Archive for February, 2011

"Joe Slow…" Release, that is

February 23, 2011

During the Ravens’ 2010 season, did you find yourself, time and again, screaming at your television, begging Joe Flacco to, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MAN, GET RID OF THE BALL?

I know I did.

Flacco, for all the progress he made during his third NFL season – he set career highs in every meaningful statistical category – still drove Ravens fans nuts with his indecisiveness in the pocket, taking what seemed like an unacceptable number of sacks.  In fact, Joe was sacked 40 times, a career worst.  Many blamed the poor play of the offensive line, and you’ll find no argument here that the big guys up front deserve their share of the blame.

However, it seems as though those of us chiding Joe for holding the ball too long were correct in our assessment as well.

J.J. Cooper over at Fanhouse timed every sack from the 2010 season, and the quarterback that came in dead last in number of sacks taken after more than three seconds in the pocket was…you guessed it, Baltimore, your very own Joe Flacco.

Baltimore’s Joe Flacco was actually the king of holding the ball too long in 2010. In logging the time of each and every sack in the NFL in 2010, Flacco’s 25 sacks of 3.1 seconds or more were five more than anyone else in the league.

I chose three seconds as the demarcation line because it’s a pretty fair cutoff point for where a sack can no longer be blamed on a quarterback’s blockers. The median sack time in the NFL last year was 2.7 seconds, just as it was in 2009. Obviously a line should be able to hold a three-man rush back longer than a eight-man all-out blitz, but for practical purposes, three seconds is the point where a quarterback should generally know that he has to get rid of the ball.

According to Cooper, Flacco took 25 sacks where he had at least three seconds to survey the field.  This was five more than the second place finisher, a name that is synonymous, to many NFL observers, with boneheadedness when it comes to getting rid of the football (and sexual assault) – Ben Roethlisberger.

Had Roethlisberger played the entire season (instead of only 12 games), he likely would have been closer to Flacco’s total.  Still, it doesn’t seem like a favorable comparison for Joe.  Ben has a reputation for holding the ball too long and taking some unnecessary sacks, sure, but he is also known for extending plays juuuuust long enough to turn a near-sack into a game-changing positive for his team (something we know all too well here in B’More).

Joe? Not so much.  He showed some improved pocket awareness and elusiveness last season, but how often did his avoiding a rusher lead immediately to a huge play?  Much more often was the case that Joe would sidestep a tackler, then proceed to either throw the ball away out of bounds or fall forward for a negligible gain.

Roethlisberger has earned the right to take too many sacks, by putting together a career of extended-play highlights. Flacco just flat out needs to get rid of the damn ball.

With all this hating on Joe, you may forget that we’re still 100% Wacko for Flacco here at the Nest. As I’ve been saying though – and this latest piece of data only underscores the point – a main focus for Joe during this offseason needs to be getting the ball out sooner, and shortening his throwing motion.

Hell, even Ben did it.

Talkin' Bout Cuttin' Willis

February 22, 2011

Our old pal Mike Preston wrote a column Monday afternoon that suggested the Ravens may be ready to part ways with backup running back Willis McGahee:

According to an NFL source, the Ravens decided at their recent evaluation meetings not to bring McGahee and his $6 million in base salary back for the 2011 season.

When asked if the Ravens were going to cut McGahee, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome replied: “I have said there will be no players released before March 3.”

When asked if McGahee would be on the Ravens roster before the beginning of next season, Newsome said: “Right now, there are a lot of things that could happen before next season.”

Newsome must have been pretty good as a youngster playing dodge ball.

But we can read between the lines. The Ravens were content to pay McGahee $3.6 million as a backup last season, but it will be hard to pay him nearly double that amount in the same role in 2011.

This move would certainly be a financial-minded one, as opposed to a performance-based one.  As that last line points out, McGahee’s contract balloons significantly in 2011, and $6 million is just way to much to pay for a backup.  At that salary, McGahee would actually be making more than any Ravens starter aside from Ed Reed.

Willis definitely still has some gas in his tank.  He was a great change-of-pace from Ray Rice in 2010, and had several highlight reel plays (touchdowns against Miami and Kansas City jump immediately to mind).  The Ravens could cut him and then try to resign him at a lower salary, but the questions is whether or not Willis – who is represented by the great Drew Rosenhaus – would want to test the free agent market to see if someone will pay him starter money.

McGahee’s age – he’ll turn 30 in October – may work in the Ravens’ favor here.  For an NFL running back, 30 is definitely pushing over-the-hill status.  Willis though, probably added some time to his career over his last two years in Baltimore, when he was the backup to Ray Rice.

I’d love to see Willis back in purple in 2011.  But with NFL running backs as “dime a dozen” as they are (it seems every year some guy we never heard of starts leaping to the forefront of the highlight reels), I would definitely rather see much of that $6 million spent elsewhere.

Projected O's Lineup – O's Fans/Bloggers Chime In

February 17, 2011

With Spring Training kicking off this week for the O’s down in Sarasota, and with the unseasonably warm weather up here in B’More (not to mention the NFL unrest and the Maryland Terrapins basketball team falling apart), there’s no denying that it’s time for “Birdland” to take over in full force.

The O’s have some shiny new (though some aren’t so “new” in the grand scheme of things – ::cough::VLAD::cough:: – they’re at least new to Charm City) pieces to work with, and so I thought it would be fun to put together a projected Opening Day lineup.

As I’ve freely admitted before, there are O’s bloggers out there whose opinions on this type of thing I take much more seriously than I do my own, so I also asked some of them to send me their own projected lineups.  I asked them, along with some hardcore O’s fans who I follow on Twitter, for their lineups as well.  Along with the official B’More Birds Nest projected Baltimore Orioles opening day lineup below, you’ll find projected lineups from Heath (Dempsey’s Army), Meghan (I Hate J.J. Redick), Avi (Orioles Nation), Dave (@FlavaDave10 on Twitter), T.J. (Eutaw Street Hooligans),  Zach (Baltimore Sports Report), Chris (Baltimore Sports and Life), and my buddy Chop (@PunkRockChop).

I took the average position of each hitter based on the 9 projections to make a master list.  Thus, here it is, your composite 2011 Baltimore Orioles starting line up, as predicted by a random assortment of O’s bloggers and fans:

1. Brian Roberts (Average: 1.0 – unanimous)

2. Nick Markakis (2.0 – unanimous)

3. Derrek Lee (4.1)

4. Vlad Guerrero (4.2)

5. Luke Scott (5.0)

6. Mark Reynolds (5.4)

7. Adam Jones (6.3 ; biggest discrepancy in predictions, listed as high as 3 and as low as 8.)

8. Matt Wieters (7.9)

9. J.J. Hardy (9.0 – unanimous)

And here are the individual submissions that made up the above batting order…

B’More Birds’ Nest

1. Brian Roberts (2B) – No brainer.

2. Nick Markakis (RF) – Nick is historically much more productive as a #2 hitter than as a #3.  A few years ago, we all had Nicky Mark putting a Ripken-esque chokehold on the #3 slot, but it just hasn’t worked out that way.  As Heath points out here:

          Split   G  GS   PA  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
    Batting 2nd 186 184  846  94 122 .324 .400 .530 .930
    Batting 3rd 445 443 1966 199 289 .286 .360 .444 .804

While there’s a much larger sample size for him hitting 3rd, there’s no denying that something changes for the worse when you move Nick from 2 to 3.  Keep him at 2, Buck.

3. Luke Scott (LF) – Since Nick doesn’t fit the bill, there’s really no clear #3 hitter on the O’s (edit: I’m in the minority not seeing Lee as such. I may have been convinced).  I went with LUUUUUUKE here, but I could have just as easily swapped him and Vlad in the 3-4 holes.  However, Luke grounds into double plays far less than Vlad over their respective careers (1.6% vs. 3.4%), and if we’re expecting Roberts and Markakis to be on base often (and we are), it would help to have some buffer between them and the double play machine Vlad.

4. Vlad Guerrero (DH) – Vlad was brought here to be the clean up hitter, there’s no denying that.  Regardless of the fact that Scott is just as capable, he’s not the one with the $8 million deal .  Rest assured that the new #27 will be in the 4-hole on Opening Day.

5. Adam Jones (CF) – I’m looking for big things out of Jonesy this year.  Hopefully the wildly inconsistent plate discipline will come to an end in 2011, and #10 will finally develop into the perennial All-Star type player we all know he has the talent to become.

6. Derrek Lee (1B) – Lee hit .267/.327/.428 with 19 HR and 80 RBI last year, which sounds like decent production out of the #6 slot to me.  Jones and Matt Wieters spent a lot of time at #6 by the end of last season, and with Jones moving to the #5 hole, Lee seems like the natural replacement to protect him in the lineup.

7. Mark Reynolds (3B) – Why so low for a guy that we hope will lead the team in home runs?  Well, I’d like to see Reynolds move up in the order as the season moves along, but I think #7 is perfect for a guy coming off a career worst .198 batting season and not only switching leagues, but coming into the A.L. Beast.  Let him spend some time getting used to AL East pitching and (hopefully) proving he can handle it, then inch him on up in the order.

8. Matt Wieters (C) – I’m still holding out hope for all that “Mauer with Power” business, but it seems many others aren’t so keen on Wieters ever becoming the consistent 30+ HR guy the O’s drafted him to be.  Perhaps hitting him higher, with some protection behind him, would be the way to go, but my inclination is to put Matt down here at #8.  It keeps the pressure off him and allows him to continue focusing on his main job, working with the pitching staff.  Fingers crossed that the stick we saw in the minors shows up eventually.

9. J.J. Hardy (SS) – A great guy to turn the line up over.  Hardy is a career .263/.323/.423 guy, which is leaps and bounds above last year’s #9 guy, Cesar Izturis (.230/.277/.268 in 2010).

Obviously I don’t really buy into all that left-right-left-right jazz that Dave Trembley was so fond of (my order is L-L-L-R-R-R-R-L-R against RHP).  Let’s see what the others have to say (in no particular order):

Meghan (I Hate J.J. Redick, @qweenofdiamonds)

1. Brian Roberts 2B (S) – My fingers are crossed for a healthy B-Rob all year. Our offense missed him last year.

2. Nick Markakis RF (L) – Consistently on base. Consistently knocking doubles. Consistency is great!

3. Adam Jones CF (R) – In for a big year without the expectation of being one of the team’s best hitters. Needs to take more walks & cut down on swinging at junk.

4. Vlad Guerrero DH (R) – All he does is hit. Literally. I see a lot of 3-run home runs going over the fences this year.

5. Mark Reynolds 3B (R) – Hopefully hitter-friendly OPACY will be a nice change of scenery for him.

6. Derrek Lee 1B (R) – Coming off of a down year, but is generally good for 20 HR/getting on base when healthy.

7. Luke Scott LF (L) – Having him in LF is not my choice, but it is what it is. Very streaky. Could benefit from batting lower & playing the field a little.

8. Matt Wieters C (S) – I see him moving up in the lineup at some point. Hopefully we’ll see that incredible power that he’s been hiding from us the past 2 years…

9. J.J. Hardy SS (R)- I’ll take his bat over Cesar’s. Just saying.

“Lots of speed at the top of the lineup should get us more manufactured runs. At least 6 of the 9 have 20+ HR potential. I can see 3 of those 6 hitting 30+ HR this season. That’s a lot more than we are used to.The lineup is incredibly right-handed heavy. Hopefully this increases our success against left-handed pitchers. I’d prefer to have a healthy Nolan Reimold playing LF.”

Avi (Orioles Nation, @2131andbeyond)

1. Brian Roberts – Obvious. No questions asked.

2. Nick Markakis – Nick THRIVES in the 2 spot, as history shows. His career average is a stellar 38 points higher than in the 3 hole (.324 vs. .286). Hits HRs in the 2 spot every 25.6 ABs on average, opposed to every 35.6 batting 3rd. Yes, a lot more experience at 3, but a LOT of that came last season when he had practically no OBP in the guys in front of him also. Since Nick is obviously not moving down to the 4-8 spots, and it’s between 2 and 3, this just makes the most sense going with his splits.

3. Derrek Lee – Again, going with what’s worked for him in the past. With at least 100 ABs in each spot from 2-7, his best line comes from… the 3 hole. .295/.377/.514. He’s a nice presence there after Markakis and leading up to the bigger power bats. Has walked 70+ times in each of his last 4 healthy seasons.

4. Vlad Guerrero – Obvious. No reason to sign Vladdy if he’s not batting cleanup. Not like anybody wants him to ever touch RF with his glove. Ever. Again.

5. Mark Reynolds – Many people have Luke Scott here. I put Reynolds here, knowing that he is what many call a pure power hitter. He’s obviously not hitting for average. Put him here, where Vlad, who has never struck out over the 100 mark in any year, and a career .320 hitter, will be waiting on the bags for Reynolds to bring him home.

6. Luke Scott – Luke is inconsistent. Or at least he was. His average will drop this year, no doubt in my mind. He has the power to still hit 25-30 HRs if he gets the ABs and adjusts well to playing LF often. I also flip him with Reynolds not only because I worry about his sometimes stiff swings, but it pushes a left handed bat down in the lineup a bit.

7. Adam Jones – Adam Jones showed last season that the top of the lineup is not for him. He thrives with being later in the lineup and getting his hits and blasts in when the spotlight isn’t on the batter’s box as it will be for guys like Lee and Vlad.

8. Matt Wieters – Not only does a switch hitter fit in well here, but my choice to put him at this spot is mainly because I think Hardy is the better 9 hole hitter.

9. J.J. Hardy – JJ has some speed being a shortstop, and a guy who can run the bases is nice for BRob at the top. Hardy could end up being the most productive member of this lineup if his wrist stays healthy, so he is a positive note to flip the lineup over on.

Heath (Dempsey’s Army, @dempseysarmy)

1. Brian Roberts
2. Nick Markakis
3. Derrek Lee
4. Vlad Guerrero
5. Luke Scott
6. Mark Reynolds
7. Adam Jones
8. Matt Wieters
9. J.J. Hardy

“For all the talk about the new heart of the order, how far this offense will go will be based on the health and effectiveness of Roberts and Markakis. They should be fantastic table setters. Lee is a classic #3. I would probably bat Scott 4th but putting him 5th does break up the righties. Wieters and Hardy could be the best 8th/9th duo in the league.”

Chris (Baltimore Sports and Life, @BMoreSportsLife)

1. Brian Roberts
2. Nick Markakis
3. Derrek Lee
4. Vlad Guerrero
5. Luke Scott
6. Mark Reynolds
7. Matt Wieters
8. Adam Jones
9. J.J. Hardy

“What I like best about the lineup is the overall depth. Wieters and Jones have yet to fully emerge and reach their potential, but if you can project them to bat 7th and 8th; you have a deep lineup.
Hardy has batted 2nd more often than anywhere else in his career, but his career on-base% of .323 dictates he should bat lower.

I’m confident that the Orioles as a team are going to score at-least 115+ more runs than the scored as a team in 2010.”

Dave (@FlavaDave10)

1. Brian Roberts
2. Nick Markakis
3. Mark Reynolds
4. Vlad Guerrero
5. Luke Scott
6. Adam Jones
7. Derrek Lee
8. Matt Wieters
9. J.J. Hardy

“Most people want Lee batting third, but I think he would create too many double plays. Reynolds isn’t a conventional #3 hitter, but he gets on base quite a bit, and doesn’t create many GIDPs. A top of the order that gets on base would allow our strong middle of the order to do their job and knock in the runners.”

T.J. (Eutaw Street Hooligans, @ESHjJaksClayton)

1. Brian Roberts
2. Nick Markakis
3. Derrek Lee
4. Luke Scott
5. Mark Reynolds
6. Vlad Guerrero
7. Adam Jones
8. Matt Wieters
9. J.J. Hardy

“Kind of an injustice to Hardy, but only because I dislike the other two (Jones, Wieters) at 9.”

Zach (Baltimore Sports Report, @BaltSportsReport)

1. Brian Roberts
2. Nick Markakis
3. Derrek Lee
4. Vlad Guerrero
5. Luke Scott
6. Mark Reynolds
7. Adam Jones
8. Matt Wieters
9. J.J. Hardy

Chop (@PunkRockChop)

1. Brian Roberts
2. Nick Markakis
3. Derrek Lee
4. Vlad Guerrero
5. Luke Scott
6. Mark Reynolds
7. Adam Jones
8. Matt Wieters
9. J.J. Hardy

“Sounds legit.”

A big thanks to all who participated.

"I Beat the Odds" by Michael Oher Book Review and Giveaway

February 14, 2011

I was fortunate enough to score a review copy of Ravens tackle Michael Oher’s new book I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side and Beyond.  In the book, which Mike wrote with Don Yaeger (Sports Illustrated, Running for My Life, Pros and Cons, Never Die Easy, more), Oher attempts to fill in some of the gaps of his life story, gaps that were left out from The Blind Side book and movie, as well as to offer up hope and advice for kids who may find themselves in situations similar to the one Oher found himself in as a young boy.

The first thing that struck me about the book was the cover – that’s a Super Bowl XXXV football in Oher’s hand.

Mike obviously wasn’t with the Ravens back in 2000 when they won their only Lombardi Trophy to date, but I thought this was a nice gesture to Ravens fans on his part.  “I know the history of this team, and I’ll help us get back there,” is the implied message, to my mind at least.  I know they say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I broke that rule and already found myself with a favorable impression of I Beat the Odds before I even cracked it open.

“Helping kids see a better way of thinking and living when they are young is so much easier than trying to re-teach them a whole new way of life when they are adults and end up making the same mistakes their parents made…There are a huge number of kids in America who feel helpless and need stable homes right now. You can take action by choosing to help just one child. The ripple effect of that action can end up touching many lives and even generations.” – I Beat the Odds, pp. 69-70

Once I started reading, I realized that the cover – while nice – was far from the only redeeming quality of this book.  Oher, through the help of social workers who actually worked on his family’s case years ago, attempts to piece his life together for the reader, digging up many memories that he had long repressed.  We learn about Oher’s life before he was fortunate enough to meet the Tuohy family (which wasn’t until high school), when it was a constant struggle for he and his many siblings.  With a mother that was on and off drugs (though on more than off) and who, while loving, often put her addictions ahead of her family on her priorities list, Oher’s young life was the kind that many of us luckier individuals try to convince ourselves doesn’t exist in America.  From hanging around neighbors’ houses waiting for an invite to dinner or to sleep over – oftentimes the only way food or a bed was going to happen – to being taken in by “the system” and being separated from his mother and siblings as they were placed in separate Foster homes, there was a lot more strife and stress to Oher’s life than just what we saw in The Blind Side.

Michael does a wonderful job putting the reader in his shoes, articulating the feelings of anger and confusion that go through a young person when they are taken from their family, despite outside impressions that what is being done is “for their own good.”  I would always wonder why a kid would be reluctant to leave a situation where they didn’t even know where their next meal was coming from, for a “better” home, even if that home didn’t include their neglectful parents.  Through Michael’s words, I now better understand the mindset of a young child being bounced around in the system.

Oher has stated that his biggest problem with the way The Blind Side film portrayed him was the scenes where he was being taught (either by S.J. or Leigh Anne Tuohy) how to play football.  In I Beat the Odds, Mike makes it abundantly clear for the reader that his athletic prowess was with him from a young age, and that he always saw sports as his best chance to make it out of the ghetto.  Oher was a star on the neighborhood basketball courts and run-down football “fields” long before he ever stepped inside Briarcrest Academy.

If you liked The Blind Side, you’ll definitely enjoy this book, which is in many ways a prequel to the Michael Lewis book and subsequent film.  However, in addition to just recommending this book to football fans and those who enjoyed Oher’s story, I would also highly recommend it to those who encounter at-risk children or teens in either their personal or professional lives.  While Oher seems to enjoy getting out his own story in his words, it is clear that his real purpose for writing this book – and his true intended audience – is the kids.  Kids like he was, who are confused and angry and hurt by a world that seems to not care for them.  Social workers, teachers, “big brothers” or “big sisters,” mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, or anyone else with young kids in their lives: this book is for you, and for those kids.  Many times in the book, Oher is very clearly speaking directly to kids who may be in situations like the one he was in, offering empathy, advice, and words of encouragement from his own experience.  Even if the child in your life is “better off” than Foster kids or kids in urban neighborhoods, there is something in here for them.  It is written with children in mind (that is, at about a middle school reading level), so this book would, without a doubt, make a great gift for any young person.

If this sounds like something you or a child in your life would like or benefit from, go out and pick up a copy of I Beat the Odds today.

Or, if you want to win a FREE copy, just go ahead and leave a comment below.  Every comment will be automatically entered to win my copy of I Beat the Odds (be sure to leave your real e-mail address, so I can contact you if you win!)

Update: “Melissa,” a 5th grade teacher in Baltimore, was our winner. I think this book will be great for those kids. Congrats, and thanks to all who entered.  If you didn’t win, go out and get a copy of “I Beat the Odds” anyway!

B'More Birds' Nest at the DirecTV Celebrity Beach Bowl

February 10, 2011

As our week of Super Bowl XLV videos concludes, we see Goob taking part in the DirecTV Celebrity Beach Bowl.  In the clip below, you’ll see all of Goob’s “highlights” from the television broadcast of the  game, including catching a touchdown pass from Warren Moon, doing the Ray Lewis dance, diving to break up a pass intended for Gossip Girl’s Chace Crawford, and getting asked for his phone number by supermodel Marisa Miller.  You’ll also see some behind-the-scenes footage from the VIP area, Celebrity Green Room, and “Blue Carpet.”

Media Row Tour with Ray Rice

February 9, 2011

On Friday, DirecTV hooked us up with a “mystery” Ravens player for a tour of media row in Dallas.  That mystery man turned out to be none other than #27 Ray Rice.  Rice was a blast, hanging with us for about four hours (two longer than he was obliged to) and keeping us laughing and smiling the entire time.  Goob was on local (105.7 the Fan, WNST) and National (Jim Rome, Tony Bruno, Two Live Stews, ProFootballTalk, others) radio shows with Rice talking about the Ravens and his DirecTV Ultimate Displaced Fan win.

Once Ray left, our press passes were still good, so we wandered around and got some more interviews for B’More Birds’ Nest purposes.

On the whole, just an incredible, incredible day.  Check it out:

Ravens Fan Scores TD, Does Ray Lewis Dance in Celeb Beach Bowl

February 8, 2011

That Ravens fan was, of course, our very own Goob Theoharris. Here’s the highlight reel…fast forward to 1:30 for the TD and dance.

Super Bowl XLV (The WHINE AND CHEESE PARTY Game)

February 8, 2011

Well, Goob and I are finally back in Raleigh and B’More, respectively after the most incredible weekend of our lives.  We’ll have (at least) three videos chronicling our time in Dallas and Arlington at Super Bowl XLV. We’ll start in reverse chronological order, with Sunday and the game itself.  Goob and I wandered the Jerry World parking lots in search of Packers fans to befriend and Steelers fans to heckle, then proceeded inside to watch the Steelers choke away the biggest game of the year.  Damn good times.  Enjoy:

Good Day for the Nest

February 7, 2011

Did we have a good day Sunday?  You tell me…

More on the way…

Goob and Ray Rice on Pro Football Talk

February 6, 2011

On Friday, Goob and Ray Rice sat down with Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com for one of their many interviews.

http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/33399756

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