Archive for October, 2010

Ravens (4-1) @ Patriots (3-1)

October 16, 2010

For the third time in just over a calendar year, the Ravens travel to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots on their home turf. So will this trip end in heartbreak like the 2009 regular season meeting, or in jubilation as the playoff matchup did?

The Patriots have won 22 consecutive regular season home games.

They are coming off their bye week, a situation in which Bill Belichick coached teams are 8-2 since 2000, and have not lost since 2002.

In short, it won’t be easy, but if the Ravens play a solid game, they could have the talent on both sides of the ball to hand the Patriots their well overdue post-bye week loss.

Tom Brady is having another stellar season so far in 2010, completing 69.7 percent of his passes for 911 yards and 9 touchdowns to go with only two interceptions. In the first meeting with Baltimore last year, “Tom Terrific” was just that, going 21/32 for 258 yards and a critical touchdown to Randy Moss. In the playoff game however, a time during which Tom has been exceptional during his career, the Ravens held Brady to 23/42 for 154 yards, and picked him off three times. One area in which B’More has had success against the Patriots, though, is in pressuring Brady. They sacked him three times in each of those 2009 meetings, and Terrell Suggs especially seems to dominate Pats’ left tackle Matt Light. Even last season, when Suggs was generally playing poorly, he got to Brady and forced a fumble in both games. He, and the rest of the Ravens’ pass rush, will need to be equally effective against Brady, who has only been sacked five times in four games, on Sunday.

The Pats’ offense is also dealing with the much ballyhooed departure of All-World wide receiver Randy Moss, who was traded to Minnesota during New England’s bye week. Moss was not particularly effective against the Ravens last year (managing just 8 catches for 98 yards and 1 score total in the two games), but his presence on the field undeniably opens things up for the Patriots’ very strong underneath passing game. Guys like Wes Welker, and more recently Julian Edelman, have found great success running routes against linebackers with Moss taking the coverage deep with him. New England reacquired Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch from Seattle, and he and second-year wideout Brandon Tate will try to pick up Moss’s slack.

Perhaps the more dangerous weapon in the Patriots’ passing attack Sunday will be rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez, out of the University of Florida, has 18 receptions for 240 yards already (for comparison’s sake, Moss had 9 for 139), and at 6’1″ 245 lbs., could pose a big matchup problem for the Ravens. Ravens’ linebackers struggled mightily in pass coverage in the preseason, and will have their hands full this week. As a whole, the Ravens’ 2nd-ranked pass defense will face easily their biggest challenge of the young season. Though Kyle Orton managed over 300 yards last week, the defense held him in check while it mattered, allowing the offense to build a comfortable lead through the early part of the game, before Orton racked up some yards with the game out of hand. Even sans Moss, they’ll have to play their best game of the year to beat Brady and the Patriots.

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have a clear advantage over the Pats’ young and struggling defense. New England is 29th overall and 28th against the pass, so Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ passing game could be in for a big day. In the playoff game, of course, it was Ray Rice and the running attack that won the game, racking up 234 total yards on the ground. Flacco, meanwhile, was just 4/10 for 34 yards and an interception. I don’t expect New England to allow such a one-dimensional attack to be successful again, so B’More will have to be much more balanced from the start to have a chance. Fortunately, with the additions of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, along with Todd Heap and Ed Dickson, the Ravens have plenty of weapons to turn to, should New England shut down the run as they were unable to do in January.

One area where the New England defense has excelled is in catching errant passes from opposing quarterbacks. The Patriots have seven interceptions, tied for third highest in the NFL, through just four games. Let’s hope Flacco leaves his patented “back foot floater” at home, or he could be in for a long day.

The Patriots’ special teams have also been a strength, as evidenced by their single-handedly costing the Miami Dolphins’ special teams coach his job two weeks ago. Brandon Tate is averaging over 33 yards per kick return, and the Patriots have blocked several punts. Fortunately for the Ravens, they have the ultimate special teams trump cards in their excellent kickers. Billy Cundiff has 11 touchbacks already this season, and Sam Koch’s incredible directional punting skills were on full display against the Broncos’ dangerous returner Eddie Royal. Although the Ravens’ return games have been disappointing as a whole in 2010, the coverage has been solid, and John Harbaugh’s special teams background could be a great asset for the team in Foxborough.

Now, when you see my prediction, some may accuse me of “flip-flopping” or of pandering to the audience earlier in the week when I picked the Patriots to win in my chat with Foxboroblog.

However, I did that interview on Tuesday, and in the days since then I have been convinced otherwise. Through listening to the local and national pundits, and watching Playbook on the NFL Network, I’m now much more confident that the Ravens can pull out a victory against the favored Patriots.

Mike Preston says he “can’t figure out how” the Patriots will beat the Ravens.

All three guys (Brian Billick, Sterling Sharpe, Joe Theisman) on NFL Network picked the Ravens.

All the Boston-area media who were guests on Baltimore talk radio this week picked the Ravens.

As you can see below, 6 of the 8 ESPN personalities picked the Ravens (even Steeler-loving Raven-hater Merrill Hoge!)


Bill Belichick was the one that called Steve Bisciotti nearly three years ago and told him to hire John Harbaugh. He regretted that phone call, if just a bit, last January. Let’s hope he regrets it again, just a bit, Sunday.

Goob used TV commercials to decide his pick. I’m going to be a bit more superstitious, pick the score I picked for the playoff game, and hope for the same result:

Ravens 28 Patriots 24


Goob's Pregame Thoughts: Ravens @ Patriots

October 13, 2010

As you’ll see below in his latest video, Goob is really starting to get the hang of this green screen thing, and is finding a comfort level in front of the camera.  In his latest, he hates on the Patriots, Spygate, the Red Sox, Massholes, Dunkin Donuts, and touches on Joe Flacco’s unibrow and living situation, the Ray Lewis Old Spice commercials, and last season’s epic Ravens beatdown of the Patriots in the playoffs.

Here’s Goob, with his Ravens-Patriots preview:

Goob Reacts to Vikings' Signing of Frank Walker

October 13, 2010

The Minnesota Vikings signed former Raven CB Frank Walker to a 1-year deal today.  Here, Goob reacts to the Vikings’ season ending the signing:

Scouting the Pats: A Conversation with Foxboro Blog

October 13, 2010

This week, I was contacted by the guys at the Patriots’ blog Foxboroblog about answering some questions on this week’s Ravens-Patriots game. I happily obliged, and sent them some questions as well.

Here’s what I asked Ricky of Foxboroblog, and what he had to say (see his questions and my answers here):

1. Were you surprised at the ease with which the Ravens took care of the Patriots in last year’s Playoffs? What were your expectations going into that game, and how does the result affect the way you feel going into this one?

Yes, I was very surprised because I thought even if Baltimore was going to win that game; it was going to be a close game. Baltimore dominated New England right from the get go and took the offense right out of its rhythm with the constant pressure put on Tom Brady. Not having Wes Welker proved to be a huge hinderance for this team offensively because other than him and Moss, New England did not have much to get the ball too and Julian Edelman was having his first game at being the primary wide receiver. I have seen Ray Rice from his days at Rutgers and he is a very good running back. McGahee and Rice took it to New England’s front 7 and dominated the running game to set up Flacco.

The result of last year does not affect my expectation going into this game because Belichick has had 2 weeks to prepare for the Ravens, who in my opinion, are the best team in the AFC as of right now. John Harbaugh is one of the most underrated coaches in the league and Baltimore has won on the road in tough places like New York and Pittsburgh. However, having Wes Welker can really help this offense and New England did a good job against the run against Miami’s 1-2 combo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to just 83 rushing yards.

2. What has been the biggest surprise so far this year for the Patriots? As a fan, what have you seen that you didn’t expect coming into the season?

The biggest surprise so far for the Patriots has been the play of the young rookies in the offense. Aaron Hernandez has been used as more of a downfield threat in the New England offensively this year and has helped such as in the first half of ballgames against the Jets and the Bills. They added another rookie tight end in Rob Gronkowski who has caught a couple of touchdowns as well. With Moss out of the picture, New England has gone to more multiple tight end formations than I expected. Also, the special teams has made a huge impact with the blocked punts, kicks, and Brandon Tate’s kick return ability.

Even with the new look offensively, New England has surprised me with their balanced attack and abandoning the aerial deep threats with Randy Moss. That is why Moss was ticked off with offensive playcaller Bill O’Brien at halftime of the Dolphins’ game, leading to his dismissal from the team. With this new balanced attack, the Patriots now are looking to make defenses honest allowing room to complete that intermediate pass on third down to move the chains and control the clock.

3. Colts suck! (this was more of a joke that he didn’t quite get at first – here’s his original reply:)

If you are implying this as a question, you can’t count out the Indianapolis Colts in any season as long as they have Peyton Manning. True, the timing with the receivers was way off in the 19-9 victory over the Chiefs in their last game, but I still expect the Colts to get to 10-11 wins. True, it won’t be 12 wins, but that is tough for the Colts to do in an AFC South that is going to be competitive the rest of the way. Yes, teams have ran the ball on them such as Maurice Jones-Drew and Arian Foster, but until I see Indy go on a big losing streak, I think they will be just fine when all is set and done.

And again, after I clarified the joke:

True u got that right

4. What areas of the Ravens do you think the Patriots will be able to exploit on Sunday?

I think the area where the Patriots can exploit on Sunday is if Joe Flacco turns the ball over. Remember, last year, New England’s defense was one of the top teams in the league in takeaways. True, they are missing some of the key cogs to that defense from last year (Leigh Bodden, Ty Warren), but if New England can get after Flacco, they can force turnovers. Opponents have 6 INT’s in 4 games against Flacco this year and even though the Ravens are 2nd in the league against the pass, I would not want to give Tom Brady a short field even without Randy Moss because he will make you pay.

Even with Baltimore giving up 101.2 yards per game on the ground, I think New England will be able to stay balanced because in their last two games, the Patriots have had success running a balanced attack with a running game. They didn’t have much of that in last year’s matchup with Laurence Maroney. True, they don’t have a star running back, but they have a couple good ones in Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Sammy Morris, and new sensation Danny Woodhead from the Jets’ practice squad. Also, if Fred Taylor can play in this game, his veteran presence can help as well. If New England can hang in the game, it will allow Brady to get more time in the pocket to throw with a balanced attack.

5. How do the Patriots’ strengths and weaknesses match up to those of the Ravens?

New England’s strength as of right now is taking the ball from their opponent as defense. They have had seven interceptions in four games despite giving up a ton of yards to opposing offenses. This is a young motivated defense that is able to bend but don’t break. The Ravens are 22nd in the league in points per game (18.4). If New England can force Baltimore into field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone.

As for the Ravens, they can attack New England’s secondary early and often. New England is 28th in the league against the pass so far. If Joe Flacco can avoid turning the ball over, the Ravens can also have success throwing the ball downfield. I expect Baltimore to go after New England at the left corner position with the inconsistent play of both Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington. Devin McCourty has improved game by game particularly with his coverage skills. I look for T.J Houshmanzadeh to exploit New England over the middle like DaVone Bess did two weeks ago for the Dolphins.

6. How will the Patriots adjust their scheme to keep Ray Rice in check, after what he did to them the last time around?

Ray Rice is a tough running back to stop ever since I seen him play his collegiate ball at nearby Rutgers University. New England had trouble last time against Rice becaue of their inability to tackle Rice in the open field. The minute Rice broke through on that opening play for the touchdown; New England’s run defense was out of their rhythm. Despite the inefficiencies of the secondary, their front seven is the strength of the defense.

If New England can contain the big play in the running game like they did against a similar back in Ronnie Brown last week, Rice can be contained. Willis McGahee is also a concern for the Pats because once Rice wears down the defense, McGahee can run the ball with his power style allowing more missed tackles. Baltimore ran the ball 42 times in that playoff game to just ten passes. If New England can shut down the run game, Flacco will need to make more plays, but it will be a challenge.

7. Is too much made about Belichick’s record after a bye week? Would you feel confident after a bye week no matter who the opponent, as long as he has the extra time to put a game plan together?

The Patriots are 14-4 after a week off under Bill Belichick and I think that record helps Patriots’ fans feel confident going to into their next game. That record exemplifies the level of preparedness that Belichick gives to his players during that week. It does not matter who the opponent is because you know New England has the extra time for Belichick and his staff to look at the small differences that can change a game in his team’s favor. You also have to keep in mind that his players will be motivated because most of them were on the losing end of the 33-14 blowout in the Wild Card game last year and you know the Patriots want their revenge in this ball game.

8. Who will win the game Sunday, and why?

This is going to be a close game and I think even though New England does not have Randy Moss back in the fold, they can still have success passing the ball with the addition of Deion Branch on Monday. Branch has struggled with injuries and inconsistency since leaving New England five years ago due to a contract dispute. Branch fits in with New England’s style of their intermediate to short distance passing game. New England having Wes Welker this time around can make a huge difference in this ball game if the offensive line gives Brady the opportunity to get rid of the football.

As for the Ravens’ offense, I think they are going to be able to move the ball downfield, but they have to take advantage of their opportunities in the red zone and on third downs. New England’s defense has allowed opponents a 55% conversion percentage on third down this year which is the worst in the league. That being said, it is going to come down to who makes the big mistake. Flacco has been more turnover prone than Brady this year and I think that one turnover is the difference.

Patriots 23
Ravens 20

Click here to read Foxboroblog’s questions to me and my answers!

Play Like a Raven – Week 5

October 12, 2010


Long-time readers of the site will know that last year, we changed the name of our weekly “best Raven” award to “Play Like a Ray Rice,” after a string of having to give the honor to #27 week after week after week. He started 2010 off slowly, but Rice looked like his old self again on Sunday, racking up 150+ total yards and two touchdowns. If it were up to us, he’d also be the team’s default goalline back moving forward, as he fared much better in such situations against Denver than either Willis McGahee or Le’Ron McClain.

Anyway, it was fairly obvious that Rice was the best player on the field Sunday. It’s not uncommon for that to occur, so we’ll just name the award after Rice again, and move on to honoring another guy who had a great afternoon.

Played Like a Raven – Fabian Washington

After teetering on the edge of being the “Did Not Play Like a Raven” in Pittsburgh the previous week, Fabe bounced back with a vengeance against the Broncos. It would still be nice if the guy could catch even a little bit, but Washington batted down four Kyle Orton passes when it seemed like ol’ Neckbeard was trying to pick on him. I’ll give him a pass for the dropped picks though, as Fabe has never been an interception guy (his career high is 4, with Oakland in 2006, the only time in his career he had more than one in a season; he hasn’t picked off a pass since week 12 of 2008 against Philadelphia.) Still, this was the player the Oakland Raiders thought they were getting when they used the 23rd overall pick on Washington in the 2005 NFL Draft – a quick cover corner with the ability to shadow guys all over the field and break up passes when given the opportunity.

Fabe looks to be fully recovered from his ACL injury and to be rounding into top form as the season approaches it’s midway point. If he keeps getting his hands on a few passes a game, an interception or two is sure to materialize. In the meantime, it’s great to see #31 making plays on the back end.

Especially since….

Did Not Play Like a Raven – Safeties

Maybe try it with helmets next time, fellas?

Both starting safeties for the Ravens are going to catch my ire here this week. Dawan Landry and Tom Zbikowski were each directly responsible for one of the two Denver touchdowns on Sunday.

When the aforementioned Washington was singled up on Broncos’ receiver Brandon Lloyd, Lloyd was largely ineffective. However, on his 42-yard touchdown catch at the end of the first half, the Ravens were in a Cover 2 look, and Washington passed Lloyd off to Landry, who had deep responsibility on that half of the field. Landry was caught completely flat-footed by Lloyd, who raced past him easily and caught the score, with Dawan never even looking back for the ball (not that it would have made a difference.)

It’s been a fairly disappointing season for Landry as a whole. While not terrible, he hasn’t done much to separate himself from “random disposable safety” either. In training camp this year, he earned the nickname “Whop” from his teammates, as it seemed like a hard hit from #26 was putting a new Raven out of practice every other day. So far though, I can’t think of any instance where Landry has come up and laid wood on an opposing ball carrier to the point that I even noticed, let alone was compelled to stand and cheer. Apparently the guy saves his hardest hits for his teammates. And now he’s getting burnt in coverage too? Super.

Not to be outdone though, fellow safety Tom Zbikowski would be picked on for Lloyd’s second touchdown, a 44-yarder in “junk time” of the game. While cornerback Josh Wilson was also responsible for Lloyd on the play, Zibby was playing over the top and failed miserably to give Wilson the help that he obviously required.

This was a play that never happens with Ed Reed on the field. The same can’t be said for the first touchdown, as Landry was the safety on that side of the field.

Still, getting Reed back in the lineup will go a long way towards stopping these kind of deep strikes. It would be great if the schedule had worked out to where the Ravens were playing the Buffalo Bills at home this week, and at New England in week 7, when Reed is available…but dem’s da breaks.

Even without Randy Moss, Tom Brady will be ecstatic to not have to account for Reed every time he drops back to pass.

Mike Preston today suggested that the Ravens give Haruki Nakamura another look at safety in passing situations, with Landry and Zibby both struggling to varying degrees.

As always, I agree with Mike Preston.

Monday Morning Hangover: Ravens-Broncos

October 11, 2010

Monday Morning hangover takes on a whole new meaning this week. Being off work for Columbus Day today, I may have overdone it a bit yesterday. So, while I go ice my head and hunt down some Gatorade, here’s Goob with his thoughts on the Ravens’ pounding of the Denver Broncos yesterday:

Ravens 31 Broncos 17 (The ANOTHER HO-HUM BRONCO STOMPING Game)

October 11, 2010

Just like they always seem to do, the Denver Broncos rolled in and promptly rolled over at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday afternoon. Their defense put together an impressive goalline stand on the Ravens’ opening drive, stopping the Ravens on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th at 1 on what should have been an 89-yard touchdown drive, and you thought, “hey, maybe Denver came to play today…”

That would be the end of that, though.

The Broncos punted the ball back to the Ravens after picking up just 14 yards on their first drive, and Joe Flacco easily moved the ball down the field again, going 73 yards on 9 plays. Not to be denied this time around, Flacco punched the ball into the end zone himself, giving the Ravens a 7-0 lead. Denver managed just 18 yards on their second drive before again punting. This time, it was a 5-play, 72-yard touchdown march for the good guys, capped off by a 1-yard Ray Rice touchdown run, and the rout was on.

On the ensuing kickoff, backup linebacker Jason Phillips blew up Denver kick returner Demaryius Thomas, Edgar Jones stripped the ball out, and Ken Hamlin fell on it to give the ball right back to the offense. Though they went 3-and-out, a Billy Cundiff field goal made the score 17-0 Ravens with 9 minutes to play in the first half. While the game could have easily been 28-0 at this point, and REALLY over, for all intents and purposes the 17 point lead was plenty to seal the Broncos’ fate for the afternoon.

Though Denver would score on a 42-yard touchdown strike from Kyle Orton to Brandon Lloyd with just under a minute left in the half, the game was never close. It was the longest pass play against the Ravens this year (until a 44-yard Orton-to-Lloyd TD in junk time – a play that never happens if Ed Reed is in the game), and it was safety Dawan Landry who was victimized, getting caught flat-footed as Lloyd raced past him and beat him to the spot in the back of the end zone. It was a disappointing end to a half in which the Ravens’ secondary had, to that point, kept the Broncos’ high-flying aerial attack in total check. Even if it was disappointing that his stone hands couldn’t pull in at least one interception, cornerback Fabian Washington had perhaps his best game as a Raven, batting down several passes. At one point in the first half, Baltimore had outgained Denver by a 219-42 margin.

Sure Kyle Orton ended up with yet another 300-yard passing performance, which is likely to knock the Ravens out of their #1 pass defense ranking, but they don’t truly belong there anyway. And more importantly, the majority of Orton’s yards came long after the Ravens had jumped out to a three-score lead and the game was well in hand.

Perhaps the most promising development of the game for Ravens fans and fantasy football players around the country was that Cam Cameron remembered he has Ray Rice on his team. Rice had 31 touches (27 carries, 4 receptions), 159 total yards and two touchdowns, showing that his bruised knee suffered against Cleveland is fully healed, and that, when “fed the rock,” Rice can be every bit the dominating back he was in 2009. Not only that, but he may (should) have taken Willis McGahee’s job as the goalline running back. On the aforementioned failure from just outside the Broncos end zone, McGahee was twice stopped dead at the line of scrimmage. When given the same opportunities later in the game, Rice was 2 for 2. Not to be completely outdone though, McGahee showed that he still has some home runs left in him, racing for a 31-yard touchdown scamper to round out the Ravens’ scoring.

As a team, the Ravens rushed for 233 yards, with McGahee totaling 67 and Le’Ron McClain adding 13 in addition to his crushing blocks opening holes for the other guys all day. Even Flacco got in on the act, showing Tim Tebow who’s boss, rushing for 20 yards on 5 carries, at least one of which was a designed quarterback draw. He ran with power, lowering his head and punishing Denver linebacker D.J. Williams on one play, and finesse, giving Renaldo Hill a Mike Vick-esque ball-fake and leaving the Broncos’ safety in the dust.

It was an encouraging thing to watch, as the running game showed up to carry the offense through a stretch during which, in most of the 2nd and 3rd quarter, Denver decided that they were going to do everything they could to stop the pass, and Flacco missed on 9 or 10 consecutive throws. Anquan Boldin had only one catch for 8 yards, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were largely invisible for most of the day…and the Ravens still won going away.

The balanced attack that we all know the Ravens have the potential to possess, with all their weapons complimenting one another beautifully, may be starting to materialize (although, after giving all of Baltimore a huge scare when he went down momentarily in the end zone, perhaps Haloti Ngata shouldn’t be used as one of those “weapons” too much going forward).

Also meriting mention was that the Ravens again played a very clean game. Their 5 penalties for 66 yards were dwarfed by the Broncos’ 10 for 90, on a day where the officiating crew on the field was the most flag-happy bunch in the league coming into the matchup. The Ravens have had fewer penalty yards than their opponent in every game so far in 2010, an encouraging sign that the days of undisciplined play costing the teams wins are now firmly in our rearview. John Harbaugh’s emphasis on proper technique and his practice of bringing in officials to watch training camp and practices seem to be paying very tangible dividends.

A final word on the game: Billy Cundiff = BEAST. Four of his six kickoffs on the day were touchbacks, and another was ran out from a few yards deep in the end zone. He has become a great Ace-in-the-hole for B’More’s special teams unit.

Some Ravens fans will be perturbed about losing the #1 pass defense ranking, but we need to get over that mindset as a fanbase. Think back to the New York Giants game in 2008, where they ran for nearly 300 yards on the Ravens, but some fans still hung their hat on the fact that no single Giant ran for more than 100 yards. The true irrelevance of the streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher was on full display that day, and Orton’s 314 yards Sunday are an equally empty statistic. Hanging our hat on #1 rankings and statistics are thing that we had to do when we had a team that ran hot-to-cold from one year to the next, a team that would contend one season and be doormats the following. With Harbaugh and Flacco, and the perennial contenders that they look like they are, and that we hope to have for years to come, a team that routinely dominates lesser teams, we can instead point to much more significant numbers: wins and losses.

Yes, it was Orton, not Flacco, who had the big “fantasy” day, throwing for over 300 yards and a couple touchdowns.

But whose team won the game? Whose team is currently 4-1?

The team in purple and black.

Recalibrate your expectations. Expect to win. When you win, you don’t have to pull out other numbers to convince yourself that your team is good. Point to the scoreboard. Point to the standings. That’s where the important numbers lie.

4-1 after three extremely tough road games and now with a half-game lead along with a head-to-head win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a full two game lead on the now 2-3 Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. It’s a good place to be, much better than say, 3-2 with the #1 pass defense or #1 run defense or best turnover ratio or blah, blah, blah.

J.O., Lenny Moore to be at Ravenswalk on Sunday

October 8, 2010

Passing along a media announcement for any of you who will be at the game Sunday and would like to meet these former Ravens and Colts greats:


WHAT: Before the kick-off of Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos, Giant Food of Landover, Md. will host two appearances for fans at the Giant Booth located on Ravens Walk. Two Baltimore legends will be hosting the “Giant prize wheel” where fans can spin for the chance to win fun food, prizes and autographed pictures.

WHO: Hall of Famer Lenny Moore of the Baltimore Colts

Former Offensive Tackle Jonathan Ogden of the Baltimore Ravens

WHEN: Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lenny Moore, 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Jonathan Ogden, 12 p.m. to 12:30 p.m.

WHERE: Ravens Walk

Walkway leading from Oriole Park to M&T Bank Stadium

Between lots B and C

Broncos (2-2) @ Ravens (3-1)

October 7, 2010

When the Denver Broncos roll into M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, history will not be on their side. Denver is 0-4 all time in B’More, the last loss being the 30-7 shellacking the Ravens put on them last season. Again the Broncos come into town with an apparent “house of cards” number attached to them. In 2009, it was their 6-0 record, which made them look much better than they actually were. This year, I’m thinking it’s their top-ranked passing attack.

You read that right.

It’s not Drew Brees’ Saints, Peyton Manning’s Colts, or even Matt Schaub’s Texans that own the top aerial attack in the NFL through four weeks…its Kyle Orton’s Broncos.

The same Broncos that are now without their leading receiver from 2009, one of the best in the game, Brandon Marshall. The same Broncos that are now throwing the ball all over the field to guys like Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, and Eddie Royal. That’s the team that leads the NFL in passing yardage.

Again, I’m not terribly impressed.

Though those three have each had a 100-yard game already this season, the secondaries Denver has faced are not exactly the cream of the crop: Jacksonville – 30th against the pass in 2010, Indianapolis – 15th, Seattle – 29th, and Tennessee – 13th. This week, they’ll face a Ravens secondary that, despite being told all offseason that they were going to be the team’s Achilles heel, are the best unit in the NFL at the moment. Even without Dominique Foxworth or Ed Reed, the Ravens currently boast three cornerbacks playing extremely well – Lardarius Webb, Fabian Washington, and Chris Carr – another who has a track record of strong performances and should see plenty of the field this week – Josh Wilson – another who had a great preseason and appeared ready to step in and contribute – Cary Williams – and a backup safety who has proven that he can come in and cover one-on-one in a pinch – Haruki Nakamura. The Broncos don’t have a true #1 wideout, as Orton has shown that he can spread the ball around very evenly, but that could play right into the hands of the Ravens, who have 5 or 6 players who can adequately cover, despite not having a big-name “shut down” cornerback.

I could be way off base here (wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last), but it just looks like a good matchup for B’More to me.

Another thing – the reason the Broncos have had to fling it around so much is that they cannot run it. At all. At 55 yards per game, the Broncos own the NFL’s worst rushing attack by more than 10 yards per game (The 31st ranked team, The Bears, average 68.8 ypg.) Their #1 running back, second year player Knowshon Moreno, has missed the team’s last two games with a hamstring injury. Moreno practiced Wednesday, but not Thursday, and will be, at best, considered questionable for Sunday (though if you tell him Ed Reed isn’t playing, that may change to probable.) (Edit – Moreno is OUT) Filling in for Moreno has been former Patriots’ first round pick (and eventual bust) Lawrence Moroney. Moroney, though, has just 29 yards on 23 carries (not a typo) through his two starts.

Moreno, Maroney, whatever. It doesn’t matter – this game proves a great opportunity for the Ravens’ run defense to move up from their slightly misleading 23rd overall rank.

Now that Denver has spent all week looking at film trying to figure out how to block Haloti Ngata (hint: give it up; can’t be done.), there should be plenty of opportunities for guys like Cory Redding (who missed the Pittsburgh game due to a concussion), Kelly Gregg, and Brandon McKinney to make a few plays. Unfortunately, just as one lineman comes back, another goes out. Paul Kruger suffered a sprained MCL in Pittsburgh, and will miss 2-4 weeks. It’s a shame, as Kruger (if you excuse his penalties as a symptom of rust) showed some things last week, pressuring Charlie Batch several times and recording what would have been a sack-fumble were the play not negated for offsetting penalties. As long as those forementioned D-linemen, along with linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson, can find ways to get pressure on Orton, it should be a very long day for the Broncos’ offense.

As for the other side of the ball, we’ve heard this week that Ray Rice is ready to reclaim his starring role in the Ravens’ offense, after a disappointing first four weeks for Mighty Mouse. Denver, though, is not likely to be the team that he breaks out against. After allowing Maurice Jones-Drew 98 yards on the ground in Week 1, the Broncos have buckled down. In Week 2, Justin Forsett of Seattle had just 44 yards, though he did average a hefty 5.5 ypc. In Week 3, Joseph Addai of Indy managed just 29 yards and a 2.2 average. And, most impressively, they held Chris “I’m going to run for 2500 yards this year” Johnson of the Titans to a measly 53 yards on 19 carries last week. While Ravens fans are clamoring for a more balanced offense, and more touches for Rice, Denver just looks much more vulnerable against the pass.

And so, we could very well be in for another week of 200+ yards and multiple touchdowns from Joe Flacco like we saw the last time the Ravens played at home. Last year against Denver, Flacco was 20/25 (80%) for 175 yards and 1 score. While Denver may elect to put their best cornerback, Champ Bailey, on Anquan Boldin all day long, Flacco is showing more and more comfort with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and should have all the confidence in the world in T.J. after last week. Throw Derrick Mason, Flacco’s all-time favorite target and the Ravens’ leading receiver in Pittsburgh a week ago, into the mix, along with Todd Heap and Rice out of the backfield, and the Ravens should have plenty of success moving the ball through the air even if “Q” has another relatively quiet afternoon.

The guys on the NFL Network’s great program, Playbook, were discussing how they feel the Ravens’ offense will “break out” against the Broncos. They pointed to Flacco’s 5-0 lifetime record against the AFC West, and predicted a big day from Anquan Boldin, while also forecasting that the Ravens will shut down the Broncs’ high-flying offense.

Some are making a big deal about the fact that the Ravens are just 1-3 in their last 4 games coming after a win over Pittsburgh.  That’s a combination of emotional letdown and physical beatdown after those intense rivalry matches, but let’s remember – fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – this is just the second such occurrence during the Harbaugh/Flacco era, as last week was just their second victory against Pittsburgh.  Flacco said this week that, if the Ravens can’t put the emotion of last week behind them and move forward quickly, then they aren’t the team that they think they are.

The Ravens have a history of slapping around the Broncos, a team that our favorite columnist Mike Preston likes to describe as “soft,” when they come to town, and this week should be no different.

This assertion still applies.

Ravens 27 Broncos 13

Play Like a Raven – Week 4

October 5, 2010


A win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, especially in their house – something the Ravens have only done 5 times in their history – always requires a full team effort, even more so than the typical NFL victory. There were a few Ravens, however, that stood out and deserve to be recognized in this week’s “Play Like a Raven.”

Played Like a Raven – Haloti Ngata

The big man was everywhere on Sunday, wrapping up Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall at the line of scrimmage, chasing him down when he broke outside, sacking quarterback Charlie Batch, nearly picking him off, and tackling receivers down the field after catches.

Here in Baltimore, we’ve always known what a special player Haloti is and is certainly going to be, but he has been slow to receive the kind of National attention which he deserves. He finally broke through last year and made his first AFC Pro Bowl team, after being stuck behind guys like former Tennessee Titan Albert Haynesworth and Kris Jenkins of the New York Jets for the first few years of his defensive dominance.

After his performance in the marquee matchup of Steelers-Ravens last Sunday, he is seeing his star grow even further. For instance, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King has Ngata on his short list of potential NFL MVP candidates, virtually an unheard of honor for a defensive lineman (its happened only once, in 1971).

Haloti finished with a team high 11 tackles and a game-high 8 solo on the day, and was a disruptive force for the Ravens defense all afternoon. For much of the game, he lined up as a defensive end, as opposed to at his usual tackle position, where he took on Steelers’ offensive tackles Flozell Adams and Max Starks. Despite being blocked by tackles, supposedly more athletically superior players to the guards and centers he is used to clashing heads with, Ngata was still the best football player on the Heinz Field Sunday.

It’s times like these that I like to remember ESPN’s Mark Schlereth blasting the Ravens on Draft Day 2006 for taking Ngata, a guy he called lazy and accused of taking plays off.

Wrong, guy-with-a-hot-daughter.

Honorable Mention: Joe Flacco

I’d be remiss not to give props to Flacco here as well. As great as Haloti was on Sunday, I’ve only went back on the DVR and re-watched his hit on Mendenhall once or twice, while I’ve watched the Joe-to-T.J. game-winning touchdown pass a good half dozen or more times over the last two days.

On second thought, I’ve probably watched that particular play closer to a dozen times.

The entire drive, I’ve seen more like 6 or 7.

Hell, I can recite the entire series from memory at this point: (no peeking, I promise)

1st and 10 at the PIT 40: Flacco to Boldin across the middle for 9 yards
2nd and 1 at the PIT 31: Flacco to Boldin on a quick out for 2 yards. Boldin steps out.
1st and 10 at the PIT 29: Flacco to Houshmandzadeh on a right sideline throw to the PIT 18. Housh steps out.

/checks play-by-play to see how I did:

# Baltimore Ravens at 01:08
# 1-10-PIT 40 (1:08) 5-J.Flacco pass short left to 81-A.Boldin ran ob at PIT 31 for 9 yards.
# 2-1-PIT 31 (:42) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 5-J.Flacco pass short left to 81-A.Boldin ran ob at PIT 28 for 3 yards.
# 1-10-PIT 28 (:38) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 5-J.Flacco pass short right to 84-T.Houshmandzadeh pushed ob at PIT 18 for 10 yards (20-B.McFadden).
# 1-10-PIT 18 (:34) (Shotgun) 5-J.Flacco pass deep right to 84-T.Houshmandzadeh for 18 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Yeah, I’ve watched it a few times.

I make no excuses, either. That was the kind of drive we’ve been waiting to see from Joe for over two years now. Although it was his sixth career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, none of the previous five were nearly as dramatic. As proof of this, look no further than the fact that Sunday was the FIRST TIME the Ravens have won a game on a last-minute touchdown since Steve McNair-to-Todd Heap beat the San Diego Chargers back in 2006, when Joe was just starting his junior year at Delaware. The fact that he was finally able to put everything together in the final minute against a great defense like the Steelers, a defense that has given him fits throughout his career, and in THEIR HOUSE…was all just icing on the cake.

That last drive (and the previous one, to a lesser extent) excused Joe for some erratic play earlier in the game, especially the play where he again broke out his good ol’ “back foot floater,” and cornerback Ike Taylor intercepted him. He didn’t “Play Like a Raven” all afternoon, no. But he did it when it mattered most. And after years of watching Ben Roethlisberger look like absolute dog shit against the Ravens’ defense for 58 minutes, only to solve them in the final two, it was a great feeling of poetic justice for B’More fans.

Did Not Play Like a Raven – n/a

Honestly, I can’t come up with anyone here. Like I said at the top, it was a total team effort. For every boneheaded or poor play somebody made, they either redeemed themselves later, or played solidly enough otherwise that I can’t justify grading them so low here.

Billy Cundiff missed an early 33-yard field goal attempt, but let’s not forget that he was kicking towards the open end of Heinz Field, probably the toughest place to make a field goal in the NFL. Jeff Reed, who kicks there more than anybody, missed twice Sunday. And Cundiff’s 5-yards-deep-in-the-end-zone kickoff following the Ravens’ late go-ahead touchdown negated any prayer the Steelers had of a big special teams play getting them back in the game.

Cam Cameron would find himself in the “Didn’t Coach Like a Raven” hot seat this week, had the unsuccessful 3rd and 4th downs from the Steelers’ 2-yard line inside the final 3 minutes proved to be deciding factors in the game. He made up for it on the next drive, though, so Cam is in the clear.

Flacco threw an interception, but he did that other thing too…so he’s cool.

The player who I could most build a case for here is Fabian Washington. He got burned by Antwaan Randle El on a 34-yard pass to set up the Steelers’ first touchdown. He also curled into the fetal position rather than go after an interception off a Paul Kruger tipped pass, as a collision with the aforementioned Ngata may have been the price to pay – and Fabe would have certainly come up on the losing end of that one – so we’ll excuse that as well, considering the outcome of the game. On the whole though, Randle El had only 2 catches on the day, and the secondary allowed just 141 passing yards, so Washington’s day wasn’t a complete waste either.

Still riding the high from that win, we’ll just skip “Did Not Play Like a Raven” for Week 4. Great job, all in purple in black.