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.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

One step at a time...

Fineous Reese is a reader of this little site, and when I was posting stuff a couple of weeks ago, it seems he noticed, since he asked me on TSG (yes, I just hyperlinked myself.  And it didn't even hurt) where the updates were, I figured I better oblige him.

First of all, as far as the Ravens / Steelers game, the better team won.  Flacco looked like a rookie for the first time since the beginning of the season, and the team did not execute on EITHER side of the ball.  The defense did okay, but far too many times they had the Steelers in a 3rd and long situation and didn't stop them from converting.  

But the hit on McGahee was illegal as all get out.  Not only was it helmet to helmet, the defender left the ground and launched himself at McGahee while he was still in the process of turning around.  McGahee is not at fault for crouching down as he turned to run, that is what you do when you are expecting contact, you lower your shoulders and meet it straight on.  The defender couldn't adjust because he was airborne at the time, flying at McGahee like a human spear.  He should be fined at the least, and suspended would be not at all egregious punishment.

So, rant off.  Now let's look at what the Ravens need to do this offseason.  I am going to look at one thing each post for the next few weeks and months, as well as touch on the upcoming baseball season (pitchers and catchers report in a little over 2 weeks).

First and foremost, they need to look within before they look to free agency or the draft.  Here is a list of the Ravens' Unrestricted Free Agents in what I consider to be the order of importance of signing...

OC – 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

This list is a combination of need and signability, and also cap ramifications.  I have a feeling that someone (probably Miami or Detroit) is going to make a big push to sign Jason Brown, but as long as his deal isn't a cap killer, the Ravens need to re-sign him.  He is only 24 and he anchored a much better than expected offensive line last year.  This OL has a chance to be something special for the next few years, and it would be a shame to see him go.  Now, the Ravens DO get Marshal Yanda back, and his return as a starting guard would allow the team to move Chris Chester to center.  But Brown is somewhat undersized at 6'3" and 320 lbs.  Chester is 6'3" and 305 lbs.  Both have good technique, but are susceptible to being bull rushed.  I don't want to have to keep the RB or the FB back for max protect all the time, but of the two, Brown has better technique and could easily put some more muscle on his frame without losing any of his quickness.

I put Suggs ahead of Ray Lewis for one reason.  Suggs is 26 and in the prime of his career.  He is a hybrid DE/LB who can rush the passer and drop back into coverage.  Basically, he is the game changer that Ray was back in 2000.  That is not to say that Ray is not a very good player.  But Ray is not the same player he was 9 years ago.  He couldn't be.  His position is too violent.  He has lost a step, but compensates for it with his film study and his knowledge of how the game flows.  He can read a play as well as if not better than anyone who has EVER played the game.  And that might be even more impressive than his still quite formidable physical skills.  

Of the 3 LBs that are UFA's, that leaves Bart Scott out of the loop.  Now if he (as well as Suggs and Lewis) were to subscribe to the idea that Terrell floated out to the world the other day then a lot of things could change.  But looking at it from cold, hard reality, Scott is the odd man out.  I think he signs with the Jets, or as a consolation prize to the Cowboys if their push to sign Lewis fails.  If Lewis or Suggs (or God forbid BOTH) DOES bolt and he is still available the Ravens will snatch him up pronto (unless HE decides to follow one or both of them.  All three are close friends on AND off the field, and that could help or hurt the Ravens' chances of signing them depending on how the dominoes fall).

Neal, Leonhard, and Wilcox are all vital cogs that keep the team moving, and none should blow the market open to the point that signing them isn't economically viable.  Neal is invaluable as a leader in the huddle as a safety blanket for both the RBs and for Joe Flacco.  He is a 16 year veteran who still brings the pain every time he steps on the field.  Nothing on the field surprises him, and his emergence on the team coincided with the team going on a major hot streak.  The combination of him, LeRon McClain, and Haloti Ngata on the goal line offense is nigh unbeatable.  Leonhard offers solid play in the defensive secondary as well as good hands and better than average punt and kick return ability.  Wilcox is a decent blocker, but more importantly, Todd Heap has not had a good season in a couple of years.  It could be injury and it could be that he is no longer a front line starter.  Wilcox is no Tony Gonzalez, but he will do at least as well as Heap has been doing recently, and is a better blocker and gunner on special teams.

Stover is a special case.  He is worth keeping strictly from the standpoint that kickers as a rule do not cost that much against the cap and he is a fan favorite.  The only negative I have with keeping him is that the Ravens also need to keep a kickoff / long kick specialist, and that is a valuable roster spot.  But it is worth it from the standpoint of what he means to the team and to the fans.

Boller is above Bouman only because Boller is a really good man who has been nothing but a stand up guy who took more punishment (both on and off the field) than any one man should have.  But we have 2 good QBs and he is going to want to be able to compete for a starting job, and there will probably be someone somewhere that will be willing to give him a shot (again, the two most likely culprits will be the Jets or Detroit).

Any other name is just there because they are an UFA and to keep them would add depth to the team with players familiar with the system that we run.  

Next post, I am going to look at the other players that could move, and the consequences for both the Ravens and the team that signs them if it is another team.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I posted this on a site that I like to frequent in response to a thread that quickly turned into nothing but a load of bashing Baltimore and the Ravens and everything else.  I have probably said these things before, but I felt like saying them again, just in case someone out there doesn't understand where I am coming from.

I am a longtime Baltimore sports fan. I was born and raised a Baltimore Colts fan. I was given season tickets as a Christening gift and went to every home game from 1973-1984 sitting next to my Dad, my uncle, and my grandfather. When the Colts were taken from us, I watched all three of them wipe tears from their eyes.

I watched the Rams, the Cardinals, the Oilers, and the Raiders (twice no less) move. I watched the Bengals and the Buccaneers (as well as the other aforementioned teams) use Baltimore as leverage to get the deals they wanted from other cities. I did not hear the moral outrage when these teams shuffled across the map. I did not hear the fans in the new cities being spit on and cursed to. When the Rams moved from LA to St. Louis were the fans in St. Louis immediately vilified for having the audacity of rooting for the Rams? If they were, I sure don't recall hearing anything about it.

I watched the NFL try to shove the Redskins down our throats, thinking we would start rooting for them like good little minions. We said no. We rooted for a USFL team (that moved here from Philadelphia, but no one cared about that). We rooted for a CFL team (and the NFL wouldn't let us use name "Colts" because they knew that name was valuable).

I watched this city sell out a meaningless NFL pre-season game between the Saints and the Dolphins in 93 minutes (I still have the ticket stub). I watched the NFL put a team in Charlotte and another in Jacksonville and ignore us again. I watched as the Irsays, who as a condition of the city of Baltimore dropping their lawsuit to stop the Colts from moving to Indianapolis, agreed to vote in favor of Baltimore getting an expansion team if one was to become available, vote for Jacksonville instead of Baltimore. I watched as Tagliabue told us to take the money that was set aside for an NFL stadium and go build a museum with it.

I watched this city and its fans jump through every hoop imaginable in order to get a team the right way, and I watched this city get pissed on at every opportunity by the NFL and the other teams and cities.

Do I like the way that Baltimore got back into the NFL? No, no I don't. Do I think there was any other way we would have gotten back in? No, no I don't.

But I do think we as a city and as a fan base have paid whatever dues we should have paid in the vitriol that has been heaped on us for the last 12+ years, and we have paid more than we should have paid. Where was the hatred for Indianapolis when the Colts were taken from us? What happened to the promise made by the Irsay family that if and when Baltimore got another team that we could have back the name and the colors, then watch as the Irsay's tried to commit highway robbery for STARTING the bidding at $25 million? No matter the reason that Cleveland got to keep the name and colors, the fact is that they did. The fans of the Browns don't have to go to Canton and see Otto Graham listed as being a Baltimore Brown. We have to see Jim Parker listed as an Indianapolis Colt. And no matter WHO you root for, that sucks.

I could go on for another 9 or 10 paragraphs on this, but it doesn't matter. The minds have been made up long before reading this are not going to change. The Baltimore Ravens are going to be the team that everyone else likes to shiat on to make themselves feel better. I have to shake my head at it and sigh, because there is no longer any other way to react to it. I cannot keep getting mad at all the hate, I just have to shrug my shoulders. So go on hating us and cursing us and spitting at / on us if it makes you feel better. We're pretty much used to it by now.

Win or lose tomorrow, I will still be a Baltimore Ravens fan on Monday. If you don't like it, go fark yourself.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Okay, enough analysis.  It is time to get it on like Donkey Kong.  If Elmer Fudd was doing play by play for this game, he would be telling us all day about the Wavens' defense bwinging the Puwple Wain down on the Steewers, with Way Wewis making sacks and Tewwell Suggs with his one awmed sacks.  

And this time Hines Ward will be kissing his cousin, because the Steelers are going to stay home two weeks from now, while the Ravens are going back to Tampa.

I'm going to go with my heart on this one.  Final score...

Ravens 24
Steelers 13

Come back Monday for the post game analysis.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

So it comes down to this...

A tad less than 3 days away from the big game (not to be confused with The Big Game).  Things are becoming clearer.  For the Ravens the big issues are if CB Samari Rolle and OLB/DE Terrell Suggs are going to be able to play.  Both participated in the walk through but did not practice.  The biggest positive to take from that is that they have not yet been ruled out for the game, since the walkthrough is where they go over the actual game plan and strategies / tendencies they expect to face.  So that is a small silver lining on an otherwise dark cloud.

For the Steelers, SS Troy Polamalu practiced, but C Justin Hartwig did not.  Both are expected to play on Sunday.

This is news because for the Ravens, if Rolle can't go then they have to "Next Man Up" all their cornerbacks.  And against a passing offense like the one the Steelers have that is a dangerous proposition for the Ravens.  And if Suggs cannot play then they lose one of the best pure pass rushers in the league, again making the Steelers' passing offense better by subtraction.  If neither can go, it starts to look like a long game for the Ravens.  And as far as the Steelers go, Polamalu is a hitter / tackler / enforcer of the first order, and losing him puts the middle of the field up for grabs for the Ravens' offense.  And if Hartwig is out, the backup center plays.  The Steelers offensive line has been (rightly) maligned all season for allowing Roethlisberger to take the amount of punishment he has taken in the form of sacks and hits.  If the backup is in, the OL is going to have to help chip on Ngata, who is one of the best (and most underrated and under appreciated) nose tackles in the league.  If they have to use a back or another lineman to chip and double team him, it decreases the amount of plays they can run, weakens both the running AND the passing game, and allows players like Trevor Pryce and Marques Douglas to have less interference on THEIR way to the QB.  It comes down to numbers.  If the Steelers have to play Max Protect all game it can only increase the chance for a mistake down the field to help the Ravens turn the game to their favor.  A hurried QB is a QB who will throw up the air ball, and that is when Ed Reed is at his absolute playmaking best.

If I hear more you will know more.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I know, it is either feast or famine around here...

So we are just over 4 days from the big AFC Championship game, Ravens - Steelers III.  And the local sports talkers (the sports radio stations) are BUZZING with activity (if they weren't I would be real surprised).  And the odds are against the Ravens in this one.  The Steelers are more rested, have less key players injured, and they are playing at home.  The Ravens have injuries to at least 2 key defenders that caused them to miss time in a closely contested playoff game last week, their number 1 running back had to either hop off or be helped off of the field 3 different times in that same game, their offensive line has been hurting, and one of the stalwarts of the line missed time during the game (although he did come back in), and their top receiving threat has been playing with a bum shoulder for weeks, making him run with one arm pinned to his side most of the game.  It is going to be a lot to overcome, and while I hope for a win and will root with all my heart and soul for a win, I am not expecting or guaranteeing a win.  BUT if the Ravens ARE going to win, here is what I think they will have to do...

On Offense:
  • Get Ray Rice involved.  Ray Rice brings an element to the offense that nobody else can bring.  He is small.  He is compact.  He is explosive.  He is a great safety valve on offense.  Get him involved with some screens and play action passes.  Let him get underneath the coverage (in the spot in the zone in between the line / linebackers and the secondary), get him the ball with some space and let him make some people miss.  
  • Get Flacco going early.  The Steelers are going to commit to stopping the run.  The run is what makes the Ravens' offense go.  The only way to keep the Steelers offense honest and open up some running lanes is to get the passing game going so that the Steelers cannot put 7 and 8 men in the box.  And not just deep down field, either.  Quick slants, screens, crossing patterns, up and ins...make the Steelers drop the linebackers back into coverage and THEN Pound McClain and McGahee at them.  Short passes, continuing to control the clock and keep the defense off the field as much as possible (because they NEED to not be on the field for 35 + minutes again like they have the last 2 games).
  • Clayton and / or Heap HAVE to step up.  Derrick Mason is having a Pro Bowl caliber year, but he is hurt, and even with 2 arms he cannot do it alone.  Heap needs to claim the middle of the field, and HOLD ON TO THE BALL when he catches it.  If he is EVER going to regain his old form, it needs to happen on Sunday evening.  Clayton needs to not only catch some short passes, but also burn down the field, even as (or maybe even ESPECIALLY) as a decoy to clear out the middle third of the field, as well as the underneath routes.  Make the safety move to his side and clear out some space.
On Defense:
  • Contain Roethlisberger.  "Big Ben" kills you by getting out of immediate trouble, extending the play with his legs by getting out of the pocket, then finding an open man who has broken contain (because you cannot expect a DB to keep a guy covered indefinitely.  It is impossible in a react position to always react 100% correct to a deke or cut move).  Keep him in the pocket, and when you get him in your arms, TAKE HIM DOWN.
  • Don't break contain.  The reason the Giants were able to gash the Ravens' defense is that the Ravens broke contain and did not stay in their assignments.  Then, when Brandon Jacobs cut back there was no one there to stop him.  I know the Ravens defense is predicated on getting to the ball, but if you get sloppy / overanxious you will get burned.  Keep Willie Parker running east / west instead of north / south, let him string it out looking for a cutback lane, but DO NOT give it to him.  Eventually he either runs out of bounds or right into your arms.  Then you have him and you put the Steelers in 2nd or 3rd and long, and that is when you can goad them into making a big mistake and possibly get that turnover.
  • Don't let Hines Ward get in your head.  Hines Ward is one of those players that you love when he is on your team, but if he ISN'T on your team you can't stand him.  He has a smirk on his face after every hit and every catch.  And then there are the shots he dishes out.  Are they illegal?  No.  Are they dirty?  That is another question.  If he is in the path of a play, he has every right, in fact I would expect him to try and take out the man across from him in whatever way the rules allow.  But to lay a guy out with a crackback hit from the side when the opposing player is following the play and they are not involved in the play itself?  Calling it dirty or cheap is close.  I would call it shady.  Either way, it smacks of being a punk.  Like I said, if it is part of the play as it unfolds, that is what the game is.  But when it is 20+ yards away and the player is not full speed engaged in trying to make themselves part of the play, is crap.  But that being said, if you let him get into your head and cost the team a penalty or two (or worse, get thrown out of the game) then he wins.  And the Ravens cannot afford to lose any one on one battles, because their margin of error is too fine to allow that to happen.
Overall, here is what it is.

My heart says:

Ravens 17
Steelers 10

My brain says:

Steelers 21
Ravens 13

All I can do is hope my heart is right.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Every 6 months or so, I am good for a post (it would seem).

Wow.  There has been a LOT happening in local sports since I last took the time to waste your time.  Hell, Spring Training starts in about a month.  I am once again going to openly proclaim that I will endeavor to post more regularly this year.  As far as actually doing it?  Well, I wouldn't put my mortgage on it.

So the Ravens are one game away from a berth in the Super Bowl.  And honestly, I had absolutely no aspirations of this team getting this far.  I was hoping for 8-8 and competitive in at least some of the losses.  Instead I get 11-5 and one loss from a 2nd seed and 1st round playoff bye.  I have had my wildest hopes for this team surpassed.  No matter the outcome of the game on Sunday, this season has been an unqualified success.

That being said, if they DO lose on Sunday I am going to be any combination of
  • sad
  • mad
  • pissed
  • pissy
  • grumpy
  • other random dwarf
  • bummed
  • et cetera
I usually subscribe to the "I'd rather get blown out than lose by a couple of points" theory of football.  If you lose by 2 touchdowns or more than it is one of those games where nothing is going right and you chalk it up to that.  Even in a playoff game where it is one and done if nothing is working than nothing is working.  You could say that nothing working is the reason I am doing this right now.  When you lose by a couple of points you sit there ruing that one play that cost you the game (there is always one play that makes the difference in a game like that).  But it is different when it is the Steelers.  It is different when it is a division rival between your team and the Super Bowl.  At this point ANY loss would be cause for me to be at least 3 or 4 of the aforementioned emotions.  And it is sucky that it makes me feel this way 6 days before the game as I sit here thinking about it, and it is awesome that my team has gotten to a point where I can be made to feel that way.  THAT is what makes being a fan fun.

Now as to what I will be doing at 6:30 EST on Sunday January 18th.  I will be sitting in my house, with food that I have prepared and NOT ordered from any pizza / wing / sub / Chinese food establishment.  My wife will be in the house.  The dogs and the cat will be in the house.  They will all be allowed to roam freely about the rooms.  If Larry the Upstairs Neighbor is home, he will not be sitting in my living room.  If C3PO the Translator Lawyer is free after watching his beloved Eagles play the Cardinals, he will not be invited over.  On the off chance that Fineous is free from family responsibilities he will not be on my couch.  Why?  

I am not an overly superstitious man.  However, the last two games I have been in my house, sans any company that is not legally joined to me or of a subservient species that have been living in my house and are dependant on me for food and shelter.  Both of those games have been victories for the team I root for.  I am not going to tempt the Fates by messing with a winning formula.  It is like Crash Davis said... "If a player thinks that he is on a hot streak because he is having sex, or not having sex, or wearing the same socks every day without washing them, then he is.  And you have to respect that."

Yes, I am using Kevin Costner dialogue to justify my hermit-like existence.  What can I say?