Archive for January, 2009

Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year Trophy Gets a Unibrow

January 30, 2009

Congratulations to Baltimore’s own Joe Flacco, winner of the 2008 Diet Pepsi Rookie of the Year!  How did Flacco win this award, after being completely shut out in the AP ROY voting?  Well, two reasons come to mind:

  1. Diet Pepsi is a lot more intelligent in their award process, choosing to actually wait until after the season is over to close voting, as opposed to the AP, who rumor has it only vote based on training camp performance.
  2. The NFL fans, who voted for this award, are much more astute judges of talent than a bunch of crotchety old sports writers.

Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that Mr. Flacco finally has some much deserved hardware to put on his mantle. Although, Joe probably doesn’t even have a mantle, since he lives in a van down by the river…or something like that.  He’ll probably just haul it around in the trunk of that ’94 Ford Escort he pimps around town.

Just be sure to cover it with a blanket when you get out for a fancy lunch at Burger King, Joe.  Wouldn’t want Chris Johnson any thieves busting out your windows.

2008 Season (The MOTHERFLACC'IN FUN Season) – Part 2: Defense

January 28, 2009

The Ravens’ defense managed to stay relatively healthy in 2008, and when the next man needed to step up, there were plenty of capable bodies.  In Rex Ryan’s final year as defensive coordinator, his unit finished #2 overall in the NFL, allowing only 261.1 yards per game.

Defensive Line

The D-line had another very strong year, as the Ravens extended their league best streak of games without allowing a 100-yard rusher to 35 (and counting), and allowed only 81.4 yards rushing per game.  This was good for 3rd in the league, and was only two yards more than in 2007.  This is even more impressive considering they lost the 80 tackles of Kelly Gregg, who did not play a snap all year due to preseason knee surgery.  Justin Bannan stepped up huge in replacement of Buddy Lee, and Haloti Ngata continued his ascent to elite DT status.  Ngata was again snubbed from a Pro Bowl berth, despite his 55* tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions.  His INT of Sage Rosenfels in the end zone in Houston was a perfect example of the kind of athletic ability Haloti possesses.  In only his 3rd season, he is legitimately a Top 5 defensive tackle in the NFL.   The next step in his progression as a player is to become more effective in collapsing the pocket.

Trevor Pryce rebounded from his injury-ridden 2007 to start all 16* games.  Although he put up only 4 sacks (the 2nd fewest of his career in a full season), he regularly pressured quarterbacks and occupied blockers to open up lanes for Ravens’ blitzers.

Despite a healthy Pryce, the Ravens still only managed 34 sacks all season – a modest improvement from 2007’s 32.

Mid-season additions Brandon McKinnie and Marques Douglas also played well in spot duty.

The Ravens’ trouble in getting to the QB over the past 2 seasons really highlights their need for a true “rush” defensive end to compliment the aging Pryce and the versatile Terrell Suggs.  It will be a position they will likely try to address in this year’s draft.

With Kelly Gregg, who will benefit in 2009 from having a full year’s rest, Bannan, who would start on just about any d-line, and Ngata, a certified beast, teams will continue struggling to get anything going on the ground against the Ravens in coming seasons.

Linebackers

The Ravens linebackers, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, had another stellar season as a group. This position has become synonymous with Baltimore football, and the ’08 group carried the torch admirably.

Ray Lewis continues to seemingly get younger rather than older.  At 33, he registered his most solo tackles (85) since 2004, most interceptions (3) since 2003, added 3.5 sacks to his career totals, and still hit harder than anybody on the team (just ask Rashard Mendenhall).  Ray was named to his 10th Pro Bowl and 6th All Pro Team.

Terrell Suggs rebounded from his slightly below average 2007 with a vengeance, setting a career high with 53 solo tackles, racking up 8 sacks, and picking off 2 passes, which he returned for his first and second career touchdowns.  The way he read those screen passes that sealed the deals in both Miami and Cleveland are true testaments to his development as a player; Suggs is no longer just a pass rusher.  As his hybrid DE/LB status attests to, he is a freak of nature out there.

Bart Scott has yet to reproduce anything resembling the monster season he had in 2006, but was solid nonetheless.  He fits the Ravens’ system very well, and although his numbers have fallen off (only 2.5 sacks and 0 INTs last 2 seasons combined, compared to 9.5 and 2 in ’06),  he was rarely caught out of position or missed tackles (on anybody not named Chris Johnson).

Jarret Johnson had another steady year, and recorded career highs in solo tackles (45), sacks (5), and passes defended (3).  For the 5th consecutive season, Johnson did not miss a single game.  Unfortunately, due to his lack of “flash” on the field, Johnson’s 2008 campaign may be best remembered for his silly unnecessary roughness penalty in Pittsburgh on Monday night.  You remember the one – he got baited into a shove by Cheap Shot and Pitt scored a few plays later.  JJ is a good player though, and is the one starter from this group certain to be on the field in purple in ’09.

This group faces a world of uncertainty this offseason, as Suggs, Lewis, and Scott are all unrestricted free agents.  Ideally, the Ravens would like to sign all three, but it just doesn’t make economic sense to commit that much money to one position.  Especially considering the Ravens’ proven track record of finding good young LBs to replace departing veterans.  To whit, Tavares Gooden, Jameel McClain, Prescott Burgess, Edgar Jones, and Antwan Barnes are all waiting in the wings to one degree or another.  Suggs has recently been quoted as saying that the trio may be open to giving a “home town discount.”  As Lee of Ravens365 points out though, that’s all well and good…until agents get involved.

Nest prediction:  Suggs is signed long-term, they find some way to bring Ray back, and Bart Scott “Jets” off to New York with Rex Ryan (I say that without knowing anything about NYJ’s cap space).

Secondary

The Ravens’ biggest problem in 2007, the secondary stepped up big in ’08, and finished the year as the NFL’s #2 pass defense.  They allowed only 17 passing TDs, 10 fewer than the previous year.

Ozzie made what turned out to be some pretty astute moves during the offseason in an attempt to fortify a group decimated by injuries in 07.  Fabian Washington and Frank Walker proved to be critical acquisitions, and the impact of the Jim Leonhard singing was immeasurable.  Washington had some bumps early, but turned into a very reliable cover man (tackling, not so much) by the end of the year.  Walker also struggled a bit to begin with, and had some stupid penalties scattered here and there, but Frank is still head and shoulders above Corey Ivy.  Samari Rolle played in only 10 games, but was his usual consistent, professional self when he was in there.  Even at 32, he was the closest thing to a “shut down” corner the Ravens had after Chris McAlister went out.

Ah, C-Mac.  We thought he had finally gotten his head on straight after all these years, but apparently the new regime was all it took to tip Chris back into crazyland.  McAlister saw his final action for 2008 in Week 6 (when Marvin Harrison absolutely ABUSED him).  There were reports of a hotel lobby confrontation/big scene involving him, some coaches, and some “ladies” in Miami the following week, then the odd explanations from John Harbaugh in which he wanted us to actually believe that Frank Walker was the better option for the team at that point than C-Mac – even though he was perfectly healthy.  He was finally placed on IR November 12, following knee surgery.  “Dollars to donuts” says that McAlister has played his last game as a Raven.

Another guy placed on IR that same day was strong safety Dawan Landry, who was injured trying to tackle Jamal Lewis in the 2nd game of the season.  He suffered a spinal cord concussion and, although it was hopeful he would play again at the time, that was not to be the case.  His injury opened up the door for little Jimmy Leonhard.  Leonhard, signed off the free agent wire after being released by Buffalo in training camp, never missed a beat.  He reportedly learned the Ravens’ entire sophisticated defense in two days, and seemed to always be in the right place at the right time.  In his first season as a full-time starter, he had 69 tackles, 6 passes defended, and 1 interception (which, being a Raven, he of course returned for a TD).

Then of course there was Ed Reed.  Reed has gotten as much ink this season as just about anybody, so we won’t rehash all of that here. Suffice to say:

  • Reed tied a career high with 9 picks.
  • Two of those were returned for touchdowns.
  • One of those broke his own NFL record for longest TAINT.
  • He added a touchdown on a fumble recovery, after forcing said fumble.
  • At one point (including the postseason), he had TWO interceptions in 5 out of 7 games.
  • If DPOY voting didn’t end after Week 4 (or whatever), he may well have earned his 2nd.
  • He was the only unanimous 1st Team All Pro.

In short, he was Ed Reed.  Not bad for a guy playing with a nerve impingement in his neck, who wasn’t even sure he would step on the field at all in 2008.

Rookie backups Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura also played well when their numbers were called.

An interesting plot heading into the offseason is what the Ravens will do with Leonhard, an unrestricted free agent.  He definitely earned himself some money, but whether he gets that payday in B’More remains to be seen.  Ravens fans would certainly love to see Jimmy stick around…but then what to do with Dawan Landry?  And who’s to say that a guy like Zbikowski can’t become exactly what Jim Leonhard is now, with a little experience (and at a much cheaper price)?  In Ozzie we trust…

Special Teams

Despite having a new head coach with a special teams pedigree, the Ravens were….uneven, at best, in 2008.  Forty year old kicker Matt Stover got off to a rough start, hitting only 4 of his first 7 FG attempts.  He would right himself though, and connect on 23 of his final 26 tries.  Still, Stover’s 81.8 percentage was his lowest since 1998, and his season long of 47 was his shortest season-long since 1995.  On the bright side, Stover set a new NFL record for consecutive PAT’s made, having not missed one since 1996.  Stover is still “Auto-Matt-ic” from inside 40 yards, but his weak leg is starting to hurt the Ravens, especially on kickoffs; they need to use a game-day roster spot each week on a kickoff specialist.  He is an unrestricted free agent, so there will be some off-season conversations in Owings Mills regarding Stover for probably the first time ever.

Stover’s understudy, rookie Steven Hauschka, handled kickoff duties and was 1/2 on long FG tries.  Including the postseason, he managed 7 touchbacks on 56 kickoffs. The Ravens have yet to give any indication on whether or not they consider him to be the “kicker of the future.”

The Ravens’ coverage teams made fans queasy all season.  Although they finished around the middle of the pack in kickoff coverage (tied for 14th), they allowed 2 kick return touchdowns, which tied for most in the NFL with New England.  On punts, Sam Koch was a monster, finishing 2nd in the league in punts inside the 20, and 1st in punts inside the 10.  Koch gave the Ravens a great weapon in the field position game.

It was fortunate for the Ravens that Koch was such a weapon, because they had no such playmaker on returns in the battle for field position.  Yamon Figurs got off to a terrible start and never righted himself.  Hopefully, it was just his “sophomore slump,” but he was atrocious.  Ray Rice and Tom Zbikowski both filled in at times for Figurs, but neither was remarkable.  For an idea of just how bad the Ravens’ kick return team was, look no further than the fact that fans still had no idea who would be the main KR by the time the AFC CHAMPSIONSHIP GAME ROLLED AROUND!  Pretty bad.

Figurs was also terrible on punts, and was supplanted by Jim Leonhard.  Leonhard nearly doubled Figurs’ average return (11.6 – 6.0), and finally gave the Ravens some stability back there.  Of punt returners with at least 20 attempts, Leonhard’s average was good for 6th in the league.

Also of note: undrafted rookie Jameel McClain blocked a punt for a safety and also recorded a sack for a safety, tying the rookie record with 2 2-pointers.

* all stats are regular season only unless otherwise noted

Ravens Promote Mattison to D-Coordinator

January 26, 2009

ESPN is reporting that the Ravens have promoted linebacker’s coach Greg Mattison to be their new defensive coordinator. This is no surprise, as the Ravens have always been an “in-house” type team for most coaching changes, especially on the defensive side.

Mattison has been in coaching for 37 years, but last year was his first in the NFL, having been a college coach before joining the Ravens.  Prior to Baltimore, he was co-coordinator/defensive line coach at the University of Florida, according to his team bio on the Ravens’ official site.

Mattison has some big shoes to fill.  The Ravens have been known for their defense for the last decade.  Starting with Marvin Lewis, and through Mike Nolan and Rex Ryan, Baltimore’s defensive coordinators have perenially had their units at the top of the league.

Best of luck to Coach Mattison, and may he be the next to carry the torch in the punishing purple tradition.

2008 Season (The MOTHERFLACC'IN FUN Season) – Part 1: Offense

January 21, 2009

Who says rookies can’t win?  Rookie head coaches, rookie quarterbacks, whatever.  The ROOKIES RULE moniker could apply to the NFL in general for 2008, as the Atlanta Falcons, with Mike Smith and Matt Ryan, kept up with the Ravens every step of the way throughout the regular season.  In Baltimore though, John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco set new standards for first year excellence, winning 13 games total (regular season + post season).  As a result, we are already seeing the trend of hiring first-time head coaches continue to grow – don’t be surprised to see several more teams going with rookie signal callers on opening day 2009.

Quarterback

Joe Flacco.  “Wacco for Flacco” signs strewn around Charm City.  My fantasy team’s name was “Unibrow Power.”  I had the idea several weeks ago to start selling fake unibrows at Ravens games, but since I’m lazy, somebody else beat me to it (they are giving the proceeds to charity, though, so it’s probably better that way).  Thanks to Joe, guys with monobrows are now having an easier time than ever picking up women in B’More bars.  The decade-long revolving QB door seems to have finally been stopped.

All this over a rookie who was listed at #3 on the depth chart at the start of training camp.

Kyle Boller and Troy Smith were expected to battle for the position, with Flacco spending a season or two holding a clipboard.  However, Boller was injured against the Vikings in Week 2 of preseason, and went on IR.  Troy Smith went through a very bizarre illness that started as a tonsil infection, and eventually resulted in his being hospitalized and bedridden for several weeks.  That illness cost him the chance to really compete for the starting job, but he would eventually see the field as part of the “Suggs Package.”  Smith played well in his specialized role, but whether or not that will be enough for his personal agenda moving forward remains to be seen.  His 43-yard hookup with Flacco against the Raiders in Week 8 is a play that Ravens fans will not soon forget.

In last year’s season review, we openly campaigned for the Ravens to eschew both Flacco and Matt Ryan in the 2008 Draft, in favor of a CB.  Shows you what the hell we know.  Whoops.

Flacco’s numbers were not dazzling, and as a result he did not garner even one vote for Rookie of the Year.  In Baltimore, though, we know that his 60% completion rate, 2971 yards, 14 TDs, 12 INTs, 80.3 rating and 2 rushing scores were far more than just numbers.  Joe Cool made some dazzling throws, remained calm and composed in the pocket at all times, kept the chains moving, and brought a sense of competence to the Ravens’ offensive huddle that we haven’t seen since Vinny Testeverde (no disrespect to the 2006 Steve McNair – but that offense never “felt” like this one).

Oh, and Flacco is already being widely praised as having one of the strongest arms, and best “deep balls” in the entire NFL.

One of Flacco’s main problems to work on in the offseason is ball security when being hit.  He fumbled 6 times in his first 6 games, then once in each of 5 consecutive games from Weeks 12-16.  He may already be improving though, as he did not drop the ball once in his final 4 games.

The future is bright at the QB position in Baltimore.  Hopefully those unibrows provide some eye shade, B’More.

Running Backs

The Ravens’ 3-headed rushing attack was a welcome surprise in 2008.  The team finished 4th in the NFL in rushing yards, at 148.5 per game, an improvement of over 35 yards per game from 2007.  Coming into the season, there was some trepidation; Willis McGahee, who put up over 1200 yards in 2007, was coming off preseason knee surgery.

Luckily, Cam Cameron saw something special in fullback Le’Ron McClain.  McClain was used exclusively as a blocker under Brian Billick, getting only 8 attempts in his rookie season.  In his sophomore year under Cameron though, McClain blossomed as a runner, leading the Ravens in carries (232), yards (902), and touchdowns (10), earning not only a Pro Bowl nod, but the nickname “Le’Run” here at the Nest.  He fancies himself as a poor man’s Jerome Bettis – lofty aspirations for sure.  “Pain Train” started to display a tendency to fumble late in the season, so hopefully he will get that corrected before opening day 2009.

Ray Rice, the rookie 2nd-round pick from Rutgers, also contributed mightily.  His marquee performance came in Week 9 at Cleveland, when he carried 21 times for 154 yards.  His role was mostly as a 3rd down back though, and he excelled in that capacity.  Rice led the Ravens in yards per carry (4.2), and had more receptions (33), receiving yards (273), and yards per catch (8.3) than either McClain or McGahee.  He was a human first down at times, seemingly moving the chains every time he touched the ball, regardless of how long the 3rd down was.  Rice was injured in Week 14 against Washington though, and didn’t contribute much after that.  We’re very eager to see what Ray Rice is able to do with a season under his belt.

Willis McGahee got off to a rocky start with the new regime – he reported to training camp out of shape, then had to miss significant time for surgery.  Surgery, some suggested, that he could have taken care of months before.  However, Willis was very accepting of his reduced role, at least publicly.  He seemed rusty at times, but managed to crack the 100-yard barrier on 3 occasions – in Weeks 7, 10, and 16.  He seemed to benefit from McClain busting up opposing defenses early, coming in late and helping to put games away.  He had decisive runs down the stretch against Dallas, Jacksonville, and in the Wild Card Playoff in Miami.

Willis had a scary moment in the AFC Championship, when Ryan Clark of Pittsburgh lit him up in garbage time.  McGahee was taken off on a stretcher, and kept in a hospital overnight.  All tests came back negative, fortunately, and Willis is expected to make a full recovery.  The Ravens seem to have nothing to gain and everything to lose by cutting ties with McGahee, and his relationship with the coaching staff seems to be mended, so we expect to see him in purple come training camp.

The running backs discussion would not be complete, though, without mentioning Lorenzo Neal.  Neal, playing in his 16th NFL season, provided great leadership to the young backs in addition to his bulldozing lead blocks.

Wide Receivers

The wideouts benefited from the stability (not to mention shoulder-cannon) of Joe Flacco under center.  Both Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason posted fewer receptions than they had in 2007, but Clayton put up nearly 200 more yards, and both saw their yards per catch averages jump significantly.  Demetrius Williams caught a 70-yard touchdown in Week 8 against Oakland, but that would be his final catch, as injury again cut his season short.

Derrick Mason emerged as Joe Flacco’s go-to guy, his “security blanket,” if you will.  The rookie looked his way often, and Mason delivered.  Mason’s motives have been questionable in years past – in 2006 he seemed upset with his lack of involvement in the offense on a 13-3 team, and last year he seemed just fine with all the losses, as long as he was getting his touches.  This year, however, he put all those character questions to rest by playing through pain that most of us can’t even imagine.  In Dallas, Mason had to be helped off the field several times because of his separated shoulder, but still ran around out there with 1 arm, and even caught a touchdown.  Playing through the separation caused a domino effect of secondary discomforts for Mason, but he continued to not only play, but remained the team’s most productive receiver.  Derrick Mason is on the cusp of deserving a spot in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor.

Mark Clayton had a huge game in Week 13 at Cincinnati, catching 5 balls for 164 yards and a score, throwing a TD, and managed a highlight reel 1-handed grab.  Still, his inconsistency is incredibly frustrating.  He had less than 50 yards in 14 games, including all 3 playoff games.  Four years into his career now, Clayton’s production does not justify his 1st round draft pick status.  In his defense though, how many QBs has he played with in those 4 years, and of those, how many were worth a damn?  We’ll give Mark another year or two with Flacco to right his ship.

Tight Ends

This was a group that we had high expectations for coming into the year.  Dan Wilcox was finally healthy, Quinn Sypniewski was ready to break out after showing some good things in 07, and Todd Heap was going to be the next Antonio Gates under Cam Cameron’s offensive system.

Or not.

Sypniewski was injured in training camp and never played a down in 2008.   Wilcox played in all but 3 games, but only managed 5 catches for 19 yards (2 TDs though).  And although he stayed healthy enough all year to silence the critics who had started to label him as “soft,” Heap’s lackluster numbers just served to change those critics’ words of choice to “washed up.”

There were any number of reasons floated around town to explain this – the Ravens’ young tackles needed extra help blocking, the coaching staff was upset with him for some reason, he had lost a step.  In reality, it was probably a combination of all three.  Heap finally got involved in Week 10 at Houston, catching 5 passes and his first 2 touchdowns of the year.  Heap has played in all 16 games in 5 of his 8 seasons with the Ravens – as far as those years go, 2008 saw career lows from Todd in receptions, yards, and first down receptions, and tied his low in touchdowns.  Another worrisome sign from Todd is that he seems to have not broken a tackle since about 2005.  The guy just goes down WAY too easily for a tight end.  In the Miami playoff game, Heap had a chance to score, but was taken down 1-on-1 inside the 5.  In the AFC Championship, Heap was taken down by Troy Polamalu with absolutely zero fight, on a late 3rd down try.

The Ravens may have to start looking for Todd Heap’s eventual replacement, as he no longer performs at a Pro Bowl level.

Offensive Line

A huge question mark entering the season, the offensive line ended up being a bright spot for the Ravens, and a big reason why they ended up in the AFC Championship.  This group paved the way for the Ravens’ 4th ranked rushing attack, and protected their rookie quarterback admirably.

The signing of Willie Anderson at the end of preseason proved to be a genius move by Ozzie; Anderson was a much needed elder statesman for the young bruisers.

The trio of Jason Brown, Marshal Yanda, and Ben Grubbs was expected to be fairly solid, but they played great all season.  When Yanda went down for the season in Week 6, the much-maligned Chris Chester (nearly a preseason cut) stepped in more than capably.  Chester threw some of the prettiest pull blocks we’ve seen in Baltimore.

Brown, an unrestricted free agent (uh-oh) was very impressive in his first season as the full-time center.  He is one of the best young centers in the NFL, and unfortunately, the NFL knows it.  Watch for the Ravens to have plenty of competition for JB’s services this offseason.

Adam Terry played well in spot duty and in Cameron’s “unbalanced line” formations.  He is still too nice of a guy to be a dominant NFL tackle, but lack of mean streak aside, Terry had a good year.

On the other side, 2nd year player Jared Gaither stepped up in a big way.  Forced to try to fill the M&T Bank Stadium-sized shoes of the retired Jonathan Ogden, Gaither transformed himself into a very promising player, and could be a Pro Bowler in the very near future.  His size alone is awesome, but he showed quick feet and a good work ethic to go along with it.

If the Ravens can manage to keep this group together (SIGN JASON BROWN!!!!), they will be as formidable in the trenches as any team in the league.  As Brown, Gaither, Yanda, Chester, Grubbs, and Terry (the oldest, at 26) mature as players together, the sky is the limit.

Markakis Signs, WTF is a Felix Pie?

January 21, 2009

The Orioles finally stopped jerking Nick Markakis around, nickel-and-diming him over a few million dollars here and there, and locked him up to the tune of 6 years, $66 million (hey…666 – how fitting for Peter Angelos, no?)

Nicky Mark was never REALLY close to leaving, not being eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season, but O’s fans were starting to fret nonetheless.  We’ve seen things go sour countless times lately, and Markakis being around long-term just seemed too good to be true.  Add another one to the list of “good” moves by Andy MacPhail.

See what we did there?

Perhaps the more interesting move made by the O’s over the weekend was the trade that sent Garrett Olson and Henry Williamson to the Cubs for outfielder Felix Pie (pronounced Pee-ay apparently).  Pie was a guy that came up last offseason during discussions with the Cubs for Brian Roberts – the O’s wanted him, but Chicago said he was untouchable.  Well, things evidently changed.  Pie was out of options in Chicago, and the Cubs were seemingly out of patience.

Pie, 23, was named the organization’s #1 prospect in 2006 and 2007, but hit just .241 in 43 MLB games last season.  If he can develop like his potential hints he could, the Pie – Markakis – Adam Jones (who reportedly has put on 25 lbs of muscle this winter) outfield could be one of the best in baseball for the next decade.  If he doesn’t, then the Cubs may have just fleeced us for another Corey Patterson.

My question about Felix Pie: Can he pitch?!?  Don’t the O’s already have enough freakin’ outfielders?  Luke Scott, Lou Montanez, Ryan Freel.  Olson, 25, was far from overwhelming last year, going 9-10 with an ERA of 6.65 (the Cubs, by the way, reportedly have no interest in Olson; they are instead preparing to trade him to SD for Jake Peavy), but he had some decent games, and ate 132 innings.

Who the hell is going to pitch for this team this year?  Do you, dear reader, have intact elbow ligaments?  If so, look up when the O’s are accepting walk-ons in Spring Training and get your ass arm to Florida.

Congrats & So Long to Sexy Rexy

January 20, 2009

Well, it didn’t take Rex Ryan long to move on from Sunday’s loss, as it sounds like the New York Jets called him and hired him as their new head coach before he could even make it back to B’More.

Ryan had been with the Ravens since 1999, and has a Super Bowl ring to show for it.  Rex’s defenses finished at #5, #1, #6, and #2 in his 4 years as the Ravens’ defensive coordinator.  Those are some big shoes to fill (insert “Rex is fat” joke here) for his eventual replacement.  And, for pretty much the first time here in B’More, the Ravens don’t seem to have an immediate successor lined up as their current DC moves on to bigger things.   Casey Willett of WNST reports that the most likely candidates for the job are:

  • Mike Pettine – Ravens OLB coach.  However, Pettine may also go with Rex to be the DC of the NYJ.
  • Gregg Mattison – Ravens LB coach, who had never been a DC.
  • Chuck Pagano – Ravens secondary coach, who did a great job with this year’s group.  Pagano has also never held a coordinator position.
  • Vic Fangio – Ravens assistant to the Head Coach. Fangio has been DC for 3 NFL teams in the past:  Carolina (95-98), Indianapolis (99-01), and Houston (02-05).

It’s been a great run for Rex in Baltimore.  By many reports, he was the one most responsible for keeping the big egos of the Ravens’ veterans in check during Coach Harbaugh’s first season.  Which is a bit unsettling, especially since the Ravens have so many free agents on defense – could a Jim Leonhard, a Bart Scott, or even a T-Sizzle or Ray Lewis follow Rex to New York? (I say this, of course, while having no idea what the Jets’ cap situation is like.)

In case you were wondering, the Ravens do NOT play the Jets in 2009.

Rex, thank you for all you’ve done here in Baltimore, and we wish you much success as a head coach.  But please, don’t reward us for our years of support by treating our coaching staff and defensive roster like you (used to) treat an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Go coach Jets players in New York, not Ravens players.

Squealers 23 Ravens 14 (The THAT WAS FUN WHILE IT LASTED Game)

January 19, 2009

Damn it.

Damn it.

Damn. It.

The Ravens’ awesome season came to an end last night in front of 60,000 towel waving idiots.  I’ve stepped back from the ledge, so to speak, but I’m still in no mood to give a full fledged recap to that abomination last night; the one that sent those shithead squealers to their 2nd Super Bowl in four seasons.  A “talking points” style list of grievances/headaches should suffice as I’m sure you don’t feel like reading about it any more than I feel like writing about it.

WTF Daren Stone

How do you define a good year for a special teams player?  I’d say its by not hearing their name often, since the guys you hear about on punt and kick return teams are usually those getting flagged for holds.  As far as that went, Daren Stone was having a pretty decent year.  He was invisible, for the most part, making a tackle here and there and playing solidly.  I seem to remember him even having a pretty good play at some point, where he made an athletic move to down a punt near the goal line.  Last night, however, Mr. Stone decided to go down in infamy in Ravens’ history.

With just under 7 minutes to play, the Ravens trailed 16-14, and things were starting to feel verrrry similar to Tennessee one week ago.  Jim Leonhard’s 11-yard punt return appeared to set the Ravens up at their own 39-yard line, from where they would need only about 25 yards to try a long field goal attempt that would have put them in the lead.  I say appeared, because that’s where the ball was when CBS went to commercial.  When they came back, however, we saw Daren Stone’s ridiculously retarded unnecessary roughness violation.  Standing about 10 yards out of bounds, and with Leonhard and the play well past him, Stone threw some poor hapless no-name Steeler to the ground.

“Why, why, why?!?!” I wailed as I lay in the fetal position on my living room floor.

The penalty, officially 15-yards, actually cost the Ravens a full 25 yards of field position.  Now the Ravens were starting at their own 14 instead, and the Pittsburgh crowd, which was just moments from vomiting into their stupid towels, was rejuvenated, as was the defense.  A few plays later, some goofy looking jungle man did his best impersonation of his hero, Ed Reed, and made it official – but for all intents and purposes, the game ended on Stone’s penalty.

Screw you, Daren Stone.  I hope you never play another down in the NFL.

Bounty Collected

Since Steeler fans can’t stop bringing up bounties that probably never even really existed, we’ll respond in turn.

Cheap Shot caught a pass some time in the 2nd quarter, and Frank Walker managed to twist Shot’s knee all to hell in the process of tackling him.  Shot would spend the remainder of the game on the bench.  Consider the bounty collected.

Side note:  Kudos to Pittsburgh for showing some class when Willis McGahee had to be carted off.  Normally, the Nest would never cheer when a player gets hurt.  Cheap Shot is the one player for whom we make an exception.  Hopefully he misses the Super Bowl too.

F that guy.

Now if Walker would only have caught the interception that Baby Ben gift wrapped for him in the end zone near the end of the 3rd quarter, he could have prevented 3 points.  Guess that’s too much to ask from a slobbery back up CB though.

Cam Cameron is Scared of Dick LeBeau

Remember in the Adam Sandler movie “The Waterboy,” when the coach played by the Fonz is scared to death of the rival team’s coach?  To help him conquer this fear, the Waterboy teaches him about the visualization techniques he uses – the Fonz visualizes the other coach as a puppy or a baby, and his fear is gone.

Cam Cameron needs to visualize Dick LeBeau as a puppy.  His game plans against Pittsburgh this year have all been ridiculously vanilla, timid, and, dare we say, Billick-esque.  The one time the Ravens tried a bit of trickery, Mark Clayton picked up a good gain on a double reverse.  Besides that play though, Cameron’s game plan was pretty shoddy.  At no point was this more evident than when the Ravens failed to pick up a single yard on 3rd or 4th down after Ray Lewis forced a Slow Bill fumble.

You’ve got 8 months, Cam.  Figure it out.

Slow Bill

“Fast” Willie Parker was reportedly “encouraged” after watching Chris Johnson run wild on the Ravens in Tennessee.  Well, Slow Bill, that’s why you’re not Chris Johnson.  Parker averaged under 2 yards per carry on 24 attempts.

On one play where Parker caught a pass in the flat, Bart Scott knocked him halfway up the Duquesne Incline.   And hey, (Ryan Clark!) he managed to do it without smashing his head into Parker’s facemask and giving him a spine injury – imagine that.

You stay encouraged, Bill.

Joe Cold

My man Joe needs to join Cam in trying to figure out that Pittsburgh D during the off season.  He went 13-3 against the rest of the league, and 0-3 against the squealers.  For the first time all season, Joe looked like a rookie.  He had happy feet in the pocket, and his passes were off-target.  His receivers didn’t do much to help him, of course (pretty sure Mason, Clayton, and Heap all had drops).

Still, Flacco cemented his name as the most accomplished rookie in NFL history with his 2 Playoff wins.  Nothing wrong with that.

That’s all I got.  Congrats to the Steelers.  The team, that is.  The fans can go take a long walk off a short pier.

And to all you towel-wavers hanging around the Nest – I understand that you just can’t resist the awesome-ness of my writing, and I got no beef with you being here – however, if your comments hate on the Ravens or their fans in a way I don’t like – don’t be surprised when I delete them.  There are plenty of places on this here interwebs where vermin like you can congregate and diss the Ravens until your black (and gold) hearts are content.  This ain’t the place.  (This means you -Webethugginravens#1 AKA Adolphus Lestrange AKA SteelerstakeoverMD AKA Woodlawnisbeiruit AKA MDsupportsgays AKA WYOSteelers.  Hope you enjoy the inauguration, Aaron.  I know I will/won’t.  See, because this is a sports site and not a political site – no room for that stuff here).

See yins next season.

Go Cards.

AFC Championship Preview: Ravens @ Steelers

January 16, 2009

No sense in bringing up the stats this time around.  Everything that has happened over the last 19 weeks gets tossed out with the terrible towels garbage.  Steelers-Ravens for the right to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  How fitting.  Extremely unlikely just a few short months ago, but then again you could say the same about the Eagles-Cardinals NFC Championship.  As if this grudge match didn’t already have all the necessary ingredients to become a classic…the forecast for Sunday evening in Pittsburgh calls for snow.  Is it just me, or does snow add to the mystique of any football game?  The “tuck rule” game wouldn’t be quite as legendary if it hadn’t taken place during a New England blizzard, right?

The Ravens not only get a chance to avenge Pittsburgh’s 2 skin-of-their-teeth victories over them this season, they get to do so with everything on the line.  The Steelers’ 2 wins came by a total of 7 points, 23-20 in OT in Pittsburgh, and 13-9 in B’More.  The Ravens held the lead for long stretches in both those contests, but to no ultimate consequence.  They shouldn’t need any reminding that the only score that matters during the game is the one that is showing when the clock reads 0:00.  It’s a very rare occurrence in what has arguably become the fiercest rivalry in the NFL that one team sweep the season series; they have split 1-1 in 7 of the past 10 years.  They haven’t met three times in one season, though, since 2001, when the Ravens lost in the Divisional Round, 27-10 at Heinz Field.

The talking heads have made a big to do this week about how tough it is to beat a team 3 times in the same season.  As Professor Egghead John Clayton over at ESPN points out though, history in that respect is actually working in the Steelers’ favor.  On the other hand, Pittsburgh has pulled some monumental choke jobs in their previous 3 AFC Championship games at home, losing in 1997, 2001 and 2004.

Unfortunately, injuries and fatigue could have the Ravens starting this one off in a bit of a hole before they even step foot on that sorry excuse for turf they call a field up at Heinz.   First the bad news: after shaking off some early season injuries to key players, the Ravens managed to stay relatively healthy throughout their run into and through the playoffs – up to this point.  Cornerback Samari Rolle, the Ravens’ best cover man, will likely miss the game after straining his groin in Tennessee.  Linebacker Terrell Suggs busted up his shoulder sacking Kerry Collins last week, and is said to be a game-time decision.  Suggs seems determined to play, but concedes that he will sit out if he can’t perform at his usual high level.  Crap crap crappity crap.

I guess I promised some good news though, right?  Well, this is the best I got:  The Ravens looked very flat-footed and slow against Tennessee in the first half, getting gashed by Chris Johnson and Justin Gage.  They looked like a team that never had a bye week, a team that was playing on short rest.  Both of which were the case, of course.

  • From kickoff in Miami to kickoff in Tennessee:  146.5 hours, or  6 days, 2.5 hours
  • From kickoff in Tennessee to kickoff in Pittsburgh:  195 hours, or 8 days, 3 hours

So let’s hope the extra 2 days rest shows for the Ravens, in the form of fewer missed tackles, better pursuit, and more sound blocking up front.

It also helps that the Steelers don’t have anybody with the kind of speed the Titans’ Chris Johnson possesses.  Willie “Slow Bill” Parker ran for over 140 yards against San Diego last week, and is as healthy as he’s been all season, but doesn’t scare the Ravens.  Parker averages 2.8 ypc in his career against B’More, and has never given Rex Ryan’s defenses much of a problem.  Bottling up Slow Bill Raven-style (not to be confused with Ravenstahl) will limit the effectiveness of play-action, which Pittsburgh used to eat up the Chargers.  It becomes doubly important with the loss of Rolle, as the thought of Frank Walker and Corey Ivy out there chasing around Cheap Shot and Santonio Holmes (and Nate Washington!  PLEASE don’t forget about him, Ravens secondary) again makes it tough to keep my breakfast off the keyboard, if you catch my drift.  Walker may have the talent somewhere inside him to step up big for 4 quarters, but Ivy is Grade A dog shit.  Sure, he’s brave for going through his ordeal in 06, and he’s probably a great guy and all that…but he’s awful (although, it is kind of amusing that a guy with the name “Ivy” can’t cover anything).  Come on Rex, throw Darren Stone or Evan Oglesby out there and give us a chance.  Even Fast Eddie can’t cover the wide open spaces that show up whenever Ivy is on the field.

Best case scenario:  Haloti Ngata slams Baby Ben’s big stupid swollen head (see above photo) into the frozen tundra on about the 2nd series, and Roethlisberger is forced to watch from the sidelines (or hospital).  I mean…of course I don’t WANT anybody to get hurt.  For shame!  Seriously though, the deal with Baby Ben is the same as always:  get to him quickly, and get him down when you get your hands on him.  When pressured, but not allowed to escape the pocket and improvise, he will make mistakes.  Mistakes that will have Fast Eddie Reed and the Ravens defense intercepting passes all the way to Tampa.

For the Ravens’  on offense, Cam Cameron will need to be particularly crafty.  His game plans against Pittsburgh so far have been extremely conservative and lacking any of the trickery we have seen at other times this season.  The rationale for that, that the Steelers are too good to fall for anything cute, is sound.  However, there comes a time when laying it all on the line becomes necessary, and the AFC Championship game is that time.  Nine points won’t get it done.  Le’Run McClain is dealing with ankle pain, and may not be as effective as we’d like.  Willis McGahee is more than capable as a 2nd option, but if he is unable to find any room in that Pittsburgh D, Cameron may just need to put the game on Joe Flacco’s shoulders.  Every time he has had to make a play, Flacco has delivered.  He had his worst game of the season against Pittsburgh in Baltimore, but that just means he is ready for some revenge.  He’s seen them twice already, he threw one (should have been 2) score on Heinz field in Week 4, and the coaching staff shouldn’t be afraid to let him get after it a little bit early to try to build a lead.  If, for some reason, Flacco and the Ravens have to play from behind against that Pittsburgh defense, all bets are off.

Expect all manner of crazy, ridiculous things to transpire in this game.  Blocked kicks, missed field goals, safeties, tipped passes going the other way, mysterious calls and non-calls, you name it.  Let’s hope that the officials at least let the players decide this game, and keep their flags in their pockets as much as possible.  Because of the known bad blood in this rivalry though, that seems pretty unlikely.  The Ravens did a good job of letting Tennessee be the ones to get caught in the after-the-whistle action last week;  hopefully they can manage more of the same Sunday.

The Ravens may get outgained in this game.  They may even get outplayed.  However, that horseshoe that Pittsburgh had up their backsides all season seems to have been transferred to the purple and black; therefore, they won’t be outscored.  And here at the Nest, we can’t imagine a more beautiful scene than the Ravens accepting the Lamar Hunt Trophy on Heinz Field.  See you in Tampa.

Ravens 19 Steelers 15 (yes, even a crazy final score seems likely)

Cheap Shot Punches Babies, Women on Day Off

January 15, 2009

Hines Ward Cheap Shot was given the day off from practice yesterday.  Luckily, our crack team of B’More Birds’ Nest paparazzi caught him in a few of his typical heinous acts.

First, he disguised himself as Ben Roethlisberger a nerdy white guy and snuck into some sort of tea party.  While there, Shot punched an innocent woman.

Next, it was off to da club.  Apparently it was “Bring your baby to da club” day, and Shot could not resist the urge to cheap shot an unsuspecting infant.

Finally, Cheap Shot morphed into the pussy cat he is and punched a puppy.

Blindsides everywhere will rest easier knowing that Shot is likely to return to practice today.

Onorato bans Onorato from Pittsburgh

January 14, 2009

In recent Shitsburgh news, the Chief Executive of Allegheny County PA (Pittsburgh), Dan Onorato, has learned about the affiliation of Nick-A-What!? (aka Nick Onorato) with the Baltimore Ravens and B-More Birds’ Nest.

Dan & Nick Onorato

An Uncanny Resemblance

N-A-W, the production artist/co-creator of B-More Birds’ Nest, was discovered by Dan Onorato yesterday as Dan was preparing for the city of Pittsburgh’s “Roast the Raven Rally”.  Dan, or “Dr. Lightning-Bolt-Fists,” as family members call him, was using his incredible internet surfing skills, and stumbled across the B-More Birds’ Nest website while attempting to find a photograph of “Big Ben” Ben “Ben” Roethlisberger’s father’s lover.

In rage and disgust, his genius led him to search long and … well… not very far, down several blog articles to the posting of D.Baby and N-A-W in the Baltimore Sun.  Dr. Lightning-Bolt-Fists, long time Squealers fan, then sent an email to NestMinder effectively banning N-A-W from ever entering his city again, stating, “…no possible long lost relative of mine would ever root for the Ravens!”

Little did he know, N-A-W was there in August too where he witnessed the Shitsburgh Butt-Pirates first hand!  But, obviously, nobody cares about them.

N-A-W’s response?  “He should take one of those terrible towels and… well… no… I won’t stoop to his level, he’s probably family.  But I do hope a bird shits in his coffee.”


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