Saturday, September 19, 2009

Ravens Week 2 Preview

(please forgive the lack of player profile links today, I am trying to get this done before dinner and have a limited amount of time)

Here we are at Week 2 of the NFL season, and already we have Game of the Year potential here. The Ravens are travelling to San Diego to face the Chargers, and both teams are considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and if it comes down to it, this game could help decide home field advantage in a playoff game.

The Chargers have a good defense. But it is hurting right now. Not only did they lose Defensive Tackle Jamal Williams, they also lost Defensive End Travis Johnson. Add to that the fact that they gave up 366 yards to the Oakland Raiders last week (and it is a safe bet to say that the Ravens' offense is at least as potent if not more potent that the Raiders' offense). Among those 366 yards were 148 rushing yards, and when you look at the Ravens' backfield of Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, and LeRon McClain, it is easy to see the same kind of numbers (or more, since the Ravens' offensive line is young and lie most young lines is more adept at run blocking than pass blocking. When run blocking you make a hole and then move down the field to find someone else to block, while in pass blocking you are usually more responsible for a zone block and have to stay within a certain area until after the ball is thrown or else you are called for a penalty for being ineligible man down field, since lineman cannot catch a pass unless they declare themselves eligible to the referee before the play - if you are confused, look HERE for a more detailed explanation). It is easier to run block because you can just get nasty and bull rush someone to the turf. Run blocking takes a bit of a nasty streak in you to do it right, and the young bucks on the Ravens' line have that in spades. Speaking as a former offensive lineman, run blocking is fun. Pass blocking is boring. Look for the Ravens to give the Chargers a heavy dose of running the ball, mostly between the tackles, with a good bit of play action in order to keep the defense from putting 8 men in the box every play.

On the other side, the Chargers have a good quarterback in Phillip Rivers, and usually have one of the best running backs (if not of all time, at least of the last 20-25 years) in LaDanian Tomlinson. However, Tomlinson is out after he rolled / sprained his ankle against the Raiders last week. The Chargers will respond by using Darren Sproles and Michael Bennett. Sproles is the kind of small, shifty RB that can give the Ravens fits, but the Ravens' defense is a lot quicker (especially in the secondary) than in the past, and the Chargers are probably going to be loathe to expose him to too much, especially with how much they rely on him in the return game. Bennett is probably not going to give the Ravens too much trouble. But once again you also have to look at the line play. The Ravens defensive line did not get too much pressure on the Chiefs, and that is going to have to change this week, because Phillip Rivers is no Brodie Croyle (and for Rivers, that is a good thing). But the Chargers are also going to be without Center Nick Hardwick and Guard Louis Vasquez (I do not know if he plays on the left or right side of the line). Having to potentially replace 40% of your line is difficult. Having two players right next to each other out at the same time is problematic. Having to replace the center is difficult, because the QB / C relationship is vital. It starts every offensive play. I am expecting the Ravens to try to blow up the A gaps and get penetration in the middle, forcing the Chargers to have to run the ball to the outside, extending the play laterally and allowing the quickness of the Ravens' defense to make plays in space. Also, Phillip Rivers is a good quarterback, but he is not the most mobile quarterback. If the Ravens can collapse the pocket and force him to roll out he becomes more of a liablilty. The big question is if the Ravens can stop Tight End Antonio Gates and Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson. Gates is one of the top tight ends in the game today. One of those players who is too big for a cornerback to cover him, and too fast for a linebacker to cover him (although the Ravens linebackers might just be up to the task, as they are one of the fastest linebacker corps in the league).

Special teams are going to be a concern, with the aforementioned Darren Sproles being one of the better return guys in the league right now and the Ravens' return games not being all that impressive last week. I do expect better blocking on punts, since I cannot imagine John Harbaugh (and his special teams coaching background) allowing that kind of sloppy play to stand.

But even with that, I think the Ravens come out of San Diego 2-0 and ready to host Cleveland for Week 3. Final score...

Ravens 24
Chargers 20

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I know, I know. One week and I am already running late. Well, my anniversary is tomorrow, and I have had to finagle my schedule a bit in order to get a couple days off from both jobs. But I am here now with my "Better Late Than Never" analysis of Week 1. And in a word, my analysis, is the following...

That is for all the people who think that the sky is falling because of the final score of

Chiefs 24
Ravens 38

I am not one to say "the game wasn't as close as the final score indicates", because in the end it doesn't matter what the final score indicates other than the winner and the loser. And after a loss no one takes solace in how close the game was from a statistics perspective. Besides, the Chiefs, even when they had the lead, were never really in control of the game.

They got 7 points off of a blocked punt. That happens maybe 2 times in a year if the stars align for a team (or against a team if they are the ones getting scored on that way). They got 7 points off of an interception that the Chiefs defense returned to the 6 (and then got a mulligan when there was a penalty called on the Ravens that otherwise would have left them at 3rd and goal from the 4 or 5, with the very real possibility of them having to settle for a field goal. Interceptions are not THAT uncommon, but they don't happen every game, and most times they don't get returned 70 yards. And they got a field goal after Mark Bradley made what can only be called a highlight reel, circus catch against very solid coverage. You cannot defend against the improbable. All you can do is recover and hold from there, and that is exactly what the Ravens did. All in all, they gave up only 11 first downs and 188 total yards of offense. Those are numbers that ANY team would gladly accept and take their chances as to what the final outcome would be.

The offense was a surprise, mainly because they threw the ball 43 times (and since their offensive strength is the running game, it led to some raised eyebrows). Flacco looked pretty good, but it is obvious that the middle third of the field is still a work in progress as far as his comfort level in throwing the ball. He threw it high over the middle more than a few times (most noticeable when he was trying to dump off the ball to Ray Rice, who is not exactly at Manute Bol levels). A good defense (like the Steelers) would have had 2 or 3 interceptions on some of those passes. Todd Heap was able to make some nice plays when he wasn't staying in for max protect, but he should have held on to the ball down in the red zone (inside the opponent's 20 yard line) in (I think) the 3rd quarter. McGahee is playing like a man who will be looking for a job next year (which is in all likelihood a fact). And as a point of interest, the 1st touchdown (the one where Flacco ran around in the pocket and eventually rolled to the left and then hit McGahee for a 1 yard TD pass was not nearly as improvised as it may have seemed. To wit, check out THIS link.

I do think a lot of things were kept in Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron's back pocket as far as plays we will see a lot of this year. This is a team that ran the Statue of Liberty play in the PRESEASON, so expect lots of wrinkles as Cameron continues to see what his players are doing best, and how it matches up against what the defense they are facing and THEIR strengths. Add to that the fact that the Ravens are playing the San Diego Chargers (IN San Diego), a team with a much better defense (the one that I have on my fantasy team, TYVM), and you can put two and two together and get Cam not wanting to show his hand just yet.

Tomorrow I have a 50/50 chance of getting to the computer with enough time to give Week 2 a thorough once over, so look for my article on Saturday.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ravens Week 1 Preview

Okay, here is the plan for this year...either Friday or Saturday I will do up a preview of the upcoming game. Monday or Tuesday will be a game recap (if the Ravens are playing a Monday night game, or if there are extenuating circumstances that are going to force me to TIVO the game and watch it Monday - like this week - the recap will be Tuesday or Wednesday). So without further ado...Week 1.

Kansas City Chiefs at Ravens

The Chiefs come to town with a new, rookie coach and a new quarterback. Todd Haley is the new coach, who until last year was the Offensive Coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals. The quarterback is Matt Cassel, a career backup on the Patriots who stepped into the starting job after Tom Brady went down with an injury in Week 1 last year and guided one of the most potent offenses in history (in 2007 they set records for most TD passes in a season by a QB and most TD receptions by a wide receiver in a season) to an 11-5 record. They were just the 2nd 11 win team in the history of the NFL to not make the playoffs. The big question is how he will do without Randy Moss and Wes Welker to throw to. I am thinking the Scott Mitchell Principle will come into play (Mitchell was the backup to Dan Marino in Miami and when he stepped in for him for a few games he played EXTREMELY well. Right about then Free Agency hit the NFL and Mitchell parlayed a few games of success into a couple of big NFL contracts, including with the Lions and the Ravens). They also come in with a running back who has something to prove (but has spent the last couple of years not proving it) in Larry Johnson and a receiving corps that has lost their best player after the trade to the Atlanta Falcons of Tony Gonzalez. The team is a bit of an enigma with all of the changes, with the only constant being WR Dwayne Bowe (but he was in Haley's doghouse for a while during training camp, even being put on the 2nd team squad under since released from the team Amani Toomer, so take from that what you will). The Chiefs are not known for their defensive prowess, and their offense is a question mark (even their "franchise QB" Cassel is questionable with a knee injury). So where does that leave the Ravens?

The defense is as deep as any, and deeper than most. The front line has Pro Bowl caliber players in Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, and Trevor Pryce (and they are 2-3 deep with backups that could start on a lot of other teams, so the line stays fresh). The linebackers are again anchored by Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, with rookie Paul Kruger moving from Defensive End to Outside Linebacker depending on if the team is showing itself as a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense. The secondary has All-Pro Ed Reed, and it is also deep (an Achilles Heel of the team in recent years). The first team offense looked good in the preseason, especially QB Joe Flacco, who seems to be progressing nicely in his 2nd year in the league. It looks like the game is really slowing down for him, and he is making better decisions. The running game is solid, and 2nd year RB Ray Rice is primed for a breakout campaign.

Those are the positives.

Now for the areas of concern. The secondary is deep, but it currently lacks a true "shutdown" cornerback. Dominique Foxworth (a University of MD alum) signed a big contract in the offseason, and the Ravens are known for their astute observations of defensive talent in both the draft and free agency, but in his career with the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons Foxworth has not been the #1 guy. He is now. The hope is that his speed will make up for his lack of size. Frank Walker was getting burned on a regular basis, and was making a lot of mistakes and penalties (a lot of which weren't called since the referees were also working themselves back into regular season shape). The receiving corps is thin, and they are one significant injury away from being a severe liability (that injury would be anything that befalls Derrick Mason). The offensive line is young (except for Center Matt Birk), and they are relying on a rookie that is making one of the hardest changes to make (Left Tackle to Right Tackle) to solidify the line and allow the RB and the TE to get out into the passing routes. And they also are relying on an untested kicker, and when you have a defense like the Ravens have, 3 points might just make a huge difference in more than a few games.

So with all of that being said, what is going to happen? I believe wholeheartedly that this Ravens team is a driven team. They made it to the AFC Championship game with a rookie QB and a rookie Head Coach. They are returning 18 out of 22 starters (and one of the 4 is now backing up someone else who passed them on the depth chart). The defense is out to show they are more than Rex Ryan's scheming and exotic blitz packages, and that they are still a top 5 defense without him. Ray Lewis knows he only has a couple of years left, and Ed Reed is dealing with a chronic neck injury that might shorten his career by a few years. The team has a top 10 rusing offense and a QB who is maturing into a leader. They have hungry players on both sides of the ball that want a Super Bowl ring before they shuffle off into TV Color Commentator land. They play with a lot more discipline under John Harbaugh then they did under Brian Billick, and they believe that they can win it all. The team made moves in the offseason specifically in order to surpass the Steelers (bringing in Birk and Oher to shore up the line and give Flacco more passing options, make the secondary deeper and faster in order to keep up with the Steelers WR corps when QB Ben Roethlisberger breaks contain in the pocket and starts to scramble to buy time - which is when the Steelers are at their most dangerous as far as big plays go - they can catch up to the WR that break off their routes and give guys who are gassed a breather, and most importantly use the front four to get pressure on the QB with minimal all out blitzes so that there are more defenders in space to clog up passing lanes and hopefully cause turnovers), and the moves make sense. This team can win it all, and anything less will be a disappointment to them, let alone to us as fans.

I am not one who enjoys giving predictions with scores, and Vegas spreads are all about who is betting money, not about who is going to win (apparently the Ravens went from 15-1 odds to win it all to 25-1 odds to win it all, and this got some local radio commentators and listeners in an uproar. All that means is that too many people were putting money on the Ravens to win the Super Bowl at 15-1 odds, so Vegas backed it up to 25-1 odds in order to spread the money around to other teams from the rubes who spend a weekend in Vegas and decide to make a bet just for the hell of it). So with all that being said, this game should not be a difficult one for the Ravens to win, and so I am calling it for the Ravens (and what the hell, I'll give you a score, too)...

Chiefs 13
Ravens 34

See you on Tuesday or Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Well, I am only off by 3 preseason games. As always, I have no excuse other than I already have 3 jobs and a wife and a comedy troupe still in its infancy to nurture, so getting in here with enough time to dedicate to a post the way I think it needs to be done is not all that easy. But here I am and here we go, with 2 days until the final preseason game I think we have seen enough to make some tough calls...

  • Barring a fundamental collapse or someone being cut from another team that is head and shoulders above what we have, Steve Hauschka will be the Ravens kicker this year.

Hauschka has been better than Graham Gano this year, but that is kind of damning with faint praise when you look at it. Head Coach John Harbaugh spent almost a decade as a Special Teams coach in the NFL, and he has worked with the likes of Sean Landeta, Brian Mitchell, and David Akers, 3 of the better special teams players of the recent past. He can tell by listening if a kicker is getting good foot into a kick, and the fact that he has not anointed either kicker should tell you that it isn't settled. But Hauschka has been more consistent than Gano (except for his missing a **27** yard field goal last week - which is pretty much inexcusable), and Hauschka pretty much has the job to lose Thursday night at Atlanta.

Mattison is not going to have crazy, exotic blitzes like Ryan did. He is going to rely more on his front four (the Defensive Tackles and Ends) to get pressure on the Quarterbacks(along with some weak side attacks by the Outside Linebackers) and for the secondary to keep contain and coverage to allow the line to get to the QB. But he has the respect of the defense and the support of Ray Lewis (I really don't think he needs a wiki-link at this point) and Ed Reed to make sure that the team does what he wants them to do. The defense will be just fine.

  • The receiving corps is going to be unconventional but it will get the job done.

The team has yet to pick up another receiver to complement Derrick Mason and the Injury Reports (Mark Clayton dealing with his hamstring problem, Demetrius Williams having another problem with his ankle - or whatever it is this time. I have lost count - Marcus Smith - who was having a good camp and was expected to be a big contributor on special teams - down for the year...). Kelly Washington is a journeyman receiver who might have found a home by default, and Justin Harper is probably going to make the team because no one else is there to take the roster spot from him (but I will bet you that Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is keeping an eye on the waiver wire and the cut lists to see if a kicker, wide receiver, or tight end pops up. And to a lesser degree some more wide bodies for the offensive line, especially tackle). But it is not all doom and gloom.

Mason still looks good, and when Harper holds on to the ball he makes some plays. Tight End Todd Heap has stayed pretty much injury free this preseason and has spent some extra time after practice working with Joe Flacco, getting comfortable with each other. Ray Rice has looked good both running the ball and as a receiver (he had 8 catches in the last preseason game, and he only played a little more than a half of the game). It goes back to what I said before, by allowing the running backs and the tight ends to be an option in the passing offense as opposed to a blocker for the passing game it opens the entire offense up for everybody, because more players have to be covered and accounted for in space.

To wrap up the preseason (and yes, there is another game in a couple of days as I have previously mentioned, but the starters will probably only play a series or two), it is more about seeing how they are going to cut the roster down to 53 players, which players are going to be kept for those final positions (most of the spots on the 53 man roster are pretty much set for this team, there are going to be a lot of big decisions to make for a few positions, and watch as a number of players cut by the team are on other team's rosters or at least their practice squads before they are finished cleaning out their lockers in Westminster).

So I put it to you...what about this team or this sport do you want to know about? Help me help you.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

If you haven't read yesterday's post, page down and read that first, then come back here. I'll wait...

Man but you read slow...

And we're back!

So yesterday we looked at the major changes on the roster and staff in the off-season. One omission due to time constraints was the non-signing of Matt Stover, who had been with the team since the Cleveland days, and was the man who kicked a 43 yard field goal as time expired to put the Ravens past the Tennessee Titans and into that game we are no longer talking about. As of right now he is unsigned and technically available, but the Ravens have had to carry a kickoff specialist for the last few years in order to compensate for Stover's inability to drive the ball. He was deadly accurate from the 30 yard line and in, and would go out on the field every game and see what his range was, but carrying two kickers is wasting a valuable roster spot. There are 2 guys in camp right now competing for the spot, Steve Hauschka, a 2nd year man who was with the team AS the kickoff specialist / say a prayer long range field goal kicker (he made a 54 yarder against the Houston Texans last year), and Graham Gano, who is a rookie. Both are considered strong legged "boomers", and both are a good deal cheaper than Stover. Also, both have something in their favor going for them (you have no idea how hard it is to resist making a "leg up" reference here. And now I have failed). Hauschka (as previously mentioned) is a returning player, so the coaches know what they have and like him enough to bring him back for the open competition, and Gano doubles as a punter (and while the Ravens have no intention of letting Sam Koch go as he is one of the better punters in the league, it never hurts to have a backup / other position player who can step in during a crisis (like if Koch gets hurt in a game). Right now I do not even have an opinion as to who will stick on the team, but things may be clearer after the preseason game tonight (I believe Hauschka is kicking during the 1st half and Gano is kicking during the 2nd half).

One last player not mentioned yesterday is Lorenzo Neal, the fullback the Ravens picked up late in camp, once they realized that Flacco was going to be the starting QB (which was not the plan), and they were going to have to run the ball a lot more than they might have planned originally. La'Ron McClain will be stepping back into a more traditional fullback role this year, but you can expect him to still get some touches, especially near the goal line when the big maulers come to play.

So why the changes? Well, first you need to look at the squad going through the metamorphosis, and that would be the offense.

When Flacco got thrust into the starting lineup right before the 3rd preseason game last year, he was 3rd on the depth chart behind Kyle Boller and Troy Smith. It was expected that one of those two would be the starting QB last year, and if the team stunk to high heaven (which was considered a realistic possibility coming off of a 5-11 season in 2007, and with a rookie head coach in John Harbaugh), AND if he was able to get a decent grasp on the offense in a reasonable time, MAYBE Flacco would start a couple of games at the end of the season. But Boller's shoulder injury and Smith's freak medical problem (tonsillitis that was so severe he had to be hospitalized for an extended period) sidelined them both (and wound up putting Boller on the IR for the season) and Flacco suddenly became the starter. So Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron did the only thing he could do...he stripped down the playbook and used what he had at his disposal to the best of their abilities.

The most obvious move was to emphasize running the ball, and since Willis MacGahee came into camp injured and out of shape and Ray Rice was a rookie, Cameron used McClain more as a featured back instead of as a fullback, and the Ravens brought in Neal to block for them and to help the line block for Flacco. The next thing they did, and something that wasn't as obvious to the casual fan, was to go into "max protect" for the majority of passing plays (keeping the tight end and sometimes even a running back in to help block). This keeps the QB from having to worry as much about being blitzed / sacked, but it also eliminates options for the QB to throw to. This is as big of a reason as any that Todd Heap had such a poor year numbers wise. He was in blocking a lot on plays where he normally would have been a prime target (3rd and mid to go, anywhere from 5-10 yards). It also eliminated the safety valve on those plays where the running back drops out in the flat (a couple yards from the line of scrimmage, to the left or right of the QB) in case all the other options are covered, the QB can dump it off to the RB, who then will have to make somebody miss (but since they are used to making plays in space like that, it is a decent last ditch option to have). This makes Derrick Mason's production that much more impressive, since he was often double covered, with a safety shading his side of the field (2 wide receivers with 4 defensive secondary players covering them does not lead to easy pass plays).

And there was one other thing that Cameron did, something that most people didn't catch on to until late in the season and the postseason, and it led to the team being successful, but not successful enough, and it is the biggest change for the team this year.

Last year the team pretty much only used the left and right thirds of the field for passing plays, except for the occasional slant or dump off over the middle. And this was by design. The middle third of the field is where most interceptions and bad decisions are made. If you keep it towards the sidelines then an overthrow is an out of bounds incompletion and not a game icing INT returned for a TD by some USC grad with long hair (not talking about that game...NOT TALKING ABOUT THAT GAME!!!!!!!) A rookie QB with limited receiving options should avoid throwing into crossing patterns where any mistake can result in 4 guys with the other jersey on fighting 2 guys with your jersey for the ball. It severely limited the offense, but with the defense / running game / punter that the Ravens had last year, it was the right thing to do. And as Flacco got more comfortable in the offense some more plays were opened up for him, and the offense wound up scoring something along the lines of 24 points per game by the end of the season. Now we are going to see the reins taken off more and more. By the way, do not be surprised to see some mistakes made tonight. Flacco has been testing his limits on the field during training camp, trying to see what all he can do and not do with the expanded field openings and how his receivers react to the routes. And with his top 2 receivers (Mason and Mark Clayton) out for at least this game with injuries, he will be working with receivers that he does not have anywhere near the level of experience with (and they with him), which will no doubt lead to someone "zigging" when he expected them to "zag", and there will be incompletions and interceptions as a result. I am not going to panic or fret when this happens through the first two preseason games. By the third I am going to expect these bugs to be worked out and no longer a problem. THAT is when I am going to panic and fret (and possibly throw things, depending on how egregious the mistake is).

Tonight we will begin to see a Joe Flacco with the training wheels off of the offense, and a defense that is set to begin forging a new identity from the one that has been its calling card for the last decade. I'll talk to you later this week and we'll look at what happened right and what happened wrong.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Okay, I am going to try to break this down into 2 parts, due to time constraints today. Before we can look at the season upcoming and the possibilities therein, we need to look at what happened since the team played their last game (I will mention only once that heart breaking loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, and that was the mention right there. No more).

First and foremost, they lost their Defensive Coordinator / Assistant Head Coach Rex Ryan (the last remaining staff member from the 2000 season) to the New Yotk Jets when he took the job of head coach there. I liked the thought of him being the coach here last year (although in retrospect it is obvious that John Harbaugh was the right man for the job), and I think he will do well in NYC. He definitely has the right attitude for New York, and he certainly isn't afraid of the spotlight that comes with coaching a team in the biggest sports city in the country (even if the Jets are the bastard stepchildren of New York football to the Giants). Also of note, he took LB Bart Scott and S Jim Leonhard with him.

From a fan's point of view I will miss both of them, as they are both playmakers. But from an analytical standpoint, they have replacements on the team that are cheaper and set to do the job. Look for Tavares Gooden to step up in Scott's place (he was having an excellent rookie year until he injured his hip (out with a hip? Was he drinking lattes in oversized mugs while people smoked clove cigarettes and recited morose poetry in an affected style? You see why I hate that "out with a" crap yet?) last year early in the season. Scott was and is a good player, but the Jets overpaid for him as Ryan plans to use him like he used Ray Lewis in Baltimore, and Ryan needs someone in the middle who knows how to run that defense (which Scott has done and done admirably in the past). And if Gooden doesn't work out, Prescott Burgess (technically an outside LB, but he could slide over), or (more likely) Jameel McClain is ready to step in.

As far as Leonard goes, he wasn't even supposed to be the starter, but stepped into the lineup and played well after Dawan Landry bruised his spinal column (and that is as scary as it sounds, folks) during the 2nd game of the season. Leonhard was invaluable as a punt / kick returner as the team seemed to lose faith in Yamon Figurs down the stretch of the season (early prediction, look for Figurs to get cut and rookie Ladarius Webb, who is already turning heads as a gunner on the punt and kick return teams, take over the return duties before the season starts, unless Figurs has one hell of a camp, or the team decides that using Webb back there is too risky for his potential as a true "shutdown" corner)., but the fact is that Leonhard wasdeemed the inferior player to Landry after camp last year, and Landry (who was voted to the Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie team in 2006) has better upside as well. As long as he is fully recovered from his injuries (and again, early reports out of camp are that he is, as his nickname of "Whop" - so given for the sound his pads make when he tackles or hits someone - is a testament to) he is a better player than Leonhard, so there is no drop off there.

Ryan loved to go with crazy schemes and blitzs packages, but his replacement Greg Mattison seems set on running more out of base formations (having as deep a front four as the Ravens have makes that much easier), which could relieve some of the pressure on the secondary (cornerbacks and safeties, like Ed Reed and Samari Rolle), which is also deep if not as talent loaded).

The other big loss was C Jason Brown (but as we looked at before, since the salary cap for linemen is figured as an average of all 5 positions, and since Left Tackle is usually the 2nd or 3rd highest paid position on the offense, he was too expensive to keep. But instead the Ravens signed Matt Birk, a 12 year player, Harvard graduate (!), and voice of experience on an othewrwise young and talented bunch (made even better with the addition of 1st round pick Michael Oher as Right Tackle, who was pretty much just handed the job with the season ending knee injury of Adam Terry, who has probably played his last game here as a Raven). Brown had better size, and was a good deal younger. But Birk might just be a better fit for this team right now, with his ability to help keep the line focused, and as a voice of reason on the field for Joe Flacco, who is going into his 2nd season with MUCH higher expectations on him (and for himself from all reports).

One loss the team DIDN'T suffer was Ray Lewis, who flirted with the idea of free agency after being hurt by the team allowing him to enter a contract year to begin with, but found that the market for a 34 year old middle linebacker with s bit of an injury history and some marketing issues (whatever the courts decided, no matter if he was guilty or innocent - and I truly believe he was guilty only of panicking when something serious happened, because he is human and humans panic sometimes - he isn't the easiest player to sell to the public at large). And having him there makes the Rex Ryan / Greg Mattison transition a lot easier.

Another loss they didn't suffer (or to be more accurate, suffered and then UN-suffered) was the retirement and subsequent return of Wide Receiver / Flacco safety blanket Derrick Mason. Him being back makes things a lot easier.

I mentioned the two big additions in Birk and Oher. Other than that (and the return of Kelly Gregg, who was also on IR all last season, so it is almost like a big free agent signing just getting him back in the fold), there isn't much that was done with the team roster. It is more on how they are going to build off of what they accomplished last year And THAT is what we are going to look at next time (probably tomorrow while I run a bunch of boring work reports).

See you soon!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Okay, I wasn't planning on doing this right now, but I was just reading a "blog" that covers the Ravens and it was full of non-sensible ramblings that made me want to reach through the interwebs and choke the "writer". It was a bunch of one line observations that sounded like they were posted by a drunkard on a bender. I am not going to link to it, because I work with them (in a roundabout sort of way) and I don't want to call them out and ask them what the hell they were smoking when they posted that load of claptrap. But I am all about copying and pasting this load of poop so you can read it for yourself...

If West Coast rapper, Snoop Dog, feels so compelled to show up to pre-season camp to see what the “Organized Chaos” is all about, maybe he should put on a practice jersey and take the place of the injured or 401k plan players that are missing in action.

Let’s take a brief look inside the Raven’s training room:

• WR Drew Bennett chucked the deuces and said “Where can I rollover my 401k plan” when he abruptly retired after coming to the conclusion that his knee would not withstand the brutal pounding of a full season.

• OT Adam Terry took a page from the injury handbook and is out with a knee ---for the season! This tubby on the o-line just gave the RT position to the rookie, Michael Oher. Get that pancake ready Oher.

• WR Mark Clayton hurt his hammy and after some tests there is still blood swirling around the area, so Coach Harbaugh “put him out” for 2 to 3 pre-season games.

On the field there were plenty of kinks, learning curves and hope to be had:

• Apparently, WR Derrick Mason checked his portfolio and realized that we are in the midst of a recession. Hence, “I’m back, B*tches!” after three weeks off.

• Micro-fracture surgery be damned, NT Kelly Gregg is doing his best Amare Stoudemire and is practicing after a yearlong rehab from a knee injury on his third day of practice in 2008’s summer camp.

• C Matt Birk and QB Joe Flacco have a case of fumbles and missed snaps, but what do we expect with a new big’ in at center?

• Three running backs – Ray Rice (rookie!), Willis McGahee, and LeRon McClarin give offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron (“CC”) all kinds of joy. Who said you needed receivers when Ray Rice is catching the ball in traffic?

• New defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison (the man who we will light on fire if the defense slips even a smidgeon), wondering how TD Jesus left him with so much in the secondary – Domonique Foxworth, Chris Carr, Fabian Washington, Samari Rolle (coming off the PUP) and rookie Lardarius Webb. Rex who?

• Terrell Suggs was rocking a t-shirt underneath his practice jersey that said,”You Bet Your Sweet A** I Hate the Steelers.”

Let the trash talking, chants, chest bumping, Ed Reed snatching cookies from a kid (aka interceptions) begin!!

Now, let's look at facts. Drew Bennett missed all but about half of the first game of the season last year with a horrific knee injury. He rehabbed it and when the Ravens went looking for a replacement for the (then) retired Derrick Mason, he went for it, felt good after the tryout, and signed a 1 year deal. The next day his knee was swollen, and not recovering from the tryout. He knew right then and there that his knee was not recovered, so he pulled out of the deal. Nothing wrong or untoward about that. Adam Terry is injured and out for the season (side note...I CANNOT STAND that "out with a ____" crap. "Out with a knee"? Is it serious, or are they just dating. This leads to things like "Out with a groin". Was Anquan Boldin "Out with a face" last year? It just sounds stupid), but the "tubby" line just smacks of trying (and failing) to be funny and cute. It is a fact that offensive linemen are, as a rule, very fit. The sheer amount of trapping and pulling they do on a regular basis, not to mention getting to the second level on runs and QB scrambles, keeps them from being "tubby". D-linemen are the ones tipping the scales and making the jerseys look like spandex when they shouldn't be. Tony Siragusa, Gilbert Brown...THEY were / are tubby. Jonathan Ogden, Jim Parker, Tony Boselli...they were huge, but not at all fat. Don't be so obtuse, lady. And Mark Clayton did "hurt his hammy" (use the word hamstring like a real reporter, eh?), the same one that has been a problem since college. But it wasn't Coach Harbaugh that "put him out" at all. It was the training staff. Again, if you are going to attribute something to someone, know what the hell you are talking about, please.

Derrick Mason did not look at his portfolio, nor did he factor in the recession. One of his best friends died in a senseless, horrible, stunning way, and Mason needed to take some time to process what had happened and the fact that because he had played football for all of these years he had missed a lot of his children growing up. He doesn't play for the money, because he was smart with the money he already made. He had to see if after that shock to his system if he still wanted to play the game. That is why he "retired" without turning his paperwork into the league to make it official. Basically, he respected his team and the league too much to "pull a Favre", as I call it, and sit there waffling publicly, or to look like a petulant holdout. See, he has class. Maybe you could learn a thing or two.

The Kelly Gregg story is something that you could actually explore as a writer (and something I will cover in greater detail in a future post, since it is obvious to me that the Ravens need all the intelligent, cogent point making bloggers they can get covering them on the off chance that it keeps other idiot's page views down) instead of making an off-hand reference to the type of surgery he had, mentioning a star in another sport that had the same surgery, and then saying that Gregg practiced hard one day in camp.

It's "big'un", not "big'in". Keith Jackson is spinning in his grave, and the man isn't even dead. The best point she made in the entire article is that their is going to be some miscommunication between a QB and a center as they get used to each other. Maybe you could look at the why of it, though (this is something else I can cover if you all are interested)?

Ray Rice is not a rookie. If you can't get THAT right, how in the hell can we be expected to believe anything else you say?

Greg Mattison hasn't been at Notre Dame since 2001, and he has since been at Florida (not to mention the Ravens as linebackers coach). And while we have plenty of depth at the cornerback position, what we lack is a true shutdown corner. Don't go gloating until we see what they can do on the field.

OOOOOOhhh, Terrell Suggs had on a shirt that will provide bulletin board material for the Steelers. This is news?

"Ed Reed snatching cookies from a kid"? First of all, if you have to explain your joke, it isn't funny. Secondly, if you have to explain your metaphor, it isn't effective. Third, do you mean "candy"?

Tomorrow or Thursday I will get into a real recap of the off-season and what to look for in the first pre-season game Thursday night, and no later than Monday I will review the preseason game (against the Redskins, so you know I am going to have opinions).

It looks like my work here is NOT done. But in the mean time, go ahead and check out my Orioles blog (there is a convenient link either up and to the right, or below this post. Either way you cannot go wrong reading my opinions on all things Orioles there and all things sports here!).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Earl Weaver gets pissed

In honor of O's manager Dave Trembley getting tossed last night, I felt like this needed to be posted again.

I'm still trying to find video of the Trembley tirade.

Managers Corner

The other Earl classic I have probably already posted, but it is too much fun not to post again.

NSFW, people! You HAVE been warned!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Long time, no type (at least here).

I do hope you are following my Orioles sports blog and telling all of your friends about it.  But in the meantime, a few quickies...

  • To everyone freaking out about ticket sales for the Preakness being 12% below last year, maybe it has more to do with the general state of the economy than the lack of being allowed to bring in outside beverages.  But with that being said, do you really think this is the year to ban booze and charge people $4 for a bottle of water?  You wonder why the company is going bankrupt...
  • To the Baltimore Blast - congratulations on ANOTHER championship.  It doesn't matter what league it is or who the competition is, you keep on Celebratin' those good times.
  • To all my rabid fans...the NFL draft is tomorrow and Sunday, so you can count on me being here next week to cover what went down, who got drafted, who got traded, and what we can expect from that.  And this year I am planning on looking at not just the Ravens' draft, but the AFC North competition, and possibly the entire league.  Aim high, baby!
As always, if you have any questions about sports, general or specific, ask 'em!  You might just get an answer!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Okay, last week I said that I might just have some big news for you.  Well now here it is...

I have on "Official Blogger Position" with a "Real Sports Website".

I will be covering the Orioles for .  Here is a link to my page...

Come check it out!

This means that baseball coverage here will be a bit slimmer, what with me having to post at the other site at least 2-3 times per week during the season.  But I will keep posting on here for NFL, NHL, PGA, NBA, NCAA and any other damn acronym we can think of.


Friday, April 03, 2009

No big post today.  Why?  Because I have something in the works that would require me to put some posts somewhere else.  I will find out soon.  Either way it goes, I will let you know here what is the up.

Have a good weekend, and keep your fingers crossed for me...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sometimes stories cannot wait until Friday.

Most of you probably do not remember all of the backstage drama that went on before the Colts left Baltimore (25 years ago tomorrow.  How fitting, really, with what is happening right now).  After it had become apparent that all the other tactics had failed, the City of Baltimore tried to claim the team under the statute of Eminent Domain.  They failed, and many people (myself included) put the attempt to do this down as one of the major reasons he wound up moving the team.  Many people are convinced that he would have sold the team, or at least kept it here.  But egos are a funny thing, and if you have the kind of hubris it takes to own a major sports franchise or be a high profile publicly elected official (and no one ever accused William Donald Schaefer of lacking in hubris), well, we know what pride goeth before.

In the news today was this article...

Basically it is about the state looking into avenues to keep the Preakness in Maryland, since Magna Entertainment Corp. (the company that owns Pimlico, Laurel Park, and the Preakness) has filed for bankruptcy.

Now the horse racing industry has been walking on a razor's edge for a while around here.  Many of the proponents of slots were proponents because they would go to the tracks in the area and hopefully keep locals who currently go to Delaware and their horse tracks that are loaded with slot machines here in the area.  But it seems it has been too little too late for Magna.

The thing that scares me from the article is this...

In an interview, Senate PresidentThomas V. Mike Miller said there was "obvious concern" among state leaders that the federal court would ignore the Maryland statute in favor of creditors' interests. As a safeguard, he said, "I'd be in favor of passing a law allowing the state to condemn the track and the Preakness," and then buy the assets.

Basically, the Senate President is threatening to do to the Preakness what the city tried and failed to do to the Colts.  

Now I am by no means in favor of Baltimore and / or Maryland losing the Preakness.  It is a true feather in the cap of this city and state.  The entire world (if you want to see something interesting, look up how popular horse racing is in Japan and in the Middle East) watches this event (many in smoky gambling parlors, but still).  It is one of the oldest continuously held sporting events in the entire world.  We need to fight tooth and nail to keep it.  Find other investors.  See if the model of the Green Bay Packers would work (I bet you a lot of people who live around here would buy ownership stakes in the Preakness.  I would.  It might not be the best investment, but how awesome would it be to hand down to my children a piece of Maryland history, ensuring that it stays here?  That's worth $100 a share.  And I might only buy 1 or 2.  But I bet Boogie Weinglass would snatch up a few.  And so would Barry Levinson, and John Waters, and Cal Ripken, and the Purdues (I forget what Frank's kid's name is).  But I am afraid that the tactics being discussed will be the thing that drives this incredible event right out of our state (and if it goes anywhere, my money would be to Delaware).  It is like the old saying goes..."Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me".  I think we are risking fooling ourselves right out of the Triple Crown.

And in a very real way, it reminds me of another famous saying (at least it was when I was growing up)..."Don't be a dumbass".

I'm looking at YOU, Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Friday, March 27, 2009

After a week off due to injury (think of it as my own stint on the 15 day DL), I am back.  And I really want to get into the baseball season.

It is hard to really get my Baseball review going when my hometown team only has 40% of its starting rotation set and there are 2 weeks until the start of the season.  It is going to be shades of of the 1948 Boston Braves unless some miracle happens.  They have some studs in the wings, like Matt Wieters, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman.  Wieters has every appearance of being the real deal, and a lot of respected baseball publications called him the top minor league player in baseball last year and the top prospect this year.  He is starting the season in AAA (he got the word yesterday that he was being sent down), but that is only to give him a little more seasoning and (more importantly for the team) to give them another year of having him under their control before he can become a free agent (go HERE and scroll down to "after a player is drafted".  For this season, if Wieters is brought up after May 12th his major league service time clock won't start ticking until next season.  Look for him to come up around the end of May or the beginning of June).  He has a decent shot of Rookie of the Year, and unless things go wrong in a MAJOR way, he will be a cornerstone of this franchise for 10-15 years.  The Big 3 of Arrieta, Matusz, and Tillman are starting pitchers with a ton of upside, and should be pushing their way into the bigs no later than 2011.  But at least Andy MacPhail is smart enough to keep them down in the minors and not rush them, even if they might be better than who we are plugging into the lineup this year.  They need to learn how to pitch in the minors, and only then should they come up.

And honestly, the team does have some good pieces in place.  They signed RF Nick Markakis to a 6 year deal in the off season, and CF Adam Jones had a good year, and came on stronger at the end of the season.  That is 2/3 of a very good outfield.  If LF Felix Pie (pronounced pee-YAY) pays off and lives up to his potential, then the Orioles will have one of the better outfields in baseball for a long time.  All 3 are above average defensively, Markakis is one of the more talented hitters in RF in the entire league, and he is getting better each year.  Jones has speed to spare and could conceivably be a perennial 50 steal guy with some pop in his bat, and Pie is a 5 tool player with plus scores in all areas, but who was pushed out of the Chicago Cubs lineup because they are a veteran laden team trying to win it all right now and do not have room on their roster for a rookie to learn in the big leagues.  Because his minor league options were up, the Orioles got him on the cheap.  He might not pan out, but it was a chance that the team could not pass up.  A big move was the signing of 2B Brian Roberts to a 4 year extension.  He is 31 and will probably not play much past this new contract.  And there is the chance that his play will decline more than a little bit over the next 5 years (the final year of his current contract and the 4 year extension).  But his leadership on the field and the example that he sets on and off the field are as important as anything else he does, especially in the next 2 years as this team builds towards being a contender again.  They have a number of other players that are probably in their last year with the team (Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff being the two prime examples), as the team continues to develop their prospects (actually, if Huff has another good year I could see them keeping him.  But I do not think the team is going to re-sign Mora.  From a fan perspective I will miss him if they do not re-sign him, since he has been a bright spot, especially since he was the only really positive return from the "fire sale" that Syd Thrift had in 1999.  But it is time for the team to move on, and probably time for him to move on, too.  I just hope he retires and becomes ambassador for the team both here and abroad.  I have heard rumors of that being discussed with him.  I hope it is true).

In the off season the team made a valiant effort to sign local product and budding superstar 1B Mark Teixeira.  They made a fair offer, and said to his agent that if he is truly interested in coming home and playing for the team he watched as a kid they would be willing to move on that offer.  However (and this is why I think Andy MacPhail not only knows what he is doing but needs to be left the hell alone to do it), he also told them that he would not allow his team and their fans to be led along and used in order to get bigger offers from other teams.  He would not allow the franchise to be a negotiating ploy.  And it turns out that Teixeira never had any intention of coming here, as he signed with the New York Yankees (which a lot of local fans took personally, which is just stupid since he owed the franchise and its fans nothing).  His favorite team as a kid was the Orioles, but his favorite player (the one he modeled himself after since he played the same position as him) was Don Mattingly.  And when he was offered the chance to stand in his place he jumped at it.  Signing him would have been a step away from the blueprint that MacPhail has set forth on how this club needs to operate, but it was one that made sense from a fan and from a team perspective.  The team will be much more active in free agency in the next two years (as long as some of these prospects pan out), but right now the best course of action is to continue to develop from within.  They have greatly expanded their presence in Latin America (which is a hotbed of baseball talent), and they signed their first Japanese player (who is not a top flight talent, but a decent player.  The importance of the signing is getting the team a foot in the door of the Japanese talent pool and getting the team on the lips and in the minds of the players and fans.  They all know who the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mariners - who are owned by Nintendo - are.  Now they have reporters following the Orioles every day.  If Koji has a good time and likes what he sees then another world of talented players become available to the team.  It is another smart move by MacPhail.

I am not looking for this team to win more than 70-75 games this year, and would not be surprised if they were closer to 60 wins and 100 losses (they were 68-93 last year with one rained out game not made up as it made no difference in the final standings, playoffs, or draft slotting).  I am expecting to see Wieters by the beginning of summer and possibly 1 of the 3 pitching prospects (my money would be on Matusz) before the season is over.  I want to see Markakis improve his base stealing and expect to see an improvement in his power and RBI totals.  I expect to see continued improvement in Jones' overall offensive performance.  I am anxious to see what Pie can do as a full time starter in the majors as opposed to a call-up / fill in / part time player like he was in Chicago.  Basically I am looking for improvement on the field more so than in the standings.  The W-L record will get better only after the players do.  One step at a time.

Next week - Overall predictions for the season!
I figured since I missed last week, I owed you an extra one this week.  And there is something else I wanted to talk about, but on a completely different topic.

I mentioned previously that the NFL Owners have chosen to opt out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and that this coming season is the last under the current salary cap.  If no new contract is reached, then the 2010 season will be an uncapped season (an explanation of what that would mean for the league can be found HERE), and odds are the owners will stage a lockout in 2011.  To make matters worse, longtime NFL Players Association (NFLPA) Executive Director Gene Upshaw passed away last year.  Upshaw had an excellent working relationship with the league, and losing him puts another wild card into the negotiations, as no one knows what is going to happen when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith sit down and start negotiating.  That is why I found this story so interesting, and have been wondering why it hasn't gotten the attention that I think it merits...

Now why is this such a big story?

  • Players hate preseason

Preseason games are no longer nearly as necessary as they were even 20 years ago.  The off season camps, both mandatory and "optional", the workout sessions, the personal trainers and nutritionists that the players and the teams keep on staff...all of that adds up to players no longer needing 4 games in order to get in playing shape.  Training camp itself is still needed in order to get players familiar with the playbook and to integrate new players, be they rookies or free agents.  But the days of players taking jobs in the off season in order to make ends meet is long gone, and the players are able to spend their off season rehabbing injuries and making themselves ready for the season.  All these games are good for (in the players' minds) is for getting injured before their contracts become guaranteed (this is important.  Remember this).  It seems like every year there is a marquee player getting injured in the preseason.  And who knows how many regular joes or guys scrapping for a slot on special teams go down with a season (and sometimes career) ending injury in a meaningless game in August?  There is no benefit for them.

  • Owners aren't THAT fond of it either

The owners do get SOME benefit from the preseason games in that the season ticket holders have to buy tickets to the 2 home preseason games as part of their package.  And they do make some money on concessions.  But the stadium is never as full, as energetic, or as hungry or thirsty as they are when the game means something.  The non season ticket holding fan is not going to buy a ticket to see the 3rd string left tackle play 3/4 of the game.  Most of the fans that DO attend leave by halftime, since the games are usually played on weeknights.  Thursday at 9pm in August, I just want to go home and sit in the air conditioning and decompress.  I am in no mood to put on my jersey, paint my face, and get stupid crazy in the stands.  It is just a fact.  And owners do not like when the stars go down any more than the players do.  They aren't going to cut them, so they have to pay them to do nothing.  Now they don't care as much when that undrafted rookie free agent goes down, because they don't have any kind of significant investment in that player.  But it is safe to say that no one likes to see another man get hurt for nothing (except maybe Philadelphia fans.  Sorry C3PO).  But since these games are not part of the broadcasting contract (local markets may broadcast them, but the networks do not show them nationally like they do regular season games), there is no real revenue for these games, and therefore no real benefit for the owners (this is also important).

The soon-to-be expired CBA (in the eyes of the owners) gave too much overall revenue to the players.  The vast majority of that revenue came from the television contracts, but the fact of the matter is that the Buffalo Bills do not generate as much money as the Dallas Cowboys.  They might get the same cut of the big pie, but their own bakeries have vastly different outputs.  And that puts the small market teams at a bit of a disadvantage.  This old CBA basically got hammered through by Upshaw and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, because Tagliabue did not want their to be the potential of labor stoppage during his tenure (the NFL has gone the longest of any professional league without a work stoppage of any kind).  Truth be told, the old CBA was not that nice to the owners, and they want the chance to correct that.  But the players have had a taste of the big money and they will not give that up without a fight.  And not without getting some other concessions...

Like maybe a reduction in meaningless games?

Think about it.  Less preseason games means less games before a contract is guaranteed (currently if a player has 4 years of credited service under the pension plan, then even if they are released once the season starts that season's pay is guaranteed).  Less preseason games means that it is more likely that a player who has already been with a team will be kept over someone else, just because the coaching staff has less of an opportunity to see if another (probably cheaper rookie) player will be able to do what the current player has already established that they CAN do (protecting the jobs of teammates who are on the bubble.  You always protect your own fraternity members before you ask others to join you).  All of this is good news for players.  Now add to that the fact that more regular season games means more ticket sales and concessions sales for owners, giving them more money.  Also, the television contracts would have to be renegotiated, and even in a recession the networks do not want to lose their cash cow.  And if one network balks, another will surely jump in (or, the NFL could move more games to the NFL Network and keep ALL the money, not to mention giving them a chance to get their network into more homes with their own increased negotiating power as a game broadcaster all season long).  There are a lot of options here, and pretty much all of them end up with more money for the league.  Also, if the season is expanded, the league can justify adding some more players to the active roster.  A bigger roster means more jobs for more players.  

All of this adds up to the owners being able to come to the negotiating table with a chance to offer the players more money, but with a lower percentage of revenues (2 more games means about 10% more revenue right off the bat - 2 games is 12.5%, minus what they would make off of the preseason games - plus the additional television revenue from the national contract adding more than they are losing from local broadcast rights for preseason games, and by my guess by more than a little bit.  So they can offer a lower percentage than they currently give, but that percentage would be more overall money than the players are currently getting).  Plus the players get more jobs to go around and a better chance of guaranteed payment for a number of their players.  Both sides make concessions and both sides win.

Of course, it is not as simple as all that.  There are a lot of things that have to go into any CBA, and a lot of things that both sides are going to want addressed.  But to me this smacks of an opening salvo from a very smart businessman named Roger Goodell.  He comes out to the public in support of something players have mentioned wanting for a while (less preseason), but with the added caveat of something the owners want (more revenue).  It is a very smart move, and one that I think is going to have major ramifications as the negotiations heat up.

Friday, March 13, 2009

We are about the enter the best 4 weeks in sports.  Of course, I am referring to March Madness (and also the conference championships the week before that set the lineup).  There are probably more intense moments, especially if you have a personal stake in a team competing for a championship.  But the sheer quantity of teams and the history of teams making that "Cinderella" run to the Final Four makes for all kinds of excitement (not to mention all kinds of lost time at work.  This thing rivals the Super Bowl in scope of time wasted and also for casual gambling.  Get your brackets ready!)

Final selections are this Sunday.  You get in either by automatic bid or by an at large berth.  There are 31 automatic bids.  A lot of teams "on the bubble" are affected by the automatic bids.  Basically it breaks down like this...

North Carolina is a lock to get an at large berth.  They have been in the Top 10 all season long, and been ranked Number 1 for a good portion of the season.  They could be eliminated in the first round of the ACC Tournament and still get nothing lower than a 2nd seed (and will probably get a top seed) in the NCAA Tournament.  Likewise, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State and Boston College are also considered locks to get an at large berth if they do not win the ACC Tournament.  

Maryland is considered on the bubble (and by many to be on the outside of the bubble looking in).  It has been said that they would have to do anything from win 2 games in the ACC Tournament all the way up to get to or even win the tournament in order to guarantee a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  The odds of them winning the ACC are slim (there is a reason they went 7-9 in the regular conference season and were the 7th seed going into the tournament last night, where they beat NC State 74-69).  But it is always a possibility that they could make it to the ACC Finals, lose, and not get a bid.  It is also possible that they could win the ACC Tournament and therefore get an automatic bid to the NCAA's.  

If Maryland DOES get an at large berth, then the selection committee has deemed them more worthy than others who were considered borderline teams to make the tournament.  But if they were otherwise not going to make the tournament but DID win the ACC Tournament and therefore did receive an automatic bid to the tournament, they would wind up bumping out another team that otherwise was considered stronger than them and would have made the tournament over them if they had not received the automatic bid (dang but that was a long sentence).  In that scenario, Penn State or New Mexico could be bumped out of the Big Dance (another nickname for the NCAA Tournament).

In other words, 31 teams get invited no matter what else happened in the regular season.  Now the vast majority of the time the teams that get invited no matter what are not competing with the borderline teams for one of the other 34 open slots (the "mid major" and minor conferences are usually one, two teams tops for the tournament, since their SoS and their RPI are not enough to put them in the running).  But teams from the major conferences (like MD) who have decent SoS and RPI, but not at levels guaranteeing them an at large berth, have to be one of those 31 teams to get that guarantee.  And if they buck the trend and beat those schools above them and win one of those automatic bids they probably knock another school out.

And once they get in there, there is no telling what can happen.  And THAT is why I am planning on wasting as much of my bosses' time as possible the next month or so (even more so than usual, which is a hard thing to top.  But I shall strive to be as unproductive as possible, furtively glancing at my online scoreboard whenever they are not able to see my screen.  It is the American way, you know).

Friday, March 06, 2009

I was very tempted to get on last Friday as soon as I sat down at my desk and start going crazy over the start of free agency.  But I didn't.  I felt like I should let it shake out a bit and see where we stood after the first round of dust had settled.

I think we did pretty darn well, really.

Let's look at my unscientific list of UFA's the team had...

OL Jason Brown
LB Terrell Suggs
LB Ray Lewis
FB Lorenzo Neal
S Jim Leonhard
TE Daniel Wilcox
CB Corey Ivy
LB Bart Scott
OT Chad Slaughter
PK Matt Stover
WR Terrence Copper
QB Kyle Boller
QB Todd Bouman

Before we go too far, a caveat.  I did suggest using the Franchise Tag on Jason Brown if the team was able to sign Terrell Suggs to a new deal before Free Agency started.  Of the two, it was more important to sign Suggs, because 26 year old DE/LB hybrids with the ability to rush the passer as well as play in space are harder to come by than interior offensive linemen.  Especially when you consider that they do not specify line position when assigning the contract value of an offensive lineman.  And since tackles (specifically left tackles) are one of the highest paid players on a team, it would have been cap suicide to franchise Brown.  

Of that list, only 5 players have been signed.  2 by the Ravens, 2 by the Jets (who hired Raven's Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan as their Head Coach, who took a couple of assistant coaches along with him, which is the norm), and 1 by the Rams.  Of course he is going to want to sign players who he is comfortable with and who can help teach his system to the new team.  Ryan waited outside Scott's house and at 12:01 AM (the moment he could speak to Bart without being accused of tampering) he knocked on the door and pushed hard to get him.  The Ravens pushed hard back, and the final deal (6 years, $48 million) is probably overpaying him a bit.  We will see how it plays out.  Likewise the Jets went after Jim Leonhard, who was a valuable fill in in the secondary and in punt returns after Dawan Landry went down with an injury.  But with Landry returning, and with Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura waiting in the wings (along with Ed Reed still there), he was not a priority and the money will be spent on other areas of the team that need more attention.  That being said, they are two good signings by the Jets, and two players I fully expected to lose.  Jason Brown is good, but Ozzie Newsome once again showed why he is one of the most respected GM's in the league.  The Rams definitely overpaid Brown to get him.  The Ravens responded by signing Matt Birk, an 11 year veteran, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings.  He is going to be a leader on the line and in the huddle, helping the maturation process of Joe Flacco.  He gives the Ravens 3 years to either develop Chris Chester or Marshall Yanda as a center or to draft and develop a center.  The contract is MUCH more cap friendly than Jason Brown's would have been. 

And this is important.  Most people think of the cap only in the context of that particular year.  But the cap is an ever evolving number that affects the team EVERY year.  They probably could have signed Scott, Brown, and everyone else on that list.  But next year they have to re-sign Haloti Ngata, and if you look at Albert Haynesworth's contract that he just signed with the Redskins (7 years, $100 million - $115 million if all incentives are reached), and Ozzie knows that he will have to keep that in mind when he is negotiating with Ngata's agent over the next year.  So the Ravens possibly upgraded on the offensive line and gave themselves more breathing room this year and next year.  And with Leonhard and Scott, there are other, young players waiting to take over.  The Ravens have been known for their linebacking corps for years, and the guys they have on the team (Tavares Gooden, Nick Greisen, Antwan Barnes, Prescott Burgess) are considered bright talents with a lot of upside.  It is the right thing to do to move forward with them.

The big news is that Ray Lewis is re-signing with the team.  It looks like he overplayed his hand when thinking that teams would get into a bidding war for a 33 (will be 34 by the time the season starts) linebacker.  He is going to eat a little humble pie and sign another cap friendly contract that lets him secure his legacy as a career Raven, a Hall of Fame player, and a leader who has the chance to get another ring before he hangs up his cleats for good.

The news that is not getting any attention is that the Ravens have apparently decided to part ways with Matt Stover, severing the last link to the old Cleveland Browns team (unless he does not re-sign with anyone else and is brought into camp to compete for the job.  Kickers have ABSOLUTELY no job security, since their contracts are usually so minuscule in the grand scheme of things that there is no cap ramification to switch them around all willy nilly).

Free agency is not over with.  There will be more deals before the season starts.  But as of now it is a slow trickle of signings here and there.  The big moves are done with.  

Hopefully I will be switching to more baseball coverage now, at least until the draft in April.  The World Baseball Classic is about to begin, and the Orioles have some interesting things happening in camp that should be looked at.

As always, if you have any questions about this or any other sports related questions please leave them in the comments section.  I would love to get a column idea from you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Football is done with (except for the combine and the draft and mini-camps and "voluntary" workouts) until training camp in July or August.  Hockey and basketball are in full swing.  But the sport that grabs the attention of fans everywhere right now is baseball.  Spring Training has sprung, and even fans in Kansas City, Washington, Pittsburgh and, yes, Baltimore have hope that this year is the year they break through and become the feel good Tampa Bay Rays of the 2009 season.

But through all the mess, there is still the dark, ugly cloud of steroids.  In the last week Alex Rodriguez (arguably the biggest star in the sport right now) was revealed to be one of the 104 players who tested positive for a PED in 2003 (the fact that the results of those tests were supposed to be kept private, and that part of the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the player's union does not allow for those who DID test positive to be punished makes the release of his name and the timing of it to be more than a little fishy, but maybe next time we can delve into this with more fervor).  Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa...all have been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without their guilt ever being proven.  Baseball has been tarnished and tainted by the steroids scandal.

Why hasn't football?

It is a valid question.  After all, it isn't like the sport is clean by any stretch.  In just the past few years a Super Bowl team and the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year have been accused or tested positive for steroids.  It seems like every year there is at least one player of note being suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy.  And yet football is not painted with the same broad stroke of mistrust and anger aimed towards it that baseball is.  Why is that?  Well, I have a few reasons that I think explain it.

1. Football has been open about the existence of PED's being used and has tested for it for years.

Football has been testing since 1987 and has had a policy in place for disciplining players since 1989.  Baseball, on the other hand, had its head in the proverbial sand until a former player with a vendetta brought it up and forced it into the consciousness of the average sports fan.  And even then, the league moved lethargically towards an kind of policy or disciplinary action for offenders (of course, the blame for that is as much if not more with the player's union and their unwieldy amount of power than with the league, which was all but powerless to institute any policy until public opinion forced the union to change its stance).  Baseball's refusal to even acknowledge the possibility of the existence of PED's in the sport made the inevitable revelation that much bigger and more the object of scorn and derision.

2. Players are more visible in baseball.

Football is more of a team sport than baseball.  Baseball is a team sport, but it is a team sport that consists of a lot of one-on-one match ups, specifically pitcher versus hitter.  The team (except for the catcher) is only involved some of the time.  And there are a lot of closeups of players faces, which are easy to see, since the only thing on their heads is a cap.  In football there are head encompassing helmets with face masks, and many players wear visors that obscure their faces even more.  They are in big bulky pads that are underneath their uniforms, making them look bigger and not as human.  It is easier for the fan to root for the jersey number and the logo on the helmet.  In baseball you know what they look like and what shape they are, there are not all those artificial accouterments beneath the uniform.  Most any fan can pick Roger Clemens out of a lineup.  How many could pick out Rodney Harrison?  Being faceless has its advantages when it comes to public scrutiny.

3. More history means more reverence.

Who is the career home run leader?  Who's record did he beat?  Who's record did the PREVIOUS leader beat?  

There is a decent chance that you were able to name at least two of the three players (Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth - just in case you weren't sure).  

Who holds the record for most career touchdown passes?  Who did he beat to get the record?  Who had the record before HIM?

You might have gotten the current guy, since his recent string of retiring and un-retiring over the last few years has kept him at the forefront of even the most casual sports fan's mind.  the second guy is less definite, and unless you are a sports nut you might not even know who number 3 is (Brett Favre, Dan Marino, and Fran Tarkenton - just in case you weren't sure)

Baseball has been around since the 1800's, and was the most popular sport in the country for a long time.  Baseball is known for its records.  Talk to a sports fan and say these numbers...
  • 56
  • 714
  • 4256
  • .406
I could go on and on with these (DiMaggio's 56 straight games with a hit, Babe Ruth's career home run total, Pete Rose's career hit total, Ted Williams' average in 1941, the last time a player has hit .400 or better for an entire season).  There is a reverence for baseballs' statistics and the players involved with them.  It goes back to the point about the individual players in a team sport.  Especially as a hitter, it is you against the world.  And hitting is what you watch.  Defense is a reaction to the bat hitting the ball.  So those numbers mean a lot to sports fans.  Especially fans who grew up watching and living sports.  Fans who can still remember the first time they walked through that opening of the stadium, past the concession stands, and saw the field laid out before them.  The green grass, the buzz of the crowd, the sun on your face, watching batting practice, seeing your team's big bopper in the batting cage hitting ball after ball into the stands until you didn't think there was any other place the ball could go whenever he stepped up to the all adds up to a Norman Rockwell painting, but it is real life, and it is as vivid a memory to me as anything I can remember ever.  And I know I am not the only person who has that memory, no matter what stadium they went to.  There is a piece of innocence there that football doesn't have, and that lends itself to fans being more hurt when that memory becomes tainted.  And that leads us to my final point...

4. We expected better of baseball.

Football is compared to war, and in war all that matters is that you win, and damn the consequences and the costs.  Even if that cost is your honor.  A lot of the terminology is based in military terminology (George Carlin does a much better comparison than I could ever hope to do.  Read it HERE).  Football is a violent, nasty sport where the average career is a little over 3 years.  I really think that we as fans are more understanding of someone using a PED to help them get through an injury or last another year.  Football breaks you, and fans laud the big hit that knocks an opponent out and who cares what it winds up doing to the hitter OR the player laid out on the field.  A lot of fans do not understand that while baseball is not a contact sport, it will grind you up into powder, especially at the major league level.  They play 162 games.  That is twice as many games as the NHL and the NBA and 16 times as many games as the NFL.  Mentally and physically it is taxing to a level that I cannot comprehend.  There is a reason that amphetamines were set out in candy dishes in the 70's and 80's.  But still we look at MLB and see ourselves playing sandlot baseball with our buddies, a ghost man on 2nd and two fingers down always means a curveball.  Football is us as a nation of overaggressive pain junkies, getting our fix vicariously through the hits on the field so that we can stomach another week of being cooped up in the office with those annoying coworkers.  Baseball is us sitting in the stands, enjoying the game with a beverage and a buddy, or playing catch on a hot, lazy, hazy summer day until Mom calls us to come in.  We are not personally offended when Jeff Mitchell gets busted for steroids.  We are when Andy Pettitte is.

So where do we go from here?  Who knows.  I think the baseball situation is going to get worse before it gets better.  And I expect that baseball will continue to be held to a higher moral standard than football.  And I will still be a fan of both.  Just a slightly more jaded one.

Friday, February 06, 2009

By now most of you have heard about Ray Lewis and his flat out refusal to think about giving the Ravens a "hometown discount".  I am having mixed reactions to this.

First, there is Mr. Bisciotti saying he doesn't see the team using the franchise tag on Lewis, and that he expects the team to go all out in re-signing him (which effectively cuts out a major negotiating tactic from Ozzie Newsome).  Then there is Terrell Suggs saying that maybe he, Lewis, and Bart Scott could ALL give the team a hometown discount in order to stay together.  And kudos to Suggs for even contemplating having a team first mentality, when that is such a rarity in professional sports (and major college sports too, for that matter). 

Now add to that the mixed feelings of understanding that this is (barring some kind of miracle) going to be his last contract (or at least the last one with any real big money to it) and that Lewis would want to maximize the amount of money he makes mixed with the fact that he has made a LOT of money in his 13 year career and that the team and the city showed him a lot of loyalty during his legal issues of 1999-2000.  So while I can see his point, to outright deny the possibility the prospect of taking a little less in order to stay and finish his career here in front of the fans who have made him a multi-millionaire many times over is a bit of a slap in the face, at least to this fan.  One would think the psychic income would account for SOMETHING, if he really means what he says about Baltimore always being his city and how much love and respect he has for us as fans.

So where does that leave me in regards to my previous post about the teams re-signing priorities?  Honestly, if anything it moves him down below Leonhard and Neal.  And that is iffy.  Probably it doesn't move him at all, at least to me.  But at the most it would move him from 3rd to 5th.  The big question becomes would the Ravens use the franchise tag on him, even after Bisciotti said they wouldn't?  If he truly trusts Newsome to make the personnel decisions (and looking at his track record with the roster why wouldn't he?) then it could still happen (although I would rather save it for Jason Brown, as stated in the aforementioned article).  The fact of the matter is that Ray Lewis IS 33, and about to enter his 14th season of football, playing a very physically demanding position.  He is in fantastic shape.  He seems to be playing as well as he ever has.  But this is the first time he has played in all 16 regular season games since 2003, and he is not going to be able to play forever.  It is not worth taking a cap hit that would cripple this team now or in the future in order to secure his services for another 2-4 years.  Offer him a fair deal.  If he refuses, we will have to see where he winds up.  If it is Kansas City or Detroit it is all about the money and always has been, and his proclamations of wanting to win another championship will be proven to be all talk.  If it is Miami, at least it is his hometown team, and they did have a good season last year.  If it is to the Jets or the Cowboys, he is probably trying to win it all AND get the massive payday (but if my memory serves the Jets are in salary cap purgatory, at least until Brett Favre makes up his mind about playing in 2009).

All we can do now is see how it shakes out.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Okay, last time we looked at the Ravens' Unrestricted Free Agents.  One sidebar to that, and that is the Franchise Tag.  After some careful consideration by me, and going with the assumption that the Ravens can actually sign Suggs and Lewis, then Jason Brown would be a prime candidate for the Franchise Tag.  And I think the team should seriously consider it.

Now on to the other free agents.  The ones that aren't all that free.  They're more like indentured servants with an option to buy.  First, the Exclusive Rights Free Agents or EFA's).  These are the players that can be retained outright by the team as long as a qualifying offer is made.  The offer has to be either $310K, $385K, or $460K depending on their accrued service time in the league.

RB – Jalen Parmlee

TE – Scott Kuhn

DT – Kelly Talavou

LB – Edgar Jones

LB – Jameel McClain

LB – Robert McCune

S –   Darren Stone

PK – Steven Hauschka

The only ones worth giving a thought to here are Edgar Jones, Jameel McClain, and Steve Hauschka.  I think all three will be tendered.  The other ones are special teams players and have not made any impact in any games.  Except of course for Mr. Darren Stone.  He is the schmuck that got the personal foul penalty on the Ravens possession late in the 4th quarter.  The one after the Ravens had scored another touchdown to make it 16-14, then held the Steelers to a 3 and out.  And THEN taken the punt back to the 40 yard line.  With about 5 minutes left we were approximately 30-35 yards out of field goal range, with the wind at our backs.  If any one play changed the game for the Ravens, it was moving from the 40 to the 12 (if memory serves, that is where the drive wound up starting from).  A couple of plays later, trying to force it on 3rd down, Flacco threw the game icing interception.  I have the feeling he might be looking for other employment in the near future.

So that is the ones who don't really have a say.  Now for the ones who have about a half of a say, the Restricted Free Agents or RFA's)...

RB – P.J. Daniels

WR – Demetrius Williams

WR – Marcus Maxwell

TE – Quinn Sypniewski

DT – Brandon McKinney

CB – Derrick Martin

CB – Evan Oglesby

S –   Dawan Landry

P –   Sam Koch

These are players whose contracts have expired and who have less than 4 years of accrued service time. The team must tender the player with an RFA offer.  Once done, another team can sign the RFA to an RFA offer sheet for any amount or with any terms that they choose, but the Ravens then have 7 days to match that offer sheet and retain the player under the terms of that offer sheet.  There have been cases recently with RFA players being signed to contracts by other teams with poison pills in order to make the original team unable to sign the player.  Look at Steve Hutchinson for an example of this.  If the Ravens were to choose not to match the offer sheet, then they would receive compensation based on which level of RFA tender was made to the player.  In other words, if the Ravens gave Sam Koch an RFA offer equivalent to a 2nd round choice, then another team signed him and the Ravens could / would not match that other team's offer, than the Ravens would get a compensatory draft pick in the 2nd round.

As far as signing these players, I look at Koch to be the most important signing.  I know he is a punter, but he is one of the better punters in the league, and the way this team plays the field position battle is always important.  Koch is excellent at placing the ball inside the opponent's 20 yard line.  He has the ability to control his kicks a lot more precisely than the majority of punters out there, and punter's offer sheets are not cap killers.  After that, Daniels and Maxwell are pretty much expendable except for special teams play.  The rest contribute on offense and defense and I look for the team to make quality offers to all of them.

So there isn't much here to talk about.  Most of this is cut and dry stuff.  So next time we will get into the imagination game and look ahead at what the team needs and where they might get it.  Also, who on the team that IS under contract that might not be here when training camp starts.


And coming soon, the BSR MLB PREVIEW POST!!!!!!!  Get your peanuts and Crackerjack ready.