Archive for August, 2010

Ravens Trade for CB Wilson (Now w/Better Video)

August 31, 2010

The Ravens made a move this evening, getting the secondary depth they have been seeking by trading with the Seattle Seahawks for cornerback Josh Wilson.

Wilson, 25, is in his fourth season out of the University of Maryland. His hometown is listed as Upper Marlboro, so there is a decent chance he was a Redskins fan growing up – but we won’t hold that against him. It’s always cool to have another Terp on the team. If Dominique Foxworth hadn’t gotten injured, half the damn secondary might be former Terps. Of course, without the Foxworth injury, the team may not have needed to make the trade…

But I digress.

The move was a rather necessary one, even with the improved play of the secondary as the regular season approaches. Cary Williams is suspended for the first two games of the season, which puts him out against the WR-heavy Bengals, when Lardarius Webb will be back is still very much up in the air, and Fabian Washington is again living up to his reputation of being fragile. Fabe played quite well against the Giants Saturday night, but bruised his ribs (reportedly on the very first play making a routine tackle) and has missed both practices so far this week.

Wilson gives the team some much needed security at CB. The trade was reportedly for a fifth-round draft pick in 2011, which could be upgraded to a 4th-rounder if Wilson plays a predetermined number of snaps. Not bad for a guy who was starting for Seattle this preseason.

Wilson started all 12 games in which he appeared for the Seahawks in 2009, and 12 of his 16 in 2008, picking off 6 passes and returning 2 for touchdowns during those two seasons. He also forced 3 fumbles in 2008.

He can also return kicks and punts capably, as you can see in this poor-quality video I chased down on Youtube:

While not the Willis McGahee-for-Champ Bailey blockbuster nonsense that many Ravens fans have been clamoring for, this looks like another solid pickup by Ozzie & Co.

Update: Here is a better video, c/o Virtual Vensanity:

"Cheeseburger" Cody has Surgery, Will Miss 2 Weeks

August 31, 2010

We learned today that Terrence “Cheeseburger” Cody has had surgery on his swollen knee, and is expected to miss two weeks.

From the Baltimore Sun:

Rookie nose tackle Terrence Cody had surgery to repair the meniscus in his knee last week and will be out for two weeks, coach John Harbaugh said.

The second-round pick is considered questionable for the Sept. 13 opener at the New York Jets.

“There’s a chance he could be back for the opener against the Jets or, for the bigger guys, sometimes it takes a little longer,” Harbaugh said. “The plus is we have a lot of depth on the defensive line right now. That’ll be day to day as we get closer to the game.”

Cody and the Ravens originally believed the 349-pound lineman wouldn’t need surgery. But he had the procedure on Aug. 24.

“He’s got a little bit of a tear in his lateral meniscus and had a loose body floating around in there,” Harbaugh said.

New Feature: FJM'ing Mike Preston

August 31, 2010

One of the main reasons blogs irritate the old-guard type sportswriters in this country is because they provide a platform in which anybody with an internet connection can tear down the work of these “journalists,” sometimes exposing them for the ridiculous hacks that they are. When a sportswriter publishes a piece nowadays, their words are available out there in cyberspace for billions of eyeballs, as opposed to just those eyeballs attached to people who subscribe to that particular newspaper or magazine. And, instead of said words being tossed out with the garbage twice a week and then largely forgotten, they remain in the binary world of cyberspace pretty much indefinitely.

The Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of sports-journo takedowns was the blog “Fire Joe Morgan.” As that site has entered retirement, the torch has been passed to others, such as “Fire Jay Mariotti.” These guys are absolute geniuses at times, and show little, if any, mercy for bumbling wordsmiths like Rick Reilly, Gregg Easterbrook, and of course, Jay Mariotti.

“Fire Joe Morgan” is so universally accepted as the gold standard in this practice that the style of line-by-line attacks on a piece has simply become known as “FJMing.”

Another guy who has taken the practice to new heights is omnipresent internet funny-man Drew Magary. Drew’s weekly roastings of Sports Illustrated’s Peter King over at Kissing Suzy Kolber are consistently the most commented-on blogs on the site.

I think, for the most part, these rippings are done mostly tongue-in-cheek. Drew, for instance, has several times expressed discomfort with readers harassing King in-person the way Drew does in his blogs. Nobody REALLY wants these guys to get fired, but sometimes they need to be held accountable for their drivel. Especially since there are so many more capable sportswriters (no, I don’t mean me) littering the internet, doing the work for pennies (or less), while people like King and Easterbrook and Bill Simmons rake in the dough while struggling to put together coherent thoughts and contradicting themselves every other week.

Anyway, all of that was a long-winded way to introduce something new around here.


The most obvious target for a B’More-centric FJM is Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston. Ravens fans have a funny relationship with Preston, as he is a guy that many of us LOVE to HATE.

“Did you see what Preston wrote? Man, I hate that guy,” is probably one of the most common phrases uttered around water coolers in Baltimore from September through December. Extremely opinionated, often contrary, and usually negative, Preston does what he is paid to do – get attention – very well.

But man, does he get under our skin.

For this first installment of FJM’ing Mike Preston, we’ll go with just this short little blurb he wrote as part of Ravens’ Insider‘s “instant analysis” of the Giants game:

Mike Preston: The Ravens’ passing game was strong, but I’m hoping this isn’t a repeat showing from last season when the Ravens started throwing the ball all over the place, and got away from the running game. Hopefully, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron learned from last year’s mistake, which also led to injuries to quarterback Joe Flacco.

You’re right, Mike. The REAL reason the Ravens have used Ray Rice so sparingly here in preseason is NOT because they are saving him for when the games start to count, or to prevent injury, or to keep his legs fresh, or any other sensible explanation. No, the real reason is that this really is the new Ravens offense. Joe Flacco can plan on throwing the ball 50-60 times every game in 2010, while Ray Rice will be lucky to get 5 carries a game.

Come on, man. After putting together incredibly run-heavy game plans in 2008, followed by a nicely balanced attack in 2009, did Cam Cameron really suddenly become Andy Reid overnight? You can’t really believe that, can you?

You don’t buy the conventional wisdom that Cam is using the preseason to develop timing and chemistry in the passing game? You don’t think its wise to get Joe Flacco as many “live” reps with Anquan Boldin as possible before September 13?

After all the good that the Ravens’ offense displayed on Saturday night against NYG, all Preston’s “analysis” consists of is “derrrrrrr, I hope they don’t get away from the running game?” REALLY? Really.

You suck, hack.

Ravens Look Formidable in Final "Dress Rehearsal"

August 29, 2010

Bad Ass O

Someone tweeted last night something along the lines of “if this is the New York Giants’ dress rehearsal, they had better hope for a whole new wardrobe come Week 1.”

Well, if that was the case for Tom Coughlin’s team, then the exact opposite rings true for John Harbaugh’s squad. The Ravens came out firing on all cylinders in Week 3 of the preseason (save for the opening drive 3 and out), ultimately disposing of the Giants by a final of 24-10. While each team’s starters were in the game though (the entirety of the first half), the Ravens outscored Eli Manning and company 17-3. It probably should have been worse, as the dominant display put on by B’More would have seemed likely to result in greater than just the two touchdown advantage.

While Cam Cameron’s game plan in every contest this preseason has obviously been to hone the passing game of his starters, for the first time in three games that plan was finally executed to his, and Ravens’ fans’, satisfaction. Joe Flacco was 21-34 for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns. He spread the ball around very efficiently, using all parts of the field. Todd Heap was the Ravens’ leading receiver, looking like a half-decade younger version of himself while hauling in 6 passes for 69 yards and Flacco’s second score. Derrick Mason had five catches and Mark Clayton made just one, but for a 20-yard gain.

Flacco’s newest weapon, Anquan Boldin, also had his most impressive showing as a Raven to date. Boldin caught 4 passes for 52 yards and the team’s first touchdown, a brilliant catch in which he bailed Flacco out a bit. Joe made a beautifully executed read at the line of scrimmage, calling an audible to check out of the original play call on 4th-and-3 from the Giants’ 9. Flacco dropped back, looked the safety off nicely, and Boldin had two steps on his man headed to the end zone when Joe Cool’s gaze returned to that side of the field. Flacco, though, put the ball a bit behind Boldin, who adjusted his body to make the catch anyway.

Boldin also showed the dimension he brings to the Ravens’ WR corps that had been completely absent: a physical, yards-after-catch element. On the first play of the Ravens’ second drive, Boldin caught the ball near the sticks with two Giants closing quickly. No disrespect to Derrick Mason or Mark Clayton, but those two are hit-or-miss to get the first down in that situation, likely to go down to the first defender to get a hand on them.

Not Boldin.

Q stiff-armed and dragged his way for an additional 3-4 yards, leaving no doubt that it was time to “move those chains.” A beautiful thing to watch.

To show just how focused the Ravens were on the passing game, look no further than the fact that Flacco also led the team in rushing yards against the Giants. Joe looked much more mobile than we remembered from the last half-dozen or so games of 2009, when he was dealing with the much talked-about hip/leg bruise. He avoided pressure nicely several times, and while he won’t be confused with a Drew Brees or Tom Brady yet when it comes to pocket presence, the third-year quarterback is far from the immobile water buffalo back there that injuries made him during times last year.

When Ray Rice finally was called upon to tote the rock, he looked a bit rusty at times, while also appearing to struggle a bit with the new playing surface at M&T Bank Stadium. He also dropped a pass down the seam that Flacco dropped in beautifully, which, had he caught it, would have set the Ravens up with a 1st-and-goal at about the 5 yard line. I’m not terribly concerned about #27, and it is pretty obvious from his lack of carries in game action that the coaching staff isn’t either. Rice also seemed to hear the coaching staff’s “ball security” message loud and clear this week, securing the ball nicely on each of his 9 touches. The same cannot be said for Le’Ron “Pain Train” McClain, who fumbled after a nice gain on one of his only three touches. Not exactly great ammo for his “MCCLAIN 4 RB” campaign moving forward.

On the whole, the Ravens offense was very impressive. They showed that opposing defenses will not be able to focus on just Ray Rice or Derrick Mason in 2010, as Flacco seems quite comfortable with all of his weapons entering the season. Once they actually start game-planning for teams, and putting together a more balanced attack (which they most certainly will), this offense just might have a chance to live up to the hype.

One area they will certainly need to improve though, is on 3rd down. They were just 4/15 on the night, although they were an impressive 3/3 on fourth downs.

As for the defense, they had an up-and-down first half despite holding the Giants to just the three points. New York running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw combined for 63 yards on just 13 carries in the first half, including a 29-yard scamper by Jacobs. The Ravens missed several plays on defense due to poor tackling, which everyone from Haloti Ngata to Jarret Johnson to Dawan Landry was guilty of at times.

One play that will have Ravens fans talking this week was Bradshaw’s seemingly innocent 12-yard scamper midway through the first quarter. On the play, he appeared to be bottled up in the backfield before eluding Johnson and then running away from Ray Lewis in a way that made the 35-year old linebacker’s age show like it rarely, if ever, has before. It was a play that Ray has made countless times in his career, and one that he may have even made last season. You hate to take too much from any one game, let alone one PLAY, but it was a painful reminder that #52’s best days are getting further and further behind him, and us.

Of course, knowing Ray, he’ll simply log that play in his mental playbook, adjust his angle appropriately next time, make the tackle, and all will be appear to be right in Ravenstown. You have to admire the way Lewis continues to use his knowledge of the game and film study expertise to prolong his career, but his football IQ won’t make up for his diminishing physical abilities forever. Just something to keep an eye on.

On a more positive note, the Ravens’ much-maligned secondary played very well. Fabian Washington whiffed on one wide receiver screen, but was all over two others. Chris Carr recorded a sack and was not really picked on at all by Eli Manning. Tom Zbikowski was beat badly over the top on the Giants’ second drive by Steve Smith, but Manning underthrew him; overall though, Zibby had another solid night. He had better watch out for Haruki Nakamura though. His fellow third-year safety was all over the field, picking off one Manning throw and nearly getting another. “Rooki” is making a strong case for more playing time, and looks to be completely healed from his nasty broken leg suffered against Cleveland last season.

Even those wide open men over the middle that were there for the Redskins a week ago seemed to disappear this week. I expected Giants’ tight end Kevin Boss to have a field day, but he had as many catches as you and I did. Boss was making his first preseason appearance of 2010 after offseason ankle surgery, and probably had some rust. Still, the gaping holes in the Ravens’ coverage that were there last week appeared to have been addressed, at least for one night. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe dropped into coverage impressively and was able to tip the pass that was ultimately intercepted by Nakamura. Despite Jameel McClain again getting the starting nod at inside linebacker next to Ray Lewis, I still think more and more that Ellerbe will be the team’s best option moving forward.

One final note from last night comes from the injury front. Donte Stallworth suffered a broken foot late in the first half, and will need surgery. According to John Harbaugh, the team does not expect to have Stallworth back until at least the Bye week. It’s a shame, as Stallworth was having a strong camp in his attempt to return to the NFL after missing all of 2009, but it’s not a completely devastating blow to the Ravens’ offense. While Stallworth was the team’s purest “deep threat,” he was nowhere to be found when Flacco was doing all that above-mentioned passing all over the field. Stallworth did appear to be the team’s first option at punt returner, but Mark Clayton seems to have secured his spot as the #3 wideout. With Stallworth out, Demetrius Williams and Marcus Smith see their chances to make the roster and impact the team increase, and we have to hope they embrace the “next man up” philosophy and make the most of their chances. Smith admitted that he was energized in the second half last night after watching Stallworth go down earlier (I read that somewhere, but can’t find the quote right now).

Eleven Ravens on Scouts, Inc.'s "Top 200"

August 25, 2010

ESPN’s Scouts, Inc. has released their annual player rankings (subscription required) for the 2010 NFL season, and this year the Baltimore Ravens boast 11 players in the Top 200.  Not bad considering that, statistically, each team could expect about 6 players on the list, all things equal.  Of course, we know that all things (ahem, Detroit Lions) are not equal in the NFL.

Here are the 11 Ravens on the list, along with their ranking (on a scale of 1-100) and overall ranking listed in parenthesis.

  1. Ed Reed (91, 14T)
  2. Haloti Ngata (89, 22T)
  3. Terrell Suggs (85, 51T)
  4. Jared Gaither (84, 70T)
  5. Kelly Gregg (83, 84T)
  6. Ray Rice (83, 84T)
  7. Ben Grubbs (82, 99T)
  8. Derrick Mason (82, 99T)
  9. Anquan Boldin (81, 112T)
  10. Joe Flacco (81, 112T)
  11. Ray Lewis (81, 112T)

In the AFC North, the Steelers tie the Ravens with 11 players.  Interestingly, last year’s division champions, the Cincinnati Bengals, have only 8 players on the list.  The Cleveland Browns have just 4 players in the Top 200, but boast the highest ranked player in the AFC North – tackle Joe Thomas at 93.

The Scouts give a more detailed take on each player as well.

Ed Reed

Reed was banged up some in 2009 and missed four regular-season games. Reed has rare instincts that enable him to be around the ball often. He has elite range and is one of the few backend defenders whom quarterbacks truly fear. Reed is a game-changer from his deep center-field position and allows the Ravens to be very aggressive with their schemes. Not only is he a supreme ball hawk with rare anticipation and ball skills, he is an extremely dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands and is an immediate threat to score. He is also a superb kick- and punt-blocker when used in that capacity. Reed has been a mainstay in the Ravens’ secondary and there is a noticeable drop-off when he is not in the lineup.

Haloti Ngata

Ngata was banged up some in 2009, which hindered his progress. He is a massive, incredibly strong interior defender. Ngata also has rare athletic ability, quickness and closing burst for such a huge force in the middle of the defensive line. He is extremely versatile and can shoot gaps while holding the point and absorbing double teams. He can also effectively line up in many spots along the defensive line. Ngata isn’t a force in rushing the passer, and must expand his pass-rush package. Ngata can be an elite player with more consistent play.

Terrell Suggs

Suggs was banged up some in 2009 (Editors Note: Noticing a pattern here?! Wow.)and missed some time. He has been one of Baltimore’s more consistent defenders over his seven seasons in the league. Suggs has excellent quickness and speed off the edge with enough burst to close in on the quarterback. He understands leverage and how to get his opponent off-balance as a pass-rusher. He uses his hands well to disengage as a run defender and work the edge of blockers. He is a versatile player who can effectively drop into coverage and is best in underneath zone schemes. He isn’t extremely fast in pure man coverage and is rarely used in that way. Suggs is an instinctive player who reacts quickly as plays unfold, which enables him to be active to the pile. He is a tough, hard-nosed player who wins with effort, intelligence and athleticism.

Jared Gaither

Gaither was banged up during the 2009 season (Ed: Of course) but continued to progress on the left side of the line. He is a young left tackle who has tremendous size, particularly with his extreme height and overall length, to man the blind side. However, there are times when his high center of gravity works against him. Gaither remains a work in progress as a pass-blocker but is a punishing finisher in Baltimore’s power-running game. His hand placement and understanding of what it takes to be a successful left tackle has improved over the past two seasons. He is best when he engages defenders early in the play as quick counter moves still give him problems. His length and height makes it tough for him to maintain great pad level at times and more consistency in this area will improve his overall play. Gaither is a player who has a great upside and all the tools to continue to develop as a left tackle.

Kelly Gregg

With another productive season in 2009, Gregg continued to be a force in the middle of the Ravens’ defense. Gregg is an 11-year veteran who appears to have not lost quickness or power. He is built low to the ground and very powerful. He is an exceptional hands player who competes with excellent overall aggression. His motor never stops and his hustle can be infectious. Gregg consistently wins one-on-one matchups and can handle a double team while also making plays in the backfield. Although he offers little as a pass-rusher and rarely disrupts passing lanes or bats down passes, Gregg is the type of player who would make any defense better regardless of the scheme.

Ray Rice

Rice was the engine that made the Ravens’ offense run in 2009. He is a short, well-built back with deceptive strength and athleticism. Rice runs with a low center of gravity and has a powerful lower body. He has slightly above-average speed, but he can threaten the corner and is capable of breaking longer runs. Rice also shows very good balance and good hands as a receiver out of the backfield. He has excellent instincts with the ball in his hands and, despite not having elite speed, he can pick up yards in chunks. Rice has been a pleasant surprise for the Ravens’ staff and should continue to be productive in 2010.

Ben Grubbs

Grubbs has been a mainstay on the Ravens’ offensive line since he entered the league in 2007. He is one of the best young guards in the league and has shown marked improvement since his rookie season. He is powerful and athletic. He can move big-bodied defensive tackles off the ball in one-on-one situations and can pull or combo block to the second level. Grubbs can anchor versus powerful bull rushers, using good body positioning as well as effective hand use. He is not a liability in space and also can recover laterally when initially beaten off the snap. Grubbs has heavy hands and can stun his opponent. He has a good ability to finish plays.

Derrick Mason

Mason had arguable his best season as a pro in 2009. He is the consummate pro and remains one of the most reliable wide receivers in the game today. Mason catches just about everything thrown to him and has superb natural hands. His route-running skills are even better with very fluid movement skills and a good burst out of his breaks. However, Mason is not a big-play guy and doesn’t stretch the field. He is more agile and quick than fast, but also is a top-notch student of the game who takes his craft very seriously. His size is a bit of a problem and he isn’t a physical presence with the ball in his hands. Mason is more crafty than athletic but still has enough talent to be productive as a No. 2 receiver in the Ravens’ offense.

Anquan Boldin

Boldin was an excellent offseason acquisition for the Ravens. He is a great combination of size, hands and toughness. Boldin is a very strong receiver who is able to use his body to get separation coming out of his stems. He does an outstanding job of making plays in the short-to-intermediate passing game because of his good acceleration into routes, toughness in traffic and ability to excel after the catch. He is a very good route-runner who can line up in multiple positions and cause matchup problems for defenses. Boldin should give the Ravens another dimension in the passing game but he isn’t an explosive deep threat to stretch the field.

Joe Flacco

Flacco made marked improvements in his second year in the league. He has elite arm strength and can threaten the entire field. He has excellent size and the ability to clearly scan the entire field. Flacco could add more bulk to better handle the rigors of playing the position at this level. He is a surprising athlete who can make plays with his feet and throw well on the move. His vision and ability to read coverages have improved, which makes him a more efficient passer. Flacco has a ton of upside and should continue to improve in 2010 with the coaching staff giving him an expanded playbook. Flacco has the benefit of a stingy defense and an effective ground game. Both will only aid his progress.

Ray Lewis

Lewis, entering his 15th year, is coming off another extremely productive season. He has diminishing skills, but his experience, toughness and instincts enable him to be a force in the middle of the Ravens’ defense. He is a powerfully built player with outstanding tackling power between the tackles. His ability to wrap up and tackle with jolting force is still evident. He has excellent instincts and vision to react quickly to the run and pass. He has outstanding football intelligence and is able to make all the checks and adjustments needed in the complex Ravens scheme. He uses his hands to work through trash and has natural power to run through blockers. Lewis is a crafty veteran who takes great angles in pursuit and maintains leverage on the ball carrier. He is a solid pass defender primarily because of excellent anticipation and route recognition. Lewis has been remarkably durable over his career, but he clearly is on the backside of his career.

Scouts, Inc. rounds out the Ravens’ roster as follows:

  1. Matt Birk 76
  2. Le’Ron McClain 74
  3. Michael Oher 74
  4. Willis McGahee 72
  5. Todd Heap 71
  6. Fabian Washington 69
  7. Marc Bulger 69
  8. Lardarius Webb 69
  9. Jarrett Johnson 69
  10. Dominique Foxworth 67
  11. Mark Clayton 67
  12. Trevor Pryce 67
  13. Marshal Yanda 66
  14. Shayne Graham 65
  15. Troy Smith 65

The Double-Edged Sword of High Expectations

August 24, 2010

“If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down”

One simple lyric from a nearly 20-year old rock song can sum up the way many Ravens fans are feeling these days. We Baltimoreans relish the role of the underdog, and we feel most comfortable when our teams do the same. For nearly the entirety of their existence, the Ravens have been all too happy to oblige us in the “us against the world” mentality. Sure, WE always expect our team to do well, but we’ll be damned if we’re going to let on that fact to “them.” We prefer to carry any optimism we may have very close to the vest.

And so, when we find the Ravens garnering the amount of positive national attention that they have been since their 2009 season unceremoniously crashed to the ground in Indianapolis, we become a bit…uneasy. There are a few reasons for this. On top of the aforementioned underdog fetish (or what some may call an inferiority complex), there is the fact that, under the previous regime anyway, the Ravens have always been much more likely to do prove prognosticators wrong than to inspire a chorus of “I told you so’s.”

On the way to the franchise’s only Super Bowl, Brian Billick’s team won two road playoff games, including victories in Oakland’s “Black Hole,” and Nashville’s Adelphia Coliseum, the latter in which they were, to that point, the only road team to ever win a game.

Long live the Baltimore Underdogs.

When they were expected to be dominant though, Billick’s teams were seemingly delighted to disappoint. Following their AFC North Titles in 2003 and 2006, they were quickly dismissed from the Playoffs, both times at M&T Bank Stadium and both times without recording a single postseason victory. In the seasons that followed each of those playoff losses, seasons in which they were expected to be in contention for defenses of their Division Crowns, they proceeded to post disappointing records of 9-7 and 5-11, respectively.

Enough of the quick history refresher course though. Let’s talk about how this relates to our 2010 Ravens.

  • Joe Flacco has led the team to the postseason in each of his first two years under center. He has done so with a less-than-stellar receiving corps. Traditional wisdom says that an NFL QB’s 3rd season is the one in which he really starts to grasp the speed and complexities of the game.
  • We acquired a true #1 wide receiver in Anquan Boldin. While Boldin is not the “deep threat” that has been missing from this offense for years, another guy that the Ravens picked up, Donte Stallworth, could be just that.
  • Ray Rice is, by all accounts, on the verge of absolute superstardom. Along with Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain, the Ravens have one of the most potent ground attacks in the league.
  • Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison seemed to finally figure things out during the second half of 2009, and the Ravens’ defense, despite perceived struggles throughout the year, finished #3 overall.

Add all these things together, and you get what may be the highest pre-season expectations…well, EVER for a Ravens team. And not just locally. National publications are all over the Ravens in 2010, and we fans have, of course, been quick to take note. We are proud to see our team getting some high-profile respect. We love Ray Rice being ranked in the Top 5 of “Fantasy” running backs. We beam when John Madden talks about how impressed he is with Joe Flacco.

But, in the back of our minds, many of us are still uncomfortable with all the love. Which is a big reason why, when our first-team offense comes out and struggles a bit, as they have so far during the first two preseason games, many of us find ourselves being magnetically pulled to that figurative “cliff.”

Usually, I tend to be the one trying to talk Ravens fans back from that cliff. This time, though, one of the reasons I’ve yet to weigh in on Saturday’s Redskins game is that I am unfortunately feeling that same gravitational pull to the edge that, judging by the callers to local sports-talk stations, many Ravens fans are.

In a “normal” year, things like the offense going 0-for-5 on 3rd downs, or the starting linebackers getting absolutely torched in coverage, in preseason games, would be cause for concern, but by no means a reason to hit the panic button.

This year, though, the curse of high expectations makes those weaknesses appear to be all the more glaring.

“We’ll never win a Super Bowl with these bums around Ray! Heath Miller and Jermaine Gresham will kill us!”

“Why does Flacco STILL keep checking down so much?”

“What in the world happened to Michael Oher? Isn’t this guy supposed to be good?!”

Those are the kinds of things Ravens fans were screaming at their televisions Saturday night.

In the days since, I’ve found myself torn between agreeing with this kind of knee-jerk, reactionary (and sometimes alcohol-induced) hyperbole and with trying to remind myself that we really can take nothing from preseason football games. Hell, the Bills torched the Colts last week (with both teams’ starters on the field).

Again, I think it’s the expectations getting the better of me. In our stubborn (and usually unrequited) love of the underdog role, we take the defensive mechanism of talking ourselves into the notion that our team probably isn’t as good as everybody says.

If we don’t expect too much, we might not be let down.

Hopefully, the day is coming when these kinds of expectations are par for the course in Baltimore. As much as we despise the Pittsburghs, Indianapolises, and New Englands of the world, their fans have learned to deal with being preseason favorites long ago.  That is the kind of culture that Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh are trying to build around here, and it would be great if it became common enough that we all just got used to it.  That day obviously isn’t here yet.  And in the end, all the predictions and prognostications go straight out the window once the opening kick of the season is in the air.

My suggestions, then, for my fellow Ravens fans and myself, are these:

  • Don’t buy into the hype. Make the team prove something before you label them as contenders or busts.
  • Recognize the weaknesses in the team, but also remember that this really is still the preseason. Until the games count, many of these guys just aren’t wired mentally to do anything more than go through the motions. Remember that the coaches are using these games to evaluate, and they too are careful of how much they are revealing.
  • Get excited about the strengths too. That 21-yard completion from Flacco to Boldin on Saturday was a pretty play, and there are plenty more like it where that came from.
  • Find something productive to do between now and September 13. Get your mind off the purple and black. The time for pulling out your hair isn’t until the games start to count.

I’ll try my best to abide by these. I hope you will too.

Is Ravens' Kicking "Competition" a Farce?

August 18, 2010


As the Baltimore Ravens continue their ongoing quest to replace the legendary-around-these-parts Matt Stover at placekicker, an interesting dynamic has evolved in this year’s fight for the position. Eleventh-year veteran Shayne Graham was signed this spring, and was expected to win the position from seventh-year player Billy Cundiff, who kicked for the Ravens for the final 7 games of the 2009 campaign. Graham enters 2010 as the 4th most accurate kicker in NFL history at 85.2% (since I know you’ll ask, Stover currently sits at 83.7%). He has a reputation for failing in the clutch though, and never was this more evident than during the 2009 playoffs, when he missed two FGs during a 24-14 loss to the New York Jets.

Cundiff was a mediocre 12-for-17 for the Ravens in 2009, including misses from 37 and 51 in the season finale against Oakland, a game the team needed to win to make the postseason, and a miss from 30 in week 11 against the Colts, a game the Ravens lost 17-15.


So, again, Graham seemed to be the obvious of the two less-than-stellar choices for the Ravens going into the 2010 season.

/Channels Lee Corso/


Not so fast, my friend.

I haven’t been up to Westminster for training camp this year. Like many of you I’m sure, however, I listen to plenty of local sports talk radio to keep up with the goings on from McDaniel College. Some interesting reports have been emerging lately, regarding the Cundiff vs. Graham “saga.”

Fox 1370’s Rob Long stated last week, prior to the Carolina game, that Billy Cundiff had far outshone Shayne Graham in camp to that point. He went so far as to say that, should Graham miss a field goal in the first preseason game, then Cundiff would have effectively “lapped” him in the kicking competition.

Graham, of course, DID miss on Thursday night, wide right from 50 yards. Cundiff kicked only extra points.

Both kickers were impressive on kickoffs, notching touchbacks.

If Long is correct then, and Thursday only served to widen the gap between the two kickers, then statements made earlier this week by Glenn Clark of WNST are more than a little confusing.

Billy Cundiff is MUCH closer in the kicking competition than he might appear; but the team has made it clear that Shayne Graham will be their guy.

I think with Katula gone it will be interesting to see how the competition goes. It’s all on Graham to make kicks moving forward as the team has decided that Katula was part of the problem. Multiple folks in the organization have privately handed Graham the job, but they’re maintaining publicly that they’re still competing.

Privately, the job is Graham’s. Publicly, there’s a competition. With Katula now gone, there will be no excuses if Graham misses more kicks. But the organization has been privately working under the assumption that Graham will be the kicker.

Interesting, and more than a tad confusing. It sounds as though, from Glenn’s perspective, that there really is no kicking “competition,” per se, as the Ravens have already privately handed Graham the job.

I’d be disappointed if the truth really is that this “competition” was decided before training camp even started, and that Cundiff was kept around only to keep the pressure on Graham. In the end though, it could be a moot point. If Graham finishes out the preseason perfect on his kicks, then I have no problem with the team taking him to Meadowlands Stadium on September 13. Hopefully this is the case.

If Graham continues to miss kicks, while Cundiff at least matches him in practices and preseason games, and yet Graham STILL suits up in purple to start the 2010, Ravens fans could be left not only scratching their heads, but once again pining for the return of #3.

Ugh. Once again, way too much “ink” being used in Baltimore with regards to freakin’ kickers.

Play Like A ……. Jet???

August 17, 2010

Like many people chomping at the bit for some football that actually counts, I turned on the first MNF game of the year to check out the new Meadowlands Stadium.  The ESPN broadcast could have been aired on HGTV because all anyone wanted to see was the new home for the Jets and the Giants.

After the 2008 season, Rex Ryan was granted a head coaching job with the New York Jets and since then he has become a very popular figure (insert fat joke here) in the big apple. Apparently not only was Rex scouting some Ravens to bring to New Jersey, he also dabbled in some interior decorating and stole the EXACT tunnel entrance design from the Ravens.

“Play Like A Raven” was introduced to Ravens fans in Westminster during training camp for the 2009 season. This motto was plastered all over Baltimore for a year and became a phrase that really grew on me. Tonight, upon the entrance of “Nacho” Sanchez, “Play Like A Jet” ran completely across the guardrail near the player entrance. Not only is this the exact phrase used the Ravens the previous year, they even used the same damn font.

After seeing this blatant form of plagiarism, I decided to do some research. Apparently, Rex Ryan coined the term for the Ravens and brought with him to the big apple along with Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard. The old-new phrase has been mentioned multiple times in the New York Post and both Bart Scott and Rex Ryan have commented on the phrase.

“I should have patented it,” Ryan said earlier this year. “It was something I strived to do, and I think our guys bought into that. It’s what we’re trying to have here: to “Play like a Jet.”

Former Ravens linebacker, Bart Scott, was asked particularly what the phrase means. Scott said, “It means playing physical, fast, intelligent, a high football IQ, relentless, all those good things,” linebacker Bart Scott said. “Before I was playing like a Jet, I was playing like a Raven. It’s something that we brought over.”

Personally, I think the motto shouldn’t be used by either team. Even though it was created by their head coach, the Jets shouldn’t use it based off of the Ravens marketing efforts last year. I also believe that if Rex Ryan was so instrumental in creating this motto for his team, the idea should have left when he packed his bags as well. The Ravens franchise had almost six months from the time Ryan and his appetite left Baltimore to create a new motto.

The national attention on the Jets is higher than it ever has been. The attention they have received for signing washed up superstars and being featured on the HBO series“Hard Knocks”, now is the time for them to create a new identity, not just changing a team name from the previous season.

Rex Ryan middle finger

Given Rex’s extensive vocabulary from Hard Knocks I would like to suggest a couple new mottos that would look a lot better across the Meadowlands.

1.) This F**King stadium F**King costs a lot of money!

2.) J-E-T-S    F**K F**K F**K

3.) What the F**K is a F**King [Expletive]?

4.) We know we’re better than you, we don’t give a F**K if you know it or not! (from Hard Knocks)

5.) We’re gonna beat the F**K out of you! (from Hard Knocks)

Please feel free to include any suggestions in the comment box below.

How 'bout 'dem O's? (UPDATED)

August 11, 2010

Now 8-1 under Buck Showalter.

Just won their third consecutive series, for the first time since ???? I’m gonna guess 2005, but I’ll let someone else look it up.

Update: From Roch:

With a win tonight, the Orioles would complete their first three-game sweep in Cleveland since April 10-12, 1987. It also would mark their first three-game road sweep since June 19-21, 2009 in Philadelphia, and their first five-game winning streak since June 17-21, 2009.

Also with a win tonight, Buck Showalter would tie Davey Johnson for the best 10-game start as manager of the Orioles.

The Orioles have won three straight series for the first time since June 12-21, 2009 vs. Atlanta, the Mets and Philadelphia. They’ve won eight times in a nine-game span for the first time since April 22-May 2, 2005.

Brad Bergesen allowed two hits last night, the lowest total by an Orioles’ starter in Cleveland since Tom Phoebus on April 19, 1970.

Starting pitchers have put together 8 quality starts in Buck’s 9 games as manager.

The man is some sort of miracle worker. My head is spinning. I’m borderline speechless.

Go O’s!

Preseason Game 1: Panthers @ Ravens

August 11, 2010

Ravens Cats

For the second consecutive year, we Ravens fans enter the preseason eager to wipe the bitter taste of a postseason loss to a hated rival out of our mouths. Last year, it was the 2008 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh we were looking to push out of our memories. This year, the 2009 AFC Divisional game in Indianapolis is, unfortunately, our most recent football memory. Thus, it is with wide open arms we welcome in the 2010 NFL season, even if it is just in preseason mode at the moment.

So, besides the elation that comes with watching our purple and black take the field for the first time in nearly seven months, what should we be watching for on Thursday night? Here’s my far-from-exhaustive list:

Wide Receiver

Is there really any question that watching #81 catch passes at M&T Bank Stadium is what has most Ravens fans salivating most at the moment? Anquan Boldin gives the Ravens’ passing attack the kind of legitimacy it hasn’t had since Vinny Testaverde was heaving pigskins to Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander in the team’s infancy.

Boldin has already been putting on a show at training camp, so expectations certainly haven’t fallen since his arrival in B’More. The naysayers will point out that Boldin’s strong camp has “only been against the Ravens’ weak secondary.” Boldin has had little trouble regardless of his opponents throughout his career, but Thursday will be his first chance to show us Ravens fans what he can do as a member of our squad.

Is he in sync with Joe Flacco yet?

Does his presence open up space for Derrick Mason and Todd Heap?

These questions obviously won’t be answered this week, as Boldin and the rest of the starters are likely to play no more than a quarter, but it’s something to watch as the march to the regular season continues.

Boldin, of course, isn’t the only wide receiver on the roster. Along with old faithful (emphasis on old) Derrick Mason, the Ravens will trot out Mark Clayton and Dante Stallworth, who are fighting for the #3 spot. By all accounts, Stallworth is putting on a show at camp, but Clayton is also thriving from the slot position, which is the more natural for a player of his particular skill set. While they are both likely to make the roster, the competition has them both trying to push their games to the next level, which only benefits the team as a whole.


For the second straight year, the Ravens kicking game is in flux as the preseason opens. However, the two men in the competition this year are much more established NFL performers than their 2009 counterparts were. Nobody is confusing Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham with Graham Gano and Steven Haushka. Graham is expected to win the job by most, but Cundiff is conceding nothing.

Originally, the coaching staff had said that each kicker would get a half in the preseason games, but that has changed. John Harbaugh now plans to rotate the two on each field goal attempt, to try to ensure them equal opportunities as the final decision approaches.

Remember to keep an eye on their kickoffs as well – not just how far they fly, but on how the opponents return games fair against each. The hang-time and directional placement of kickoffs has a lot more to do with kick coverage success than many fans realize.

Offensive Line

The Jared Gaither saga has made the O-line into a drama that was not supposed to be.  I’ll be very interested to see who the team starts at right tackle opposite Michael Oher.  The staff knows that, if needed, Marshal Yanda can more than adequately fill that role, with Chris Chester moving inside to Yanda’s guard spot.  However, I think they may want to give third-year man Oniel Cousins the chance to win the job in Gaither’s absence.  Cousins’ mistakes in the second Pittsburgh game last year were detrimental to the team, but reports have been positive on the 315-pounder so far this summer.

None of us really have any idea how the Gaither thing will wind up playing out.  Luckily, the team has a ton of quality depth at both the guard and tackle positions.  It’s definitely worth watching to see how this group plays in the preseason, both in opening up lanes for Ray Rice and in keeping Joe Flacco on his feet.

Inside Linebacker

In another mirror image of 2009, the battle for the right to line up next to Ray Lewis on Sundays is one to watch. Last year, rookie Dannell Ellerbe came out of nowhere to win the starting job by the end of the season. He was expected to start again in 2010, but it has actually been Jameel McClain getting the majority of the snaps with the first team in Westminster. McClain, in his 3rd season out of Syracuse, had 2.5 sacks as a rookie in 2008, but didn’t do much in 2009. He had a great offseason though, and now finds himself with the edge over Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden. Practice is one thing though – McClain will have to show that he can perform in game situations to keep his name atop the list.

McClain may also have an edge, as he is considered the best of the three at getting to the quarterback. Which brings us to our next item…

Pass Defense

I say “pass defense” here and not just “secondary” for a reason (and I thank Rob Long of Fox1370 for driving home this point today). Ravens fans are extremely worried about the team’s secondary, with Domonique Foxworth out for the season already, Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington both coming off ACL injuries of their own in 2009, and the continually up-in-the-air status of Ed Reed. The team’s starting corners on Thursday are likely to be Cary Williams and Travis Fisher – not two names that exactly inspire confidence.

However, the success (or lack thereof) of the Ravens’ secondary this year will hinge heavily on the other aspect of pass defense, the pass rush.

Quick, name the four starting cornerbacks on last year’s two Super Bowl teams, the Colts and Saints.

Some of you may have done it, but I’m guessing many of you couldn’t. And even if you could, there are no “big name” CBs like Champ Bailey, Darrelle Revis, or Nnamdi Asomugha on those rosters. What the Colts and Saints have in spades that helps their respective secondaries is a consistently strong pass rush, especially from their front four.

The Ravens’ pass rush will be the key in 2010. If they hang those backup-quality DBs out to dry for 5-6 seconds at a time, we are in trouble. As we are if it takes 6- and 7-man blitzes to get pressure.

Haloti Ngata says he has been focusing on getting to the passer this offseason. He will need to greatly improve that part of his game to take the next step as an elite DL in the NFL.

Newly acquired DT Cory Redding posted back-to-back 10-sack seasons in 2006 and 2007, while playing in the football wasteland of Detroit. If having a Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs lining up around him can rekindle performances like that, the Ravens may be in decent shape.

Speaking of Suggs, keep an eye on #55 as well. All reports out of training camp indicate that you’ll like what you see from the lean-and-mean Sizzle. He won’t suddenly be asked to put his hand in the dirt and rush the QB every play like he was at the start of his career, but when he does rush, take note of whether or not the Panthers try to double-team him, and how he does against any one-on-one blocking he faces.

Again, this list is far from exhaustive, but hey, it’s only the preseason. Most of you will check out after the first quarter or so, along with the starters. If you stick around though, the Ravens’ depth will be on full display. Guys like Demetrius Williams and Marcus Smith at the WR position, who haven’t had to fight for roster spots in the past, will be doing just that to try to keep their jobs. Players who would likely be starting on other teams, like a Brandon McKinney or Marc Bulger, will have the chance to beat up on the Panthers’ reserves.

I don’t bother predicting scores of preseason games (not that I could do much worse than I do for regular season and playoff games though), but I do expect the Ravens to win on Thursday. They are an extremely deep team, as Tony Lombardi tells us, everywhere except cornerback.


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