Archive for August, 2008

Why I'm Rooting for the Detroit Lions in 2008 (& Beyond)

August 29, 2008

(And no, it’s not because they have a good chance of being better than the Ravens)

ESPN, in a display that is sure to have me and the rest of B’More vomiting in our Labor Day weekend steamed crabs, named the Pissburgh Squealers Fans as the best in the NFL.

The first problem is that the Squealers didn’t even really win the competition; they were instead pushed over the edge by some biased officiating. Sounds familiar, yes?

They were tied with the Green Bay Packers fans in whatever goofy-ass statistical formula the crack (head) staff used to rank the fans. How did they break the tie? I’ll let them tell you:

When all was said and done, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers ended up tied for first. But much like the International Gymnastics Federation, we came up with an elaborate tiebreaking process in which Hall of Fame writer John Clayton of ESPN was called upon to keep things above board. Clayton, who grew up in the East Braddock section of Pittsburgh, picked the Steelers, which seems totally fair.”

I’m sure if Clayton had of gone with Green Bay, ESPN would have went with their next “impartial” judge to break the tie.

So, what reasons do they give for the Squealers inexplicably large fan base? Well, basically the same ones we’ve covered here before. Their fans all lost their jobs at a time when the team was dominating.

The decline of the steel industry in the 1970s coincided with the rise of the Steelers dynasty. At a time when the city’s collective psyche was taking a major blow, the local football team offered a weekly respite. A generation of young people left the city to find work elsewhere, but they remained passionate about their hometown team. And that’s why your local stadiums are often invaded by a black-and-gold army.”

Now, what does all this have to do with me rooting for the Lions in 2008?

Simple, really. Apparently, the equation looks something like this:

Win football games + Lose Jobs + couple decades = artificially inflated fan base

The auto industry in Detroit has lost something like, I dunno, 10 million jobs* over the past few years. If not for Matt Millen’s comical ineptitude, Lions fans would be poised to be the next Steelers fans.

Its unacceptable that those rag-waving, pierogi-breathed, inbred mountain folk are the NFL’s “best fans.”

Detroit, you have the power to end this. So lets all jump on the Jon Kitna bandwagon in 2008, and hopefully the Lions can bring a Lombardi Trophy to Motor City.

Alternatively, the Patriots could have already been well on their way to having a “fan monopoly” over the country. If only the great Northeast had experienced a huge economic downturn in the moron industry over the past decade….

*Figures estimated


No Surgery for Kyle, No Room for Cody

August 27, 2008

The Ravens had a busy day personnel-wise.  

  • Kyle Boller got a 2nd opinion on his shoulder injury and was informed that he may not need surgery to repair his right labrum.  Ozzie Newsome says that Kyle may be able to play this year, which would certainly be a positive for this team.  But this may be a smoke and mirrors game that Ozzie is playing with the rest of the league, who are smelling blood in the water when the Ravens come calling to discuss trades, hoping to fleece us for all we are worth to give us any veteran QB.  
  • The Ravens traded 2 late draft picks to the Tampa Bay Bucs for former Raven Marques Douglas.  Douglas has remained productive since leaving the Ravens following the 2004 season, tallying 3 sacks each of the last 2 seasons in San Francisco (he never played a down for Tampa, having only been signed last March), although his best years were 2003-4 here, when he racked up 10 over 2 seasons.
  • To make room for Douglas, the Ravens made a puzzling move, releasing LB Dan Cody.  Cody, whose career here in B’More has been one season ending injury after another, had by all reports been making great strides this preseason (granted, he was injured AGAIN) and was ready to contribute in 2008.  Maybe the Ravens plan on doing one of those old release-sign immediately deals with Dan, but if not….all you Ozzie Newsome detractors out there can chalk up another 2nd round bust.

Douglas’ signing is an interesting one.  On the surface, it seems logical after the team placed Dwan Edwards on IR earlier this week.  But Justin Bannan is another guy that can contribute on the DL as a running-down sort of guy, so they didn’t really NEED another one of those.  Unless, of course, Kelly Gregg’s recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery is not progressing as quickly as we had hoped.  Super.   

Flacco Puts Himself Back in the Picture?

August 25, 2008

And the plot thickens….

With Troy Smith coming down with a nasty case of tonsillitis (to go along with his previously diagnosed condition of “Isuckatfootballitis”) and Kyle Boller feeling the effects of being body slammed in the 2nd preseason game, all of B’More got a shock when we heard that Joe Flacco would get the start the other night in St. Louis.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I was watching the start of the game, it was through my “bad QB goggles” that I have been conditioned to have on during Ravens games over the past decade. I saw a guy overthrow some receivers, miss some passes, and was quick to dismiss him as more of the same. But as the game went on, both Joe’s nerves and my preconceived notions of purple signal callers eased a bit.

By the time Flacco hit Derrick Mason with that 15 yard touchdown pass to open the 2nd half, I was a full fledged fan of Flacco, ready to hand him the starting spot on September 7 against Cincinnati.

Alright, maybe not QUITE. But Flacco certainly didn’t show us that he was any worse than our other two “options” at this point. On the contrary, Joe actually looked like a real NFL quarterback, which is something nobody is saying about Troy or Kyle right now. When was the last time you saw a Ravens QB actually execute a successful pump fake (without dropping the ball) AND complete the pass? Sure, he slightly overthrew the ball for Clayton and underthrew the one to Mason, but that kind of thing is to be expected when you aren’t getting many reps in practice with those guys. Hell, for all we know, Flacco is used to running that play with Yamon Figurs (who is certainly a half step faster than Clayton) lined up to his left.

John Harbaugh didn’t really say that the QB race is now back to 3, but he didn’t really deny it either. But with Boller and Smith still nursing their respective maladies, Joe took all the reps with the starters at practice today.

So what are we to expect Thursday? Who knows at this point? Flacco may find himself the starter by default again, in which case a continuation of his 2nd half performance in St. Louis may make things just that much more difficult for Coach Harbaugh.

Ravens fans shudder at the thought of starting a rookie quarterback again. “We’ve seen this movie before,” is the overwhelming sentiment, referencing Kyle Boller in 2003. Maybe putting Kyle in as a rookie really is what made him the player he is today. But maybe, just maybe, Kyle Boller was destined to be Kyle Boller the career backup all along. The decision on Flacco should not be made based on decisions made by a different set of coaches with a different player. The league is littered with former first round picks that are teetering on “bust” status. Just this week we saw Matt Leinart and Alex Smith both lose their jobs. For every Peyton Manning, there are countless David Carrs, for certain. But every situation needs to be looked at individually.

Flacco supporters will point to Atlanta naming Matt Ryan their opening day starter and say “Well, if he can do it, why can’t Joe?”

Well, Atlanta has a couple things going for them that the Ravens don’t.

There are absolutely no expectations on Ryan to win anything this year. The Falcons know what they are, and would probably consider a 5 win season a “success.” The Ravens, despite what members of the B’More media and others will tell you, see themselves as a little closer to a .500 team, at least. Starting a rookie QB would put that pressure on him immediately.

Perhaps more importantly, Atlanta feels confident that their offensive line can protect Ryan to the point that he doesn’t become another David Carr, who it is widely agreed upon that the 76 sacks he suffered his rookie year are why he was never any good. The Ravens obviously have no such luxury. The line did not play terrible Saturday night, but they need to show some more consistency before it is worth risking their investment back there in a game that counts.

So, with that in mind, lets lay out the few things that should need to happen for Joe Flacco to start an NFL regular season game any time before, say, November.

  1. The team must be losing. Something to the tune of 1-3, 0-4 would be necessary. If Kyle Boller or Troy Smith are winning games, or at least keeping the team competitive, then let whoever it may be stay under center.
  2. During said losses, Ravens QBs must not be running for their lives. If the line is showing that they can reliably pass protect, then (and only then) maybe Flacco could benefit from some more game action.
  3. I’m not sure how we can enforce this one, but Ravens fans need to be kept from booing Flacco the first time he makes a bad decision or fumbles a snap. I’ve already heard grumblings around town this week that “Flacco is a bust.” Seriously, Ravens fans? Please tell me that we are smarter than this. Dollars to donuts says it’s the same fools saying this that embarrassed the entire city on national television by cheering when Boller got hurt. And the ones that booed him last week after he threw his first incompletion on his 9th pass. Perhaps Joe should leave his iPod on when he takes the field.

The saga continues this Thursday….

Troy Still Your Boy?

August 17, 2008

According to our very scientific B’More Birds’ Nest poll, the majority of you want to see Troy Smith start the season as Ravens QB. Do you still feel that way after last night’s 3-5 25 yd 1 INT scoreboard scorcher? Sure, you Smith lovers will point to his scrambles that notched a few first downs, and that’s all well and good, especially with the problems the team’s offensive line will cause. But with the speed of today’s defenses, the days of the scrambling quarterback are over in the NFL. Case in point: Midway through the second quarter, Troy made a nice escape from a collapsing pocket and scrambled 18 yards for a first down. But two plays later, Smith *tried* to escape the same way, and turned what should have been a 5 or 6 yard sack by Jared Allen into a 12 yard loss.

Now, this kind of thing may be forgivable if Troy had shown any other qualities that make us think he can be effective. I will, by the way, happily give him credit for the audible he called that allowed Ray Rice to scamper for 42 yards on the opening drive. But his pocket presence is non-existent, his throws are inaccurate, and whatever “leadership qualities” he apparently has are not enough to cover up for his basic inadequacies as a quarterback. This job was his to win at the start of training camp, and the fact that he hasn’t been able to pry the starting gig from Kyle Boller unquestionably is enough for me to say he doesn’t deserve it.

Is Boller any better? In a word, yes. Now I’m not wearing my purple Kyle glasses and sitting here saying that his 8/8 to start the game was anything to get all excited about, especially when those 8 passes had only gone for 40 yards. But to boo him on his first incompletion, which came on his NINTH throw, shows just how ridiculous Ravens fans have become with their Troy-vision. Kyle’s interception on his last pass was exactly what we’ve come to expect from him, but he is still the better option at this point.

It is probably still, however, more likely that Troy Smith gets the start opening day against the Bengals. And I will gladly eat my words if he leads the team to some wins this year and proves himself to be a capable signal caller. But sitting here, on August 17, I just don’t see it.

Other thoughts on the game:

  • The defense did not play well, obviously. They allowed far too many 3rd down conversions, and the backup cornerbacks Frank Walker and Fabian Washington took huge steps back after playing well in New England. With a veteran defense like this though, keeping in mind the pieces that were missing, don’t put too much stock in how they perform in the preseason.
  • After looking so strong in the first game, the special teams unit underperformed a bit as well. The kickoff coverage team did well, allowing only 18 yards per return, but giving up 14 yards per punt return is nothing to hang your hat on. Also, Sam Koch put several in the end zone when he had a chance to pin the Vikings deep. And let’s hope the staff keeps a roster spot open for a kickoff specialist. These Matt Stover kickoffs to the 20 yard line are not going to cut it.
  • Rookie Ray Rice was a huge bright spot, gaining 77 yards on 8 carries in the first half. This is doubly impressive when you remember that the Vikings were neck-and-neck with the Ravens all last season for the #1 rushing defense in the NFL. If you take away his 42 yard run, he still averaged 5 yards per carry. Hopefully, Willis McGahee was paying attention and it gave him the kick in the ass he obviously needs.
  • Joe Flacco was much better in his 2nd NFL game. He showed more pocket presence, arm strength, and accuracy than either Troy or Kyle. His interception (that was luckily overturned by penalty) was a stupid throw. And his final pass wasn’t near anybody – not sure if he was just trying to kill the clock for another play or what, but that was just ugly. Overall though, he showed some good things.

What did you think, Ravens fans? Do you really still want Troy? Are you worried about the defense or do you chalk it up to a preseason effort?

photo credit: Baltimore Sun

Our New Team: The B'More Hurt-i-canes

August 11, 2008

First off, let’s update the last blog: Reed has finally gotten on the practice field with the rest of the team, albeit with a caveat: Reed has been wearing a red “no-contact” jersey, of the type usually reserved for quarterbacks. According to John Harbaugh, Reed should be ready to go by opening day, but we have our doubts. When asked about the injury, Ed told the media that it was “more in depth than what you have been hearing,” and that he could not really explain it because he is still himself “researching” it. So we still don’t really know anything more about the nature of the injury, whether it is structural, a nerve issue, or what.

Ed isn’t the only former hurricane to be having problems either. Tavares Gooden has been out of practice since the New England game. The team, as has been their M.O. under this new regime, is also keeping this injury very close to the vest.

Next up on our list of hurt-i-canes, Willis McGahee, who will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his knee this week. Yes, the same knee that exploded in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Harbaugh said that McGahee too, will be healthy in time for opening day. After being all about reshaping the poor public opinion of him that came out of his time in Buffalo last year, Willis seems to have regressed a bit this offseason. He participated in none of the voluntary minicamps, then showed up to training camp overweight and out of shape. And he has seemed to always have one reason or another to sit out the majority of practices. I’m not saying Ray Rice will be the starter any time soon, but if you draft Willis in your fantasy league, let’s just say that it may be a good time to subscribe to the ol’ “handcuff” theory.

On the bright side, many of the other injured starters, including Dans Cody and Wilcox, Chris McAlister, Haloti Ngata, and Adam Terry, have been seen working on the sidelines and look close to being ready to return to the practice field.

But of course, there is the omnipresent Baltimore question of WHO IS THE QUARTERBACK? As I’m sure you’ve heard, John Harbaugh has already named Troy Smith as his starter for Saturday’s game against Minnesota. And there is a typical little rumor floating around the airwaves that Ray Lewis mentioned to a Boston Globe writer last week that he preferred Troy Smith to be the starter.

Just what we need, Ray.

For all the good he does, it sure would be nice if he would let the damn coaches do their jobs and worry about defense for once. If we Ravens fans have heard it once, we’ve heard it 1000 times: the players LOOOOVE Troy Smith. He’s a great leader, he has that swagger, blah, blah, blah. That’s all fine and good, but last I checked, SWAGGER DOESN’T WIN FOOTBALL GAMES! Smith looked mediocre at best in New England, missing badly on several of his passes, and has been awful in practice since being named the starter (he almost threw 2 picks Monday morning). Troy’s “swagger” has been described by some as borderline arrogance, and I get the feeling he has a bit of a little man’s “Napoleon Complex” going. He showed some good and some bad last week, just as Boller did. The days of the “inmates running the asylum” are supposed to be behind us here in B’More, so the decision on who to play under center should rest squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff. John Harbaugh doesn’t need this type of bull as he starts his head coaching career, and let’s hope he gives Ray a bit of an earful regarding his latest flapping off of the mouth.

That’s all we got for now, B’More fans.

Countdown to kickoff: 27 Days

photo credit: Baltimore Sun

Mr. REEEEEEEE(ally hurt?)D!!!

August 6, 2008

Just about every Ravens starter, it seems, has missed time this training camp with injuries. Trench boys Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata, cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, receiver Mark Clayton, what seems like the entire offensive line…the list goes on….

However, the most disturbing bit of injury (non) news that has come out of Westminister so far is that ED REED HAS NOT PRACTICED YET. Here we are on day, what, 12 of full-team practices? Ed has been on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list since July 25 with an “undisclosed injury.” According to sources, he has not even been participating in individual drills with the defensive backs so far. There is speculation that Ed’s injury, which is rumored to be in the shoulder/neck area, is potentially far more serious than the Ravens are letting on. It seems nobody in the media can get a straight answer from anyone in the organization. The team is staying very tight-lipped about the injury, and every day we don’t hear anything, the injured reserve list looms larger.

Lets all keep our purple fingers crossed that that DOES NOT happen. Losing Ed Reed for any significant amount of time this season will be pretty disastrous. For a secondary that couldn’t get out of its’ own way last year and only got older since then, losing Ed could make the 2007 Ravens secondary look stellar in comparison. The three headed monster of Jim Leonhard, Haruki Nakamura, and Tom Zbikowski have been impressive in camp, but there is no replacing a guy like Ed Reed.

Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, this is bad. AGGGHHHHH!!!!

Let’s all take a breath, watch Mr. Reed do some work, and hope that there is a perfectly reasonable, perfectly IR-free, explanation for Ed’s absence so far…

A lot of that this year, please……

Boller to Start First Exhibition Game

August 5, 2008

Coach Harbaugh today put an end to the QB suspense – for this week, at least – naming Kyle Boller the starter for the first preseason game, Thursday in New England. Harbaugh said that the move was “more a nod to experience and seniority,” than anything Boller has shown thus far in practice, that led to the announcement. Boller will play most of the first half, with Troy Smith and Joe Flacco splitting whatever time is left.

Don’t read too much into this. Even though Boller will be getting more reps with the first stringers than either of the other two QBs (zero), it still won’t be many, as the rest of the offensive starters will probably play no more than 1-2 series. Based on reports out of camp so far, none of the three quarterbacks has put any distance between himself and the other two. All three have had their moments where they were effective, but also struggled at times. This is less frustrating with Smith and Flacco, who have 2 and 0 professional starts under their belts, respectively, than it is for Boller, who has started 42 NFL games. The fact that Kyle has played no better than a rookie and a 2nd-year munchkin signal-caller only goes to solidify what we all already know about him – that he is an effective backup, no more. That Smith is having trouble seizing the starting job is troubling in it’s own right, as is the fact that Flacco (all 6’6″ of him) had a ball batted down at the line today, and should have had another.

I read a funny (sad?) story today about Kyle on one of the Sun’s blogs. From Don Markus:

An aside for those Ravens fans who think that Boller can’t hit the broad side of a barn. At one point in the practice, Boller threw a 30-yard pass directed at a barn adjacent to the field. He missed, leading one of my Sun colleagues to say, ‘And the barn was open.’

What the hell is Kyle doing throwing at barns in public anyway? He is just asking for abuse when he inevitably misses…

Anyway, as far as the game goes, the Ravens will probably also be without starting RB Willis McGahee, so Ravens fans who have only heard through the grapevine how impressive rookie Ray Rice has been so far will finally get a chance to see him. I, for one, am more excited for that than I am to watch Kyle playing “kick the can” with the pigskin. Also, I’m interested for the Ravens first defensive series against the Patriots since last year’s final-minute meltdown. Will we see any leftover hard feelings? I’ll be watching Bart Scott very closely…

photo credit: Baltimore Sun