Thursday, December 30, 2010

Alexander Ovechkin hates Ruebens

You should see what he does to sauerkraut.

I know I don't cover hockey all that often, but with the Winter Classic around the corner, I figured it was time for some Caps love. Should we be hitting the NHL up more often? I await your feedback.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Oh Please Oh Please Oh Please

Bad news out of Owings Mills. Ravens long snapper Morgan Cox tore his ACL Sunday and is out for the rest of the season / playoffs. This is a potentially big issue, since the long snapper, holder, and kicker need to be on the same page and there could be be some serious timing issues depending on who they bring in to replace him.

Yesterday the Ravens worked out 2 guys, Ethan Albright and Jake Ingram. Of the two, Albright is much more experienced, which I would think would be a major factor for a team w/Super Bowl aspirations. Ingram did play for Bill Belichick, but he was also cut by Bill Belichick, and usually that means something (see: Moss, Randy).

So for (what seem to me to be) obvious reasons, I am pulling for the Ravens to sign Albright. But I have another reason besides the fact that at first glance he seems to be a better fit. Albright is a redhead, and a long snapper. His nickname is "The Red Snapper". And if the Ravens do sign him, we'll get to relive this moment for the rest of their season.

And THAT is NOT so stupid.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Also known as Bring Your Own Bonus. In news that is sure to make Matt Vensel happy, Joe Flacco will be able to afford a lot more of Flacco's Favorites with the playoff bonuses he is in line for this year.

Basically, Flacco is set to earn $200,000 for every playoff victory this year. Since the odds are that the Ravens will go into the playoffs as a Wild Card team, that would mean a Super Bowl victory is worth a cool $800,000. And you know what that means...

Don't skimp on ordering the breadsticks and wings, Joe!

America's been waiting all day for Tuesday Night?

It was a wacky week in the NFL, and thanks to a snowstorm that hit the East Coast (but sadly missed Baltimore), the Sunday Night Game Of The Week (tm) was moved to Tuesday night (aka tonight). So for the first time since 1946 the NFL is playing on a Tuesday. For those of us in fantasy football championship games (none shall defeat Jemimah's Witnesses!) or 3rd place games (some have defeated Blood Bath and Beyond!), it has made for a long week of waiting for the sweet nectar of victory (or the domestic hops and barley of defeat).

On the local front, the Ravens beat Cleveland 20-10 to go to 11-4 and clinch a playoff spot (with the potential for a division championship and 1st round bye still there. Playoff scenarios are explained HERE). To sum it up, barring some rather unexpected outcomes, the Ravens are travelling to Indianapolis the week after next.

In the game Ed Reed had 2 picks (but to be fair, both passes were air mailed by Colt McCoy to the point that Reed looked more like baseball's Adam Jones than football's Adam Jones). He also caught fire. LITERALLY. But in his biggest accomplishment of the year, he seemingly has inspired one of the league's elite players to try to make as many stupid decisions with the football as Reed does.

In case you missed the Saints-Falcons game last night, I am referring to Drew Brees and his need to "make something happen with the ball", or "Hot Potato Lateral Time" as I am thinking of calling it (I am at work and cannot come up w/a better name right now since I have to keep switching back to my "job" every few minutes). At a minimum, Brees must have attended some of Reed's camps for kids in the greater LA area (where Reed is from and where he spends his off season). In particular, to these two plays. Personally, I disagree that the first play was "good" (more on that in a moment). I have railed on and on about Joe Flacco needing to know when to take a sack and when to throw it away, but it really is a league wide problem (making Tom Brady's current streak of 319 passes w/out an interception - the new NFL record - all the more impressive), and Brees is no exception.

Both times the Saints are in their own territory, around the 30 yard line, and both times they are protecting a lead. The first one (the one the video editor calls "good") wound up getting the ball back to the line of scrimmage, but it was still a dangerous play. 1st of all, Pierre Thomas has missed the majority of the season with an ankle sprain (one of the main reasons I am not in the playoffs in my OTHER league. That and the Frank Gore injury), so his timing w/Brees is not where it needs to be. And that leads to my 2nd of all, that Thomas almost lost control of the ball and the play was lucky to end up not being a turnover, let alone netting no loss of yardage. The second play was even dumber. At this point it is the 4th quarter and the Saints have a 3 point lead. Also, it is 1st down. Take the 8 yard loss and go from there. There is absolutely no excusing that play, and if it had been any QB not named Brady, Manning, Brees, Rivers, or Favre the guy would have been crucified by the media for that. Instead we hear that Brees' 19 (that made 20) interceptions were not "Brees-like numbers", and except for one statement that you can't "throw the ball blind", it was all praise on the defense. And while the defense DID make a good play, it was the result of Brees trying to do too much.

So you see, Ravens fans? We're not the only ones suffering from star players with brain cramps. All we can hope for is that Ed Reed gets some mental Midol in his system, and soon. And next Sunday, as you recover from New Year's festivities and you turn on the Ravens-Bengals game, say a little prayer for the Cleveland Browns that they might pull a repeat of last year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


It doesn't matter what the students major in, Division 1-A everybody is a Business major.

In "Finally yanking the Band-Aid off" news, Maryland fired Ralph Friedgen (although he will be allowed to coach them in the Military Bowl Presented By Northrup Grumman, a bowl that might have more words in the title than non team affiliated viewers). The school also announced that former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is on the list of potential replacements (which, if it happens, will probably not get the Terps a whole lot of ABC or ESPN coverage for a while).

So why fire a coach that went 8-4 and won Coach of the Year for the conference? To quote James Carville, "It's the economy, stupid".

Putting aside the fact that Maryland's turnaround from 2-10 in 2009 to 8-4 in 2010 is really a lot of smoke and mirrors (beating Morgan State and Florida International is not equivalent to taking on Ohio State), the team was not selling the seats (or more importantly the luxury boxes) at Byrd Stadium. This lack of local support pushed the Terps out of consideration for bigger bowls this season (NC State, a team that the Terps beat this year, were asked to go the Citrus Bowl), and relegated the team to basically a glorified home game at RFK against an East Carolina team that barely finished bowl eligible). Bowl games bring schools money (which is why we will never have a playoff system in college football, but that is a rant for another time). Athletic departments for 99.9% of Division 1-A schools rely on football and men's basketball to supply the revenue that funds the rest of the sports (I like water polo as much as the next guy, but there is no bidding war to televise the games).

I like Friedgen a lot as a coach and respect what he has done for the program in the last decade. But he has not been able to follow up on his early success (accomplished mainly with players brought in by the previous coaching regime), and the program has suffered for it. AD Kevin Anderson knew he wasn't going to bring Friedgen back in 2012 when his contract expired (in any sport, when you change the top decision maker the coach is often one of the first things to go). Once Maryland lost James Franklin to Vanderbilt, the program lost it's ability to offer continuity to the recruits (kids don't like to go to schools w/coaching uncertainty because unlike coaches they cannot jump from program to program without losing eligibility). Anderson walked into an uncomfortable situation at Maryland. He had a coach that didn't want to leave and a coach in waiting that was promised something that he felt he deserved (I made an allusion in a previous post to this paralleling the Jay Leno / Conan O'Brien cluster[bleep], and in many ways it really is eerily similar). Franklin taking the Vanderbilt job gave Anderson the opening he needed to make the change he felt was bet for the program, and by extension the entire department.

This is Kevin Anderson's make-or-break moment. He has decided to oust a respected coach that was doing a good job (7 bowl games in 10 years is a ratio that a lot of schools would gladly accept), who never had a whiff of impropriety (a claim that Mike Leach cannot make), and one that was liked by a lot of fans. If Friedgen's replacement doesn't make this team a legitimate (and consistent) top 25 team, he could be looking back on this in a few years when he is clearing out his office for HIS replacement.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I Saw The Sign

Yes, I am quoting Swedish pop bands. But a win like this one makes people do strange things. Quick thoughts on the game:

  • That was the first complete game I have seen all season
The Ravens came in with a good game plan, albeit an obvious one. Run. The. Ball.

And they did. They mixed Ray Rice and Willis McGahee and got 200 yards on the ground. More importantly it controlled the clock, kept the Saints offense off of the field and kept the Ravens defense off the field. And it opened up the passing game (Dickson's TD was a direct result of the Saints playing the run and overloading the line, letting Dickson slip out uncovered after originally staying in to block).

  • Greg Mattison has a pulse
The defense held Brees and company to 7 4th quarter points and also got some big stops (as much as everyone complained about how tired the defense was last week, if they had made any one of the 4 4th down plays they wouldn't have been so tired). There were no plays I saw where the defense beat themselves, just plays where the Saints executed / got lucky (the Lance Moore TD comes to mind). It was a great team effort on short rest against a red hot team with one of the best offenses in the league.

  • If the MVP award truly went to the best player in the league, Haloti Ngata would have to be in the conversation
If you want to win an MVP (or a Heisman Trophy) you need to be a QB or RB. Sure there is the Defensive Player of the Year Award, but that isn't the same thing. But if the MVP really went to the most valuable player, Ngata would be in the running. He has been a beast this year, and the last 2 months he has been playing at a whole new level (and requiring so much attention that teams have had to slide blockers towards the middle, allowing Terrell Suggs and Jarrett Johnson to cause some havoc coming off the ends).

The Ravens have enough talent to win the Super Bowl. There has been no question about that. The question has been can they put it together, and can they do it for a whole game. Today they did that. Now the question is "Can they do it again"? We'll find out about that next Sunday against Cleveland.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Unplugging the Fridge?

It was a bounceback year for the University of Maryland football team. They went from 2-10 to 8-4 and qualified for a bowl game and coach Ralph Friedgen won his 2nd ACC Coach of the Year award. Now he's about to be forced out?

Sources are reporting that in the wake of OC James Franklin accepting the head coaching job at Vanderbilt, Maryland AD Kevin Anderson is going to ask Friedgen to take a buyout and retire instead of coming back as basically a lame duck coach in 2011 (the last year of a contract that the school does not intend on extending). It seems that Friedgen pushing for a contract extension has rubbed Anderson the wrong way, and now that he has been relieved of the burden of a "coach in waiting" (something he came out as being very much against when he first took the job), he is going to make this team his own.

Rumors swirl that the leading candidates if Friedgen is in fact forced out (shades of Davey Johnson in 1997?) are Tyrone Willingham (formerly of Notre Dame and Washington), Mike Locksley (currently head coach of New Mexico), and (to me the most intriguing candidate) former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach.

The Terps have a bowl game in less than 2 weeks so this is not exactly coming at an opportune time, and this could get really messy. Stay tuned for further developments.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

A New Champion Is Crowned

The big thing in the Ravens' locker room this year (other than Terrence Cody) has been cornhole, a beanbag tossing game. The team has had a tournament going on, and it seems a champion has been crowned.

According to Edward Lee at the Baltimore Sun, punter Sam Koch defeated surprise finalist Joe Flacco 3-0 in the best of 5 finals (yesterday Jamison Hensley reported that the end for Flacco was coming, barring a miracle).

I guess it is the 12 year old in me, but I cannot hear the word "cornhole" without thinking of the great Deidrich Bader in what might just be one of the greatest comedy movies of all time. And I really hope that Flacco is channeling his inner Lawrence, so he can walk up to Koch and warn him to watch out for his cornhole title (and since Joe has been known to style his hair for a good cause I hold out the hope that he goes for the full look) thusly...


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cold Hard Facts - Week 14

I made it to my desk on time this morning, but I'm not sure how productive I am going to be today. Like most of Baltimore I am dragging a bit after another long night filled with cheers and groans, right up to an ending that should not have been nearly as exciting as it was. Sure the Ravens won. But it should not have come down to OT. The Ravens had a 15 point lead in the 4th quarter and let it slip out of their hands. How? After 13 games, I think I finally understand.

The Ravens defensive coaching staff cannot make in game adjustments. They've lost 4 games in which they had a lead in the 4th quarter this year (and if memory serves had 4th quarter leads in 4 other games - including this one - where they lost the lead but won the game). Here is the opponent's scoring by quarters through 13 games:

  1. 37
  2. 63
  3. 21
  4. 105
  5. (OT) 3
The team comes in with a good plan, but when the opponents make adjustments the Ravens falter. They can fix the problems at halftime, but in the 4th quarter they are being out coached. The Texans' final two drives in regulation last night went for 95 and 99 yards. That is inexcusable, and teams that are legitimate Super Bowl contenders cannot let that happen.

On offense, they lack a killer instinct. Cam Cameron over thinks the game plan once he has the lead. He was successful in San Diego, but sometimes it looks like he has to go out of his way to prove that he is not Marty Schottenheimer (his head coach w/the Chargers) and he makes indefensible decisions. Last night has a perfect example. The Ravens were leading by 8 with just under three minutes in the game. They were on the Texans' 44 yard line. It was 3rd and 2 and the Texans were out of timeouts. The conservative play is to run, try to get the first down, and if you fail you run the clock down as far as possible and then punt and pin the Texans back deep in their territory. Instead, Cameron calls a pass that falls incomplete, which stops the clock. The Ravens could have run 40+ seconds off of the clock with a simple dive play. The Texans scored a TD w/about 20 seconds left on the clock. The sack / strip / fumble against Pittsburgh is another prime example. The obvious play is oftentimes the right play. And in football more than in any other sport you can do exactly what the opponent is expecting and still be successful. Vince Lombardi told the world that the Packers were going to run the power sweep, and then they did it. And they won 5 championships in 7 years, including 3 in a row. Football is about imposing your will on your opponent. Cam Cameron has forgotten about that.

There is something to be said for execution (hopefully not John McKay style - see #1 on this list), and the players need to be held accountable. But they can only execute the play that they have been given. And from the looks of things, they are not being given the plays they need to succeed, even in a win.


Monday, December 06, 2010

Looking Back at a Tough Loss

For those who couldn't hear me screaming expletives around midnight last night (and odds are most of the greater Baltimore area had at least their dog's ears perking up at the sound of pain and frustration), the Ravens lost to the Steelers 13-10. Once again the Ravens had a 4th quarter lead and let the other team come back. 6 times this year they have given up a 4th quarter lead. It is unacceptable, and it is not indicative of a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Facts are facts, and this is what I saw...

  • The offense took it's foot off of the gas and off of the opponent's throats.
The team got very conservative with a one score lead. That was a huge mistake, and it put way too much pressure on the defense. I have never understood a team going away from what got it the lead in the first place. If it is a blowout, stop taking shots downfield and run the ball and then punt it away. That's good sportsmanship. But to have a one score lead and suddenly think you can take the air out of the ball with a full 15 minutes left? It's like the prevent defense, when it is successful it is successful in spite of itself.
  • It is time for Dawan Landry to ride the pine.
Landry can hit you. But he doesn't know how to tackle. The game winning touchdown was on a 3rd and goal from the 9. It was a dump off pass to Isaac Redman. Landry had him dead to rights by the 5 yard line. But Landry is 6'0" and 210 lbs (officially. I would put him at closer to 200). Redman is 6'0" and 230 lbs. Redman had a head of steam built up. And Landry tried to knock him down instead of tackling him, and when he finally did go to wrap up he went around Redman's shoulders. A guy that big and powerful, you need to tackle around the waist. Now I do not know where the Ravens' "swarm to the ballcarrier" was on that play, but it shouldn't have come to that. Technique would have brought the guy down and made it 4th and goal from the 5. Inexcusable.

  • Play calling has never been more suspect than in the last 40 seconds of the game.
All the talk of going conservative aside, the Ravens had the ball on the Steelers 31 with 37 seconds left in the game. It was 4th and 2. Many people (including me) were calling for Billy Cundiff to come out and kick a field goal. 49 yards (you have to add 18 yards to a field goal to account for the length of the end zone and where the ball is placed behind the line of scrimmage on the snap) into a decent wind is not an easy task. There is no question that Cundiff has the leg for it as he has been kicking the ball through the end zone and over half his kickoffs have been touchbacks. He is on pace to destroy the record of 40 set by Mitch Berger in 1998, and to obliterate the K Ball record (30, IIRC). K balls are footballs kept aside from the regular game supply and used only for kicking. Until the implementation of the K ball, kickers could pretty much doctor up the ball however they wanted. They would put them in a dryer with a bag of rocks to soften them up, soak them in hot and / or cold water, whatever they thought would give them an edge. Cundiff has not had that luxury, and still he is knocking the cover off of the ball.

The wind would make directing the ball a good deal more difficult, and Cundiff did an assessment of the conditions coming out of halftime and told John Harbaugh that his edge for feeling comfortable for kicking was about 45 years. I understand Cundiff backing Harbaugh's choice, and I understand why Harbaugh made the call. What I don't understand was the play call.

Harbaugh has said that he felt they needed to get to the 27 to feel like a field goal was realistic, so we are looking at 4 yards. The call was a pass to rookie TE Ed Dickson, who was filling in for an injured Todd Heap.

Here is my take. If you really think the kick is not going to work and you need to go for the 1st down, you have to know that the defense is going to be bogging down in that 5 yard block from the line of scrimmage on. The Ravens came out with an empty backfield and 4 receivers. Here is what I would have done.

  1. Draw play. Rotate Ray Rice back into the backfield and let him take the handoff, or even a direct snap with Flacco faking a bad snap. Have him come off the edge for an end around. With the receivers 4 wide the Steelers can't crash the box to take away the run. 37 seconds is more than enough time to get to the line, spike the ball, and take one more shot at either the end zone or a deeper side route to stop the clock and get Cundiff on the field for a much more manageable field goal try. You CAN run the ball from the spread offense. In fact, if used judiciously it is highly effective. And if the Steelers show blitz or somehow leave a receiver open / uncovered / soft covered (DB at least 6-8 yards off of the line of scrimmage)...
  2. Hot read. Slant. Quick hit in space and see what they can get after the catch. They only need 2 yards, so it should be a lot of gravy on the run. And if that doesn't happen...
  3. Go route. Donte Stallworth is one of the fastest players in the game. Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason had been absuing Bryant McFadden pretty much all game. Have at least one of them run a straight 9 route, or even a hitch and go. Since the defenders are expecting it to be a short distance play this could catch them flat footed. And if you have another receiver (or two, if you are feeling bold) flood the area recently emptied by the 9 route runner there should be ample space to complete a 2 or more yard pass. But go deep. Go bold. You need points, and this keeps the game from going into OT when your defense has been getting gassed for the last 2 quarters.
Cam Cameron wanted weapons. He wanted receivers. Now he has them and he isn't using them. He has a young quarterback that is getting better every week and he won't let him run free. He has one of the most dynamic running backs in the league and he is maddeningly inconsistent in using him. Come on, Cameron. Show us something. Unless a miracle happens we are going to have to play 3 playoff games, and all of them on the road. We need to see something that lets the fans think that the team has a chance of overcoming that.

Or we're going to be a disappointed fan base come the end of January. And this team is better than that.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Steelers Week - The Abbreviated Finale

Had some problems the last 48 hours or so. Plumbing issues and a suddenly dying major household appliance. So it is about 2 1/2 hours before game time and I am just going to call the game. My prediction?

Ravens 24-Steelers 20

These games are always close, but I think the injuries that Pittsburgh line and to Roethlisberger are going to be too much for the Steelers to overcome on the road in a game that both teams are going to be really hyped up for.

All that's left now is to watch it.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Steelers Week - Part III

Sorry I missed yesterday, but I promise 2 entries today to make up for it.

Steelers Offensive Line vs. Ravens Defensive Line and Linebackers

The Steelers have been hurting at this position all year. They've lost tackles Willie Colon and Max Starks for the year and had to bring in Flozell Adams, a player very much on the downside of his career. In fact, their current LT (Jonathan Scott) is their top backup for Adams on the right side. LG Chris Kemoeatu has been hurting, and C Maurkice Pouncey is a rookie that might be hitting the "rookie wall". The Steelers gave up 5 sacks last week to the Buffalo Bills, which does not bode well for them.

The Ravens front seven has been a disappointment this year. Players have not been staying in their gaps, allowing holes for RBs to exploit. Also, they have not been getting pressure on the QB which has been exposing the secondary's limitations. But they last few weeks have been better. OLB Terrell Suggs has been getting more pressure from the edge (and was just named AFC Player of the Month for November), and his partner on the other side Jarret Johnson has been having another quietly solid season. DT Haloti Ngata is arguably one of the best in the game right now at his position, and along w/NT Kelley Gregg and DE Cory Redding, they have been taking care of their responsibilities and over the past month have been pushing into the pocket and forcing the offense to alter their gameplan. Rookie NT Terrence Cody is still very much a work in progress, and 2nd year guy Paul Kruger is making the adjustment from LB to DE, but he is also showing signs of improvement. Finally, we have ILBs Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain (or Dannell Ellerbe, depending on who they start that week). At this point, pretty much everything there is to say about Lewis has been said. He has lost a step (15 years in the NFL has a way of putting a little hitch in your giddy up), but he is one of the smartest players in the game, and he studies film like a coach. McClain / Ellerbe are passable at best, but neither stand out as anything more than that.

Advantage: Ravens. This is the area where the Ravens can do the most damage to the Steelers and have the most effect on the outcome of the game.

Ravens Offensive Line vs. Steelers Defensive Line and Linebackers

The Ravens have a lot riding on LT Michael Oher's knee right now. If he can play and play as well as he did in Week 4 (when he and RT Marshal Yanda held the Pittsburgh outside rush w/out a sack), then this becomes an advantage: Ravens. If they can't (and while he has been fully participating, Oher injured his right knee against Tampa Bay last week, and that is a concern), this gets a lot tighter. Yanda has done a good job moving from the RG position to cover for Jared Gaither (who is on the IR list), and RG Chris Chester has done a good job of filling in for Yanda (even if Yanda is better suited for RG and Chester for C). Chester has missed the last 2 games due to cellulitis in his lower legs (bacterial skin infection. I've been there. It sucks), but has been practicing this week. His return would be huge in helping the Ravens neutralize the big guys on the Steelers line. Ben Grubbs is the LG, and he is another quiet player playing well and not getting any attention, which is the curse of playing guard on the OL.

When you talk about the Steelers front seven, the first name you have to talk about is OLB James Harrison. I mentioned the other day that even Terrell Suggs thinks that he is being unfairly targeted for his aggressive style of play. But he gets in the backfield and he creates havoc along with his cohort OLB LaMarr Woodley (and in the zone blitz schemes of DC Dick LeBeau you can also expect pressure from ILBs Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior, who are not exactly slouches in both pass rushing or run stopping). The big man in the middle of the Steelers line is NT Casey Hampton, who is joined on the line by DEs Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood. The Steelers are a top 5 defense again (including #1 against the run), and a lot of that has to do with the way the front 3 eat up the offense's blockers and let the LBs flow to the ball carrier. This defense is the biggest reason why the Steelers were able to go 3-1 without Roethlisberger at the start of the season. Year in and year out they are a legitimate force.

Advantage: Push. (if I had to make a selection I would go with the Steelers here, but the Ravens handled them pretty well last time and the line has been playing better as of late. The apparent health of Oher and the return of Chester mean I am not going to call this one either way)

Later today, Special Teams, and a look at the coaches.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Steelers Week - Part II

Lets get right to it!

Steelers Receivers vs. Ravens Secondary

The Steelers top 2 receivers are Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. When they go to 3 and 4 receiver sets, Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle fill out the ranks. According to the Steelers official depth chart, David Johnson is the starting TE and Heath Miller is his backup. Of course, Johnson is only listed as the starting FB, and he has 1 catch this year for 9 total yards while Miller has 32 receptions for 375 yards. I'm going to go with Miller as the starter here.

Wallace has the speed to stretch the field (he's averaging 22 YPC) while Ward is the possession receiver that Baltimore fans love to hate (but he backs it up on the field and is on pace to end the season with 59 catches for 741 yards and 6 TDs). Miller is one of the better pass catching TEs in the league and is having another solid season.

The Ravens will be countering this with starting CBs Josh Wilson and Chris Carr, with Lardarius Webb as the nickel back and Fabian Washington playing the dime packages. Ed Reed is the FS and Dawan Landry is the SS (but w/Landry's concussion last week, Haruki Nakamura or Tom Zbikowski could be sliding into the rotation covering for Landry and relieving Reed. As mentioned yesterday, the team released Ken Hamlin to make room for a backup FB for LeRon McClain.

None of the Ravens CBs are shutdown corners. Webb has potential, but he is still learning how to play CB after playing FS in college. They are all decent at covering receivers, but they need the front seven to get pressure on the QB because they can be beaten if the QB has some time to let the receivers find a soft spot in the coverage. Reed is still one of the best in the league, but he is still bothered by the hip and neck problems from previous years as well as other nagging injuries that every player incurs during the course of a season. Reed does like to gamble, and while he is often right when he is wrong it usually means 6 points for the opposition. Landry is a hard hitter (his nickname is Wop, for the sound his pads make when he hits somebody), but he does not always take the best route to the ball.

Advantage: Steelers. Their receivers know their role and know their offense, and are at their best when the play breaks down. The Ravens can cover, but they are not as adept as they have been in the past and it shows when they are covering receivers for more than a few seconds (which isn't nearly as bad as it sounds since most plays develop within 5-7 seconds from the snap of the ball, especially with the prevalence of 3 step drops and timing patterns).

Ravens Receivers vs. Steelers Secondary

A lot has been made of the Ravens improved receiving corps, with Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and TJ Houshmandzedah being the first trio of receivers on the same team to all have 600+ career receptions, and Donte Stallworth is working his way into the game after missing the first 2 months with a foot injury. The Three Amigos are all good possession receivers with okay speed, but Stallworth is the burner that the team has been lacking. Todd Heap is the TE, but rookies Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are excellent pass catchers that are slowly working their ways into the lineup.

The Steelers counter with Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor on the corners with William Gay and Anthony Madison filling the extra DB packages. Ryan Clark is the FS and Troy Polamalu is the SS. In many ways, the Steelers secondary is a lot like the Ravens secondary, with competent corners who are not elite, and a safety who is one of the best players in the league in Polamalu. The biggest difference is that the Ravens receivers are not as good at getting open after all hell breaks loose with the QB under pressure, but they are better at getting open in the first place. And if you count Ray Rice as a receiver (which he is used for quite a bit), that creates a lot of match-up problems for the Steelers. Either a TE or a RB is going to have a LB covering them, and that usually means advantage: offense. And so...

Advantage: Ravens.

Tomorrow, the rest of the defense for both squads vs. the offensive lines.


Terrell Suggs Making Sense

As an addendum to Steelers Week, I wanted to take a moment to congratulate Terrell Suggs for speaking openly and honestly about controversial subjects. To wit, during a conference call with the Pittsburgh Media, he came out and said that Steelers LB James Harrison is being unfairly scrutinized and flagged by the refs, which I agree with. Suggs' actual words...

“Your guy over there, 92, I think he is red-flagged,” Suggs said. “The referees are kind of looking for him. Even if he breathes on a quarterback wrong, he might get a flag.”

Harrison was fined for the fourth time this season yesterday when he was fined $25,000 for a hit put on Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Harrison has been fined $125,000 so far this season.

“I think they are looking at him more closely than they are everybody else in the league,” Suggs said. “In the referee world, they kind of red-flagged him.”

He then said that some teams (and in particular some QBs) get preferential treatment. And while the league will never admit it, he is absolutely correct, as Suggs' example shows...

“The league has their favorites,” Suggs said. “One being in Indy and one being with that other team up north. Besides those two, everybody is fair game. Some quarterbacks are getting the calls right away. Some quarterbacks they don’t care.

"Like I always said, Carson Palmer got hit in his knee in 2005 but there was no rule made. Then Tom Brady got hit in his knee and all of a sudden there is a rule and possible suspensions, excessive fines — it’s just getting ridiculous.

(Of course, the team that wasn't flagged for the Palmer hit was the Steelers, but that just shows the heirarchy of team preferential treatment)

And so I am going to take a moment to award Terrell Suggs the first ever Award In Cromulent Speaking (herewith to be known as the Crommies), which is going to be given whenever someone says something either so obvious it shouldn't have to be said (in which case the cromulence is for the listeners who do not want to acknowledge the veracity of the statement), or something so maddeningly asinine that it needs to be held for posterity (which places cromulence squarely on the speaker).'s your Crommie!

Another definition of cromulent.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Steelers Week - Part I

Yes, the biggest game of the regular season for the Ravens is less than a week away, and we are going to build up to it by breaking down both the Ravens and the Steelers from top to bottom. Today we start with the QB and RBs for each team...

Joe Flacco vs. Ben Roethlisberger

Until this year, this was a clear cut "advantage: Pittsburgh". But the tide might just be changing.

Roethlisberger (leaving his off the field behavior out of the discussion) is a strong armed QB who is good at moving around in the pocket, is extremely hard to bring down, and is possibly even more accurate when on the run than he is in the pocket. His ability to tuck the ball in and run makes it difficult for a defense to let him create time in the backfield, and his ability to throw on the run (to receivers who are adept at coming back to the QB and getting open when the pocket collapses) make it hard for the second level defenders (usually LBs) to drop their coverage and converge on the QB. But he has lost some weapons with the trade of Santonio Holmes and lost some mobility with a right foot injury (he was in a walking boot this week, but expects to play). He is still a beast to tackle / sack, but if the first arriving defender wraps him up and doesn't let him break contain his playmaking abilities are severely diminished.

It is easy to dismiss the fact that Joe Flacco is only in his 3rd year and still learning how to play in the NFL, but it is true. If you have been watching him, he has been one of the best QBs in the NFL since Week 3 (after his dismal 4 INT performance in Week 2). He is still at his best when the team goes no huddle and he is playing out of the shotgun (which is what he did almost exclusively in college). He likes to go through his reads quickly, and usually if the 1st or 2nd read isn't open he will go to his checkdown, which is his TE or RB. He throws a good deep ball, and he might be the best QB in the league at 12-15 yard out routes. However, he can have problems w/his mechanics, especially when he is being pressured (he has a tendency to throw off of his back foot and push the ball with his arm instead of stepping into the throw and letting his legs do the work), and he still hasn't mastered moving in the pocket to avoid pressure or rolling out to his strong side so that he doesn't have to throw across his body when he is out of the pocket. Also, like a lot of young QBs, he doesn't have a good feel for when to give up and throw the ball away to avoid a sack, and to tuck the ball away when he is getting sacked. He is getting better at these things, but he isn't there yet.

Advantage: Pittsburgh (but by a much more narrow margin than before)

Ray Rice vs. Rashard Mendenhall

Mendenhall is another in a long line of big, physical RBs in Pittsburgh. He isn't going to scoot around and hide behind his blockers and wait for something to open up for him, he is going to take the ball, make a cut, and hit where the hole is supposed to be (whether it is there or not. And if it isn't there, he'll try to make it exist all by himself). Mendenhall is not a pass catcher and not a threat to flex out to a slot position. If he is in the game he is either going to run the ball or block for the guy who has the ball.

Ray Rice is the exact opposite of Mendenhall. He is smaller and shifty, and can actually disappear behind his linemen, making it hard for defenses to find him until he breaks through the line. Rice can hit you hard, but he can also juke you out of your shoes an leave you grasping at air. He is always a threat to peel out to the flat or to go to the soft middle of a defense and catch a pass, and once he is in the open field he is hard to tackle.

Their primary relievers are in fact the polar opposites of the starters. For the Steelers it is Mewelde Moore who will go out and catch passes and slip and slide all over the field. Willis McGahee backs up Rice, and he will come at you with as much steam as he can have built up behind him. Neither backup is as complete in their role as the starter is in theirs (in other words, McGahee is no Mendenhall when it comes to bulldozing opposing players, and Moore is never going to be mistaken for Rice with the ball in his hands in the open field), but both offer a nice change of pace from the main man.

The Steelers do not have any FBs on their roster, while the Ravens have 2 time Pro Bowler Le'Ron McClain (however, McClain is recovering from an injury suffered in the Bucs game so the Ravens just signed Jason McKie, a 9 year veteran most recently with the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears).

Advantage: Ravens. The Ravens RBs are more versatile and more active in the game plan.

Tomorrow we'll look at the receivers and secondaries for both teams. Join us then. And as always, comments, questions, complaints, and offers of corporate sponsorship are always welcome.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

From Hot Stove to Hot Head

Felix Pie does not agree with this umpire's assessment of the timeline of his hand touching the base and the glove with the ball in it touching his hand.

Well, we won't be able to accuse him of not playing with passion...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thinking Outside The Batter's Box

Okay, stay with me on this one...

I know it is football season, and the Ravens have a big game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday, which is a nice warm up for the national game of the week the following Sunday when they host the Steelers in prime time. But I've had a hot stove itch in my head for a few days, and I need to get radical on this.

The Orioles need to sign Derek Jeter.

Yes, it has been talked about in recent days, most notably by Ron Fritz. At first I scoffed at the idea. His numbers are declining and he is 36, so odds are it was less a statistical aberration and more a sign of what is to come. And since he was offered 3 years, $45 million by the Yankees, the O's would have to probably cough up in the neighborhood of $55 over 3 years to have any chance of swaying him to come here (assuming that the Yankees wouldn't match the offer or at least try to meet Jeter halfway). But the Yankees have told Jeter to feel free to test the free agent market, and I want to see the O's do more than kick the tires on this. Why?

His glove is not quite as good as Cesar Izturis, but his numbers (even on an off year) crush Izturis. And I think that a change of scenery would be the kind of thing that would up his game. A lot of players use slights, both real and imaginary, as motivation. And Jeter seems (to me, at least) to be the kind of guy who would look at the 15 years that he has given the Yankees, the leadership and steadiness that he has provided, and look at the current offer as a slap in the face. And if THAT happens then he might just take a deal that would let him shove it down their throats. Like Ron Fritz said, Jeter is only 74 hits from 3,000. To deny the Yankees the chance to make a big deal out of it would be some nice revenge. He doesn't need to switch teams to make one last grab at a ring (he's got a few of those), his legacy in baseball is secure, he is playing now for pride.

Buck Showalter is a great manager, and the Orioles are lucky to have him. He has won everywhere he has managed. But the impact of a player with the jewelry to back up his words has a cache that Showalter cannot touch. Imagine what he could do with Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Felix Pie, and Matt Wieters. I know Showalter would welcome the addition of someone who has been to the pinnacle bending the ears of his young players, reinforcing what he is saying. He would provide valuable protection to Brian Roberts by batting in the 2 hole, and between the two of them they could set a lot of plates for the young 'uns to clear.

To wit, let's look at a possible lineup if the Orioles DO sign Derek Jeter...

  1. Roberts 2B
  2. Jeter SS
  3. Jones CF
  4. 1B
  5. Luke Scott DH
  6. Markakis RF
  7. Wieters C
  8. 3B
  9. Pie LF
I'm leaving 1B and 3B empty for now because the hope here is that there is at least one corner infield signing, and maybe Ty Wigginton comes back for the other slot. My ultimate hope is a big bat for 1B and Wigginton for 3B, but with Victor Martinez signing with Detroit and Washington offering Adam Dunn arbitration, my top choice for 1B is out, and my 2nd choice isn't looking too promising. Wigginton could come back and play 1st or Scott could fill in there, but neither option is ideal. I really don't think Paul Konerko or Adrian Beltre will come to Baltimore to play right now since both have previously turned down lucrative contracts from the team (in Konerko's case he wound up signing for less to return to the Chicago White Sox). Thinking way outside the box, the Orioles could pursue Vladimir Guerrero for DH and move Scott to 1B permanently. Granted, Guerrero is another player that decided to not take an Orioles offer years ago, but since he was offered MORE money by a team that was a serious World Series contender, that is a little more palatable. Plus, he is not going to have the same kinds of offers that Konerko and Beltre are going to get, AND he was not offered arbitration by the Texas Rangers, so there is no draft pick compensation required if the O's do sign him. Do I think that Scott can be a serviceable 1B? Yeah. He won't be great, but I don't think he'll be horrible. And since he has said on multiple occasions that he prefers to play in the field over DH, it could help his numbers. Wigginton at 3B and Scott at 1B with a 36 going on 37 SS and a 32 going on 33 2B who missed the majority of last season with back issues is not the greatest recipe for success, but it might be the best that the team can do.

Now the pragmatist in me thinks that this just ain't happening. In fact, I really don't know who the Orioles will be able to convince to come here. But that is the beauty of the hot stove season. So let's see what Andy MacPhail can pull out of his bag of tricks this off-season.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Welcome to the New World

It has been a while...

I won't get too deep into the sordid details of why I haven't posted here in over a year, other than to say that I am now well onto the road to recovery and feeling good.

Also, I am no longer working for/with Pro Sports Blogging (dot) com. I want to thank them for the opportunity and the forum, but at this point and time I need to go in a different direction with my writing and it is not something that would work there.

Finally, you may have noticed that the name has changed. Facts are facts, and if this is going to be a viable entity I need to have a name that doesn't automatically get filtered by the more conservative search engines.

So I hope you'll join me as I look at the Ravens, the Orioles, the Blast, the Caps, and any other thing worth discussing. And for those of you who are fans of my somewhat off center view of sports and the world in general, I have no intention of dropping that. So come on back for sports and snark, and possibly some nachos.