "turf toe" (an injury as misunderstood and discredited as baseballs "injury of the year", the strained oblique. Both VERY painful, yet the general public has no idea how bad they are and how much they affect a player's performance) and the like. Let me explain something to you...

Look at Ogden's personal stats (height/weight/etc). 6'9". 345 lbs. He is a BIG MAMMA-JAMMA. His job is to run into other 6'+, 300+ lb. players as hard as he can and drive them away from the guy who has the ball. What part of the body does he use to push off with? What is the only part of his body coming in contact with the ground, absorbing ALL of that weight and force and redirecting it (simple physics, y'all)? His feet, specifically, the balls of his toes. It is like someone running at full speed, their heels never touch the ground. Now imagine running at full speed while pushing a 335 lb person who is pushing against you with all of their might. Can you picture how much force is coming down on that foot? And with Ogden's big toe being the part that is hurt, can you imagine how impossible it would be for him to do his job?

Basically, I am saying to all those who question him (or anyone else with a foot injury), don't be a dork. Try it yourself and see what happens.

Wow. I wasted a lot of company time doing that. But it was fun. I shall have to get back to doing this more often.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Maybe the Ravens should draft a pass catching tight end in the first round of the upcoming draft. Why would I say this when they already have one of the best in the business in Todd Heap? Because Todd Heap (already known for missing some games due to injury) went and decided to get himself cursed. No, he is not the Madden cover boy (more on the guy who is - Vince Young - in a moment). He decided to go a much more dangerous route. He's doing Chunky Soup commercials this year.

You can read a bit about it HERE. And as far as the Chunky Soup curse? Check THIS out.

So what does this mean? Well according to the curse's website, it depends on how involved he is in the commercial and who is in it with him. The more prominent he becomes, the more he will be hurt by this.

And to tell you the truth, I am a little upset that the Ravens' brass allowed this. They saw what Madden did to Ray Ray, why would they tempt fate twice? Are they setting Billick up to fail? Did my thoughts of dropping King of the Sabermetrics in favor of Rex Ryan, the Other White Meaty Coach get through to them? We can only hope, friends. We can only hope.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball was a week ago yesterday, April 15th. Baseball did (I think) a good job of celebrating it. And more importantly, baseball and baseball players did a good job of using the moment as a starting point on talking about race in the sport today, and the impact of Jackie Robinson throughout all of sports.

However, I do have to disagree with a few of the things that have been said. There was an article in ESPN Magazine that had three black baseball players discussing what they see happening and what they hope will happen. It is a good article (I think that ESPN put it online. You should try and check it out). This morning, I read an article in the Baltimore Sun by David Steele. Here is a link to it...

http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/bal-sp.steele22apr22,0,4350677.column?coll=bal-sports-columnists&?track=sto-relcon

This article is akin to the one in ESPN Magazine, it that it took three black ballplayers (this time 3 Orioles) and had them talk about their lives as black ballplayers in today's game and what could be done to preserve the legacy in the future.

I am finding it hard to find the exact words to describe the way I feel about one little part of the article. I used "disagree" before, and it is the most direct way to say it, but it almost seems harsher than I would like. However, if I had a better command of the English language (or a thesaurus sitting on my desk) I would do better. We shall just have to keep moving forward.

I also want to say that I am a big fan of David Steele. His commentary is one of the first things I scan for in the Sun in the morning. I find his writing to be refreshingly unpretentious, and very well thought out. Rational arguments for or against a certain topic, and even if I do not agree with him, I always feel better about my views after I have compared them to his. And that is the God's honest truth. But to the matter at hand, his saying that baseball is striking out at preserving Jackie Robinson's legacy because of a dearth of black baseball players is, to me, missing the point and one of the real lasting impacts of what he did for all of sports. What Jackie Robinson did was to show the world that the color of your skin, that where you are from means nothing. God given talent and hard work deserve to be rewarded by going as far as they can take you against the best competition the world has to offer. It is my opinion that without Jackie Robinson, there would have been no Texas Western, no Jim Brown, ...the list goes on and on. I do think that eventually the color line would have been broken, but it probably wouldn't have happened until the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. I also think that the Civil Rights movement would have suffered and would have had a harder road if Jackie Robinson had not been the man that he was. By that I mean that I think that it had to be at least in the back of some white people's minds that this black man is just as good as the white guys, and that any thought of natural inferiority was, if not broken, at least dented. And to black men and women everywhere he was a symbol, a rallying cry that they deserved to be on the same field as white people, whether that field was literal like a baseball field, or metaphorical like having a level playing field for things like work, housing, restaurants, bathrooms, and public transportation. The importance of Jackie Robinson's actions can never be overestimated.

But Jackie Robinson was not just fighting for black people. He was fighting for any group that has been repressed. He was fighting for the God given right to follow your dreams wherever they lead. The number of black players in baseball has dropped precipitously over the last 25 years, but the number of black players in other sports has risen noticeably. Football and basketball are well documented, but what about soccer? What about hockey? THAT is the lasting legacy of Jackie Robinson. He wasn't just playing for blacks in baseball, he was playing for anybody held back from playing a game because of their skin color or their nationality. Here is an interesting little article that mentions how Jackie Robinson's actions helped open the doors for other players...

http://www.library.eb.com/hispanic_heritage/article-9384936

I do agree 100% that every effort should be made to get more inner city kids to play baseball. But I also feel that every effort should be made to get inner city kids to play football, and soccer, and track and field, or any other sport out there. I do believe that sports builds character and teaches young men and women how to interact with each other and how to compete and to strive to be their best. Having a vested interest in sports while in school can lead to better attendance and grades, and a sense of accountability with teammates which can transfer to a sense of accountability to family and friends. But the legacy of Jackie Robinson says that a child can choose whatever sport he or she wants and not have to worry about being denied because of race. The article talks about how players need to get out there and interact with the kids, get them interested. By all means please do that. Go out there every chance you get and show kids wherever you are the beauty of baseball. Find places to let them play. Teach them stickball, like kids played for years in the city when there wasn't a baseball field they could go to. Help organize a team in your community and sponsor them. If there is something you love to do, no matter who you are or what race you are or what it is, you should share that passion with as many kids as possible. Any chance you have to reach out and motivate even one child to try and be their best at something should make every other thing you do worth it.

To me, that is the enduring legacy of Jackie Robinson.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Stay with me on this...

Unless something catastrophic occurs to him, Barry Bonds is going to pass Henry Aaron sometime this year, probably early in the summer. Whether or not he is guilty (something I cannot speak on because I have not actually seen the evidence. The book Game of Shadows is an excellent and compelling read, but it has not been substantiated in court so I will not accept is as the gospel truth), Bonds has been convicted in the court of public opinion. Bud Selig and Major League Baseball are doing everything possible to distance themselves from this moment. Bonds already holds the single season record.

I know, you already know this, but keep reading...

A couple years back the marquee player in baseball was traded to the marquee team in baseball. So far, it hasn't worked out like they planned, because this team has not won a World Series with this player on the roster. In fact, the local fan base, famous for being fickle with their love and respect, have spent more energy booing this player than cheering him. Of course I am speaking of A-Rod and the Yankees.

Now A-Rod is in a contract year (kinda. He has an opt out clause). Odds are he could get a new contract for more money than the amount he is owed over the final 3 years on the 10 year $252 Million he signed w/the Rangers. It would be for more years, but he would get more money. Yankees GM Brian Cashman has said that the Yankees will NOT renegotiate with him if he opts out. He will most likely opt out and go for the cash and a team less in the spotlight. What a better way to go out than to break Bonds' single season home run record, deflecting attention from Bonds' chase for 756 and making the sun shine on the team that MLB needs to win the World Series. A-Rod hits 74 (I predict 75 just for the round number), signs a big new contract with a club that is still marquee but not wth the easily riled fan base (say maybe the North Side of Chicago to be reunited w/Uncle Lou Pinella and the bleacher bums of Wrigley? Hmmmm...). The Yankees move Robinson Cano to third, where he will thrive. And he gets his next big guaranteed contract from the new ownership of the Cubs, trying to show their commitment to winning.

So Selig makes sure that A-Rod gets a few grooved pitches every now and again, enough for about 20-25 home runs, and let him do the rest.

Sound far fetched? Well let's see how it plays out, shall we?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Dick in a Box (Live @ MSG)

And how friggin' awesome is this? I'll tell you...REALLY FRIGGIN' AWESOME!

Friday, February 16, 2007



There are serious matters to discuss, but any chance I have to share with the world a cross between Adam Morrison's "I'm 15 and I'm going to the Iron Maiden Concert!" moustache and a "Joey Silvera" moustache I am going to take. I truly hope that this picks up steam with the rest of the team. When Eddie Murray and John Lowenstein were 'stache-ing it up in the '70's, the Orioles were good. Catch O's fever in 2007, this time on BETA!

Now, let's talk about the sport that rules our lives. Football. Lots going on around here that could carry some serious implications. First and foremost Rex Ryan interviewed for the San Diego Chargers' now vacant head coaching position. The philanthropist in me hopes he gets it because he deserves it. The fan in me hopes he never gets a job offer and he stays here as Defensive Coordinator until he retires at a ripe old age. So it is safe to say I am torn.

Actually, I'm not that torn. I want him to stay here and be the head coach of the Ravens in 2008. I think Billick has run his course here, 13-3 record notwithstanding. In my opinion (and the opinion of my good friend Greg, who crystallized the thought much more succinctly than I ever could have) he is a good coach, but he is too smart to get out of his own way. The reason the Ravens won in 2000 is because he was so new that he let the other coaches do their jobs and stayed the hell out of the way. Lots of good coaches do that. Now he thinks that he has to get extra smart and extra cute, especially in the postseason, and it is going to prematurely end our seasons until he is gone. A year or two away from the game and he comes back with another team and does well for 4-5 years. But in order to accomplish all of this, he needs to fail in 2007, and that would mean (to borrow from Bill Simmons) some serious "fantanking". Rooting against my own team for short term failure in order to obtain the possibility of longer term success is not something I take lightly and not something I could do easily. If a team I root for starts off badly and there is no reasonable hope for a meaningful turnaround that season ('88 Orioles anyone?) I will gladly root for continued lack of success in order to get that good draft pick and maybe that hot coaching prospect. But to hope for failure before mini-camp has even begun, well I am not sure if I can do that. I'll let you know how it goes.

To franchise tag or not to franchise tag. THAT is the question. Whether it is nobler to keep Adailus Thomas around for another season when odds are that we are going to have to lose him the following year due to salary cap limitations or to let him go now and use the cap space to help shore up the offensive line and the secondary...well...it is the big decision over at Owings Mills right now. I have waffled back and forth on this, and here is where I stand right now (reserving the right to pull a complete 180 at any time no questions asked): let him walk. I think that keeping 10 of 11 starters on the #1 ranked defense in the NFL is a pretty good deal, and I think that Jarret Johnson is ready to step up. He will never be as versatile as AD, but he will do the linebacker position justice. I think Johnson would surprise some people. The fans would come close to rioting if Thomas left (my money is on San Francisco, a team with a real chance at going places in the next year or two), but the thing is that he would command over $7 million as the franchise player, and he is 30. I know he hasn't been a defensive starter for his entire career, but he has been a gunner on special teams his whole career, and that lends itself to catastrophic injury. He is due to start losing a step or two. The risks are not worth the payoff here.

Now let's talk Jamal Lewis. There have been some rumblings about the team's plans to cut him before his $5 million roster bonus kicks in. Cutting him saves $3.3 (or something close to that) in cap room this year. But here is the deal folks, his "3 year" contract that he signed in 2006 was really a 1 year contract. It was a "show me you are back from the injuries and distractions" contract. He didn't show me enough. Now I have heard him say that he was injured for a good part of the season last year and that he is going to be back %100 this year. Well, I would love to believe that. But even if that is the case, he has been hampered by injury for the majority of his career (elbow injury his rookie year caused him to miss a lot of training camp, the blown knee in 2001, the ankle in 2004/2005, and that is without delving into his college career). He is the style of back that absorbs too much punishment, and I think it has caught up with him. This would be an even easier decision if Musa Smith could stay healthy for more than a quarter and a half. I still don't know what if anything they plan to do with Mike Anderson. Are they planning on converting him back to a fullback, which is why they are letting Ovie (ain't EVEN trying to get the last name right because it is after midnight and I have been up since 6 A.M.) test the free agent waters? Personally I would rather they keep Ovie around, draft a good RB in the first or second round, and use the rookie along with Anderson like the Patriots used Lawrence Maroney with Corey Dillon. Jamal? Good luck and Godspeed my friend. Thanks for all the hard work.

I will check back in on the subject before the draft. In the meantime, I need to get my brain into Spring Training mode. Benson out, Traschel in? I am going to have to get some sleep before I can delve into the muck that is the Orioles in 2007.

BSR

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I have been a Cubs fan for years. It started when I was 8. That was the year that my sister went into the 6th grade and I went into the 3rd grade. Which meant for the first time in my existence in the realm of schooling I was in a different school that her. And since both of our parents worked we weer latch key kids. And since I got home before my sister, I got a key to the house. And that meant that for the first time in my life I got to control the remote and choose what to watch on TV. We had finally got cable about 6 months before (although it would be another 2+ years before my Dad broke down and got an air conditioner. Not even window units, just a big ceiling fan built in that sucked air throughout the house and kicked it out of a vent in the attic. Because when the air is 90+ degrees with 75% humidity, making it move past you REALLY cools you off. I was one of those kids who looked at going to the movie theatre like a gift from the gods of comfortable air, like I was living in the 50's or something. But I digress...), so I had more to choose from than just the Big 3 and the local affiliates (remember when there were channels NOT affiliated with networks? The ones that would show whatever the hell they wanted? Nothing was cooler than random Saturday morning cartoons followed by the kung-fu triple feature or 12 straight hours of Charles Bronson. I am too damn young to be getting nostalgic!). I would surf around (no Cartoon Network then), and one day I came across WGN, the Chicago superstation. And they were showing a Cubs game. Now this was before they put the lights on Wrigley, so all the games there were day games. And even back then day games during the week were a real rarity. I got hooked on watching a stadium full of people and listening to Harry Carry (phonetically the perfect name for a Cubs broadcaster). I was too young to know that he was sloshed off of his ass most games. I just liked listening to him ramble and sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame". When my Dad would come home, he was so happy that wasn't watching "that damn MTV" (which was banned, almost Footloose style, in my house for years. Of course that ban was all but ignored by my sister and me. I remember when "Home Sweet Home" by Motley Crue was number one on the old request show for what seemed like 2 years) that he happily supported my having a National League team to root for, since it did not interfere with the American League team that was here in Baltimore. He would tease me sometimes to check my loyalty in case the Orioles and Cubs played in the World Series, making sure I would stay with the home team. Looking back, he really shouldn't have spent any energy worrying about that. But that love of the Cubs led me to become a fan of all Chicago teams (except the White Sox, especially after the '83 playoffs). I lost interest in the Bulls after they became the juggernaut of the NBA, and I never really got into hockey (but I still occasionally scan the box scores to see how the Blackhawks are doing). That is why I am a Cubs fan.

Another thing I am a big fan of is athletes and stars speaking in the third person. I love the unmitigated hubris and the unintentional comedy. To me, there is nothing better than hearing something like "Willy Jo has to think about the future of Willy Jo". Brilliant. So imaging my joy upon seeing this...

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2763803

Big Z, the Z train, Carlos Zambrano.

Now the article is worth reading, especially if you are a Cubs fan, or a fan of any of the NL Central teams. But this is what makes it gold...

"Whatever happens, I don't want to know [anything] about a contract during the season. I want to sign with the Cubs before the season starts," the Cubs' pitching ace said in an interview on WGN-TV, according to the Chicago Tribune. "If they don't sign me, sorry, but I must go. That's what Carlos Zambrano thinks."

That's what Carlos Zambrano thinks. Does anyone else read that and hear "What would Brian Boitano Do?" in their head? It even has the same number of syllables. It's perfect.

At least that's what BSR thinks.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Why I hate that I love sports...

I love the competition, I love the camaraderie, both as a teammate, and as a fan. I remember vividly living in Fell's Point in 2000, and being there the night the Ravens won the Super Bowl. Thousands of people laughing and hugging and high-fiving each other. Strangers smiling at each other. It was beautiful.

But then you get to the Orioles and their 9 straight (and hopefully not still counting) losing seasons. You get the Terps men's basketball team going from National Championship to a first (or was it second? Either way it sucked) round NIT ouster. You get the Ravens going 13-3 and then losing to the Colts (the Colts) in the divisional round of the playoffs. And from that last blow to the sternum you get a collective malaise that has shrouded this city like a sickening fog. I am just now getting over it. Really. And that is what sports can do to a fan. A game played by people who have no real connection to me or my friends except for the jersey that they wear. And they will leave and others will come to take their place. The time of athletes being a part of the community in the off-season is dead and gone. The bench players are quickly becoming millionaires these days, and they don't live amongst the general population. You cannot buy a washing machine from Jonathen Ogden if you go to Sears in April. They no longer have to be the greeters at a restaurant. They own it now, and they aren't in the office counting receipts at night. That is the way of the world, and I can accept that. And still I care more about the knee of B.J. Sams than I do of my next door neighbor. I know that is disturbing on at least a few levels. It disturbs me too. But it is true. And when Ray Lewis is gone and some rookie out of UCLA is roaming the middle of the field, I will care as much about him as I do Ray right now. I would think that there is something wrong with me if there weren't 70,000+ in the stadium and millions more at home who feel the exact same way that I do. Is it insanity if everyone thinks the same thing that I do?

And here is the thing. I would love to be able to root for the Colts. I think that Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison are really class acts. They play the game the way it is meant to be played. And except for Manning whoring himself out in more commercials than Michael Jordan and William Shatner combined, I have no beefs with them at all. As far as Tony Dungy goes, if there was ever a man who deserved to win a championship it is him. He built the Bucs into a Super Bowl contender and then gets ousted. He keeps his calm, doesn't scream obscenities all over the field and doesn't feel the need to prove to the world that he is the the smartest man in the room at every opportunity (I'm looking at you Brian Billick). The way he handled the tragedy of his son's suicide last year should be in the dictionary as the definition of class and dignity under extreme scrutiny. I have the distinct feeling that if he whispered the words "run through that brick wall" to any of his past or present players, there would soon be rubble on the ground and a nice big hole to walk through.

But they are the COLTS. And they are saying that Harrison broke Berry's career catch team record. And that soon (as early as next year) Manning will do the same to the records of Unitas. And that is not something that I can stomach.

Now I know that the argument about the records and leaving the name has been made to death, and I have been as guilty as anyone of spitting into the wind in regards to this subject. But it still bothers me to no end every time that I think about it. It still kills me inside that Donovan and Unitas and the rest are listed as Indianapolis Colts in the Hall of Fame.

A lot of people say that the man who broke the hearts of a community (and the Baltimore Colts community was much bigger than the city of Baltimore) is dead and gone and we should not blame the son for the faults of the father. And I agree with that, with one caveat. Bob Irsay said that if and when Baltimore got an NFL team we could have back our heritage. Art Modell tried to secure that when he moved the Browns here. Jim Irsay said "no". So he is perpetuating the pain.

Melodramatic? Yes. But it is real.

I guess I am not as over it as I thought.