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.