Archive for October, 2011

Ravens Fans Could Run Flacco Out of Town

October 20, 2011

A survey from our friends over at Ravens 24×7 asked “If the Ravens could get a No.1 pick and a conditional No.1 for Joe Flacco, would you make that trade?”

Fifteen percent of the respondents said they would make that move, showing that they doubt the abilities of Joe Flacco to lead the Ravens offense. From the sentiments uttered by Ravens fans on local radio programs as well as those coming from some national media members, it’s obvious that Flacco is definitely the quarterback punching bag on this team.

Hell, considering the relative volume of this vocal minority, 15% seems too low.

Yesterday on ESPN’s First Take, Skip Bayless directed criticisms of Flacco towards Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. Bayless uttered to Suggs, “In your heart of hearts, I don’t think you’re sold on your quarterback” and “The Steelers have Roethlisberger but you’re stuck behind Joe Flacco”.

The consistent success of this franchise has grown to spoil most Ravens fans.

How can any fan complain about a team that is 4-1?

What doubts could you have about a quarterback who has started every game of his career (53) and has the third longest active streak in the NFL? Flacco has been very good during that time as well, reaching the playoffs EVERY year and WINNING playoff games on the ROAD each season.

Joe Flacco isn’t Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rogers, nor does he have to be. Flacco’s 51.4% completion percentage can be excused as long as Ravens keep trending with the second best scoring differential in the league (+77).

Joe has one of the best supporting casts in the NFL, which allows his team to win. Ray Rice leads the NFL with an average of 140 yards from scrimmage and is throwing his name in the hat for offensive player of the year. The defensive squad is allowing a league low 14.2 points per game.

Flacco’s flaws would be exposed more if the Ravens weren’t so dominant in most other facets of the game.

One perspective, which hasn’t been argued much, is that it may be better for the team to not have Flacco play at an elite status because of how much he’ll command on his pending contract extension.

The Ravens already signed top priority, Haloti Ngata, to a huge contract extension and have Ray Rice’s extension quickly approaching. It’s safe to say owner Steve Bisciotti will have tears in his eyes when he checks his bank account.

The price for any player on the team will increase if they win the Super Bowl and by that point many fans may not mind.

The best thing for the future of this franchise is for Joe Flacco to not be “elite” and just be “really good” and do whatever it takes to just win the game.

If Flacco commands near the same amount that Kevin Kolb did this offseason after a trade to the Cardinals (6-year,$65 mil with $21 guaranteed) the Ravens may be able to swallow that pricetag. If he puts up elite quarterback statistics that fans seem desperate for him to, he may be looking at Drew Brees’ pending contract extension as a basis for his value.

The bottom line is, Joe Flacco is the best quarterback the Ravens have ever seen put on their uniform. Something has to be said for the stability at the position and what it has done the team.

If fans are going to complain about Flacco’s performance on a 4-1 team, they just need to think about how bad this team will be without him. It’s very possible that Flacco will play out his contract and go to the highest bidder elsewhere; a place without spoiled complaining fans and a control freak of an offensive coordinator.

If he did, I can’t say I’d blame him.


Sizzle and Cheap Shot Go 1-on-1 on ESPN's First Take

October 19, 2011

On Tuesday, Terrell Suggs was in studio in Bristol, Connecticut for ESPN’s First Take. During his time on the air, Steelers’ wide receiver Hines “Cheap Shot” Ward was linked up via satellite.  The two kept it relatively cordial while giving each other some mutual respect in discussing the Pittsburgh/Baltimore rivalry that has come to be one of the NFL’s fiercest.

Following Cheap Shot’s departure, Suggs was forced to debate ESPN’s resident village idiot Skip Bayless on a number of topics. Sizzle got most heated while defending his quarterback, reminding Bayless that Joe Flacco has already beated Tom Brady in a playoff game, and at one point turning to the camera and saying “I’m 100% sold in Cool Joe (Flacco).”

Watch the entire segment(s) below:

What's Important Now: Beating the "Bad" Teams

October 19, 2011

After their 35-7 stomping of Pittsburgh on opening day, the Ravens, for whatever reason – I myself like to blame the Sports Illustrated Cover jinx – suffered a huge letdown in Nashville against the Titans, losing 26-13. While it remains to be seen how legitimate of a team Tennessee really is – they didn’t show many positives in losing 38-7 in Pittsburgh two weeks ago – the way the Ravens got beat on both sides of the ball from the opening whistle qualifies that showing as an unmitigated letdown.

Losing to teams with sub-.500 records just isn’t something the Ravens do under John Harbaugh. Since Harbs took the reigns, the Ravens are 19-2 against teams that enter the game with a losing record, and both of those losses were to teams that were 0-1 at the time (Cincinnati last year and Tennessee this year – h/t to WNST’s Luke Jones for the reasearch). The combined record of their next two opponents, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals, is a dismal 1-9. With the Pittsburgh Steelers refusing to accept their “old and washed up” status laying down, and the upstart Bengals surprising everyone at 4-2, the Ravens need to continue their recent history of beating the teams they are “supposed” to beat to keep their hold on the AFC North lead before heading into Heinz Field on November 6.

Fortunately, both the Jaguars and Cardinals look like they really are just “bad,” as opposed to being decent teams who have caught some bad breaks. Jacksonville’s -60 point differential trails only St. Louis and Kansas City for worst in the NFL, and they’ve managed to score just 72 points in six games (12.0 per game, better than only St. Louis). Facing the Ravens, who are holding teams to just 14.2 points per contest – more than two full points better than the next team – is the definition of a mismatch.

As for Arizona, since barely holding on to beat Cam Newton in his first ever NFL start in Week 1, they’ve lost to the likes of the Redskins, Seahawks, Giants, and Vikings, teams with a combined mark of 10-12.

Two teams that are quarterbacked by rookie Blaine Gabbert and overhyped trade bait Kevin Kolb should be just what the doctor ordered to get the Ravens to 6-1 before their next key divisional clash with the Steelers.

That is, of course, as long as they can avoid another proverbial letdown, not play down to the level of their opponents, and do What’s Important Now – beat a couple of bad football teams.


GOOBVISION from Ravens-Texans Tailgate

October 18, 2011

For the first time since Ravens-Saints last December, Goob and I took to the tailgate lots at M&T Bank Stadium to take in the atmosphere among our fellow purple faithful. Along the way we ran into some old friends, made some new ones, and had a little adventure with a contraption known only as “bongzilla.” Once again, we were reminded that nothing beats partying with Ravens fans. Come along with us as we take in the sights and sounds from Ravens/Texans.

Number 52 Becomes Only Member of 40/30 Club

October 17, 2011

With his sack of Houston Texans’ quarterback Matt Schaub in the first quarter on Sunday, Ray Lewis joined a very exclusive club.

Or, perhaps more accurately, he founded said club.

Lewis became the first player in NFL history to record both 40+ sacks and 30+ interceptions. He and former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison are the only members of the “30/30 club,” but by going over 40 career sacks (he now has 40.5, along with 31 interceptions), Lewis now stands in a class of his own.

It’s just one more distinction for the two-time NFL defensive player of the year and Super Bowl XXXV MVP, who is unquestionably headed for Canton, Ohio when he finally decides to hang up his cleats. At his press conference on Monday afternoon, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh called Lewis “the greatest linebacker to ever play the game.”

While that sort of praise gets thrown around a lot, and makes for great sports bar and talk radio debate, in Lewis’ case it’s not just hyperbole. Ray’s resume speaks for itself.

Greatest. Ever.


October 17, 2011

In the Ravens’ three wins leading up to yesterday’s 29-14 victory over the Houston Texans, they had managed a cumulative turnover margin of +9, forcing 13 while giving up the rock only four times themselves. While impressive, this kind of of takeaway ratio is unfortunately not sustainable; the ball isn’t always just going to bounce into your team’s arms.

Yesterday was a prime example of the law of averages correcting itself against the Ravens. The two teams combined to put the ball on the M&T Bank Stadium turf a total of three times – and each time it bounced right to someone in a white Houston jersey.

Fortunately, the Ravens showed that here in 2011, they are a good enough team to win even when the breaks aren’t going their way. On top of that, they did so by more than two touchdowns over a quality opponent despite being -2 on the day.

It wasn’t necessary as easy as the 29-14 score might lead one to believe, of course.

The Ravens found themselves in a dogfight yesterday, trailing Houston 14-13 with just under nine minutes to play in the third quarter after Matt Schaub found Jacoby Jones for a 32-yard touchdown strike. I’ve been a proponent of starting Bernard Pollard in the strong safety spot over Tom Zbikowski, but on that play we saw the glaring weakness in Pollard’s game – pass coverage – on full display. Pollard abandoned his deep half responsibility, jumping the tight end’s crossing route, which left Ed Reed all alone against Jones. While I obviously don’t know the exact play call there, as Greg Gumbel stated on the CBS broadcast, you have to imagine that’s not how defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano drew it up – with four Ravens covering the tight end while Reed was left 1-on-1 against the Texans’ fastest player.

What you have to love is the way the Ravens responded following that touchdown, outscoring Houston 16-0 over the final 24 minutes.  They did it in explosive fashion, as Joe Flacco connected with Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin for passes of 51 and 56 yards, respectively, on consecutive drives at the end of the third period. What you don’t have to love, however, is that both of those big plays led to just field goals, as the Ravens’ red zone woes continued. They managed just two touchdowns on four tries Sunday, and that is a number that is going to have to improve moving forward.

It was a workmanlike day for Flacco, who finished 20/33 for 305 yards and an interception, despite being under tremendous pressure from the Houston front seven all afternoon (and well into the evening). Though he was sacked only twice, it seemed like every time Joe dropped back he was getting hammered by not just one, but several Texans defenders. As always, Joe bounced right back up, but the protection is another issue that the Ravens need to address in the coming weeks. The good news is that the next two opponents, Jacksonville and Arizona, are tied for 19th in the league with 11 sacks each. We don’t need another gimpy Joe down the stretch like we had in 2009, and with five games left against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Cleveland (not to mention San Francisco) – all teams that can get after the passer – the offensive line is going to need to get their collective act together here as the leaves start to fall.

The Ravens did do something yesterday that we’ve been clamoring to see here for what feels like years – make adjustments on the fly. Word is that, after Ray Rice was stuffed for a five-yard loss on 1st-and-goal from the Houston 10 to end the third quarter, he and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery went to Cam Cameron and implored him to run the ball inside more, and stop trying to get outside on the Houston linebackers. Cam listened, and the result was Rice gaining 62 of his 101 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.

On the other side, Pagano was seeing his defense get torched on third downs at the onset, as Houston converted on five of their first six attempts. Chuck dialed back the blitzes that Schaub was exploiting, and Houston finished the day just 6/16 (37%) on third down attempts (still better than the Ravens’ woeful 3/11, I have to point out).

Finally, I’d be remiss to not mention Billy Cundiff. The steady kicker was 5/5 on field goals, including a season long 48-yarder. Seven of his eight kickoffs went for touchbacks, with most going through the end zone (one all the way to the seats). Cundiff might never make Ravens fans forget local hero Matt Stover, but he has certainly made everybody forget old Steve Hauschka, right?

It wasn’t always pretty, but that 29-14 result sure looks good on the schedule. With Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (WTF?) keeping pace at 4-2, the Ravens did what they had to to hold serve at home against a team they could very well see again in January.

Texans (3-2) @ Ravens (3-1)

October 14, 2011

In a match-up of 3-win teams, the Texans roll into M&T Bank Stadium Sunday to take on the Ravens. Houston will be without their star players on both sides of the ball, WR Andre Johnson on offense and DE/OLB Mario Williams on defense. Matt Bowen of the National Football Post put together a piece last week on how he would attack the Texans on defense without Johnson. Here, I’ll look at how the Ravens are able to comply, personnel and scheme-wise, with his points:

Drop a safety into the box. Use the SS (or the FS with a weak side rotation) to create an eight-man front. The Texans want to see a 7-man front and ride RB Arian Foster, but I’m not going to let that happen. Bring the safety down to limit the production in the downhill running game. If Schaub wants to challenge my secondary, that’s fine, because I’m not going to let Foster consistently move the sticks. Instead, play the run and force Houston into adverse down and distance situations.

So far, so good for the Ravens. They are currently the #2 rush defense in the NFL, holding opposing teams to just 72.5 yards per game. Chris Johnson of the Titans had the most success against them so far this season with his 76 yards on the ground. With Tom Zbikowski likely to miss the game after suffering a concussion two weeks ago, former Texan Bernard Pollard will fill in at his strong safety spot. Pollard is a run-stuffing and blitz specialist, and does his best work down in the box. On top of that, he’ll be eager to “crush some bones” of running back Arian Foster and his other former teammates.

Play press-coverage on the outside with a single-high safety in the middle of the field (Think Cover 1 here). I’m going to tell my corners to play with an outside shade, get hands on the WRs at the line of scrimmage and challenge them to beat press-looks. Without Johnson in the game to convert routes down the field, I have no issue playing aggressively vs. Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones. Funnel the WRs to my help in the middle of the field.

While it would have been nice to have Jimmy Smith, the Ravens’ only prototypical press corner, back on the field, he will miss his fourth straight game. I was encouraged to see both Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams playing a lot of press against the Jets though, and they should be able to have success against Walter and Jones. Ed Reed is obviously the best single-high safety to have back there; that is, as long as he stays disciplined and doesn’t gamble too much, leaving Williams or Webb exposed against the speedy Jones.

Use the blitz fronts—both zone and man. With Johnson on the field, you can get caught if the blitz doesn’t get home. Here, I’m going to take some risks. And when I get into some third and medium situations (3rd and 4-7), I might have to play some Cover 0 (blitz-man with no safety help). Align the corners with an inside shade (in an off-man position) and send seven and eight-man pressure. Plus, when I go zone pressure, use some CB “Cats” (CB blitz) and get creative.

Think Chuck Pagano likes to blitz? Ever since the first touchdown his defense allowed this season, on a play where they used the Mattison 3-man rush against Pittsburgh, the first year defensive coordinator has chosen to err on the side of pressure more often than not. He’s had two weeks to draw up some creative new blitzes, and Matt Schaub will hardly recognize the defense he sees Sunday compared to the one he faced last December at Reliant Stadium. He’s much tougher to rattle than the Jets’ Mark Sanchez, and Houston’s offensive line is one of the best in the game though. This will be a key battle. If the Ravens are able to get pressure and force turnovers and 3-and-outs, they’ll win handily. If Schaub continually beats their blitz, we could have another shootout on our hands.

Take away the TE position. This is where I expect Schaub to work the ball. If I see production, then I bring my sub package on the field (nickel) and use an extra corner on Owen Daniels. Take away the short to intermediate route tree inside of the numbers. Even without Johnson, the TEs in Houston still can cause issues vs. a safety or a LB in coverage. Might have to make an adjustment there.

This is where I worry most about the Ravens’ defense against the Texans’ offense: Daniels and fellow tight end Joel Dreesen against the Baltimore linebackers, who are great against the run and when bringing pressure, but suspect in coverage. Ray Lewis especially, but Jameel McClain nor Dannell Ellerbe do much to inspire confidence either. Daniels is a mismatch whether the Ravens put a linebacker, safety, or cornerback on him. On the other hand, I completely expected Jets’ tight end Dustin Keller to have a field day in B’More as well, and he was totally shut down. Again, here it’s going to come down to pressure. Don’t give Schaub time to find his tight ends, just as we saw with Sanchez and Keller.

Have to play some coverage. I am looking at 2-Man and even some Tampa 2 when I have the Texans in 3rd and long situations. This is where you will see the deep dig, some combination routes and vertical concepts to move the sticks. Daniels can work the middle of the field vs. Tampa 2, so I am going to lean towards 2-Man. Underneath man-coverage with the defender playing inside with a trail-technique.

The Ravens aren’t a Tampa 2 team. Ray Lewis doesn’t have the speed to get deep enough any more for this type of scheme (not that it was ever really his specialty). Instead, I expect to see big blitzes on most of Houston’s 3rd-and-long situations. If Schaub beats the blitz a couple times, we could see some 2-Man, but as mentioned above, Pollard is at his best when he is moving downhill, not backpedaling.

Since this preview is already over the 1000-word mark (Thanks, Matt Bowen!), just some brief comments on the Ravens’ offense. If Schaub won’t recognize the defense he sees Sunday, Flacco certainly will not either. The Texans, who had the league’s 31st ranked defense when the Ravens went to Houston last season, now boast the #7 D in the league under new coordinator Wade Phillips. The blitzing 3-4 scheme, though, is very similar to the ones Flacco faces against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and in practice every day.

The status of both Lee Evans and Ben Grubbs is very much up-in-the-air for Sunday, a disappointment given that most expected these two back on the field after the bye week. Andre Gurode has played well in Grubbs’ stead, but the Ravens’ running game is still limited without the former Auburn Tiger. After exploding against the St. Louis Rams, Torrey Smith was marooned on Revis Island two weeks ago, catching just one pass for one yard. If Evans can’t go, Smith needs to have a bounce back game.

Flacco faces his old nemesis, former Cincinnati cornerback Jonathan Joseph, who has intercepted Joe in three of the last four games. Joseph will likely be shadowing Anquan Boldin all afternoon. As always, Ray Rice needs to be the centerpiece of the Ravens’ attack, both in the running and passing games. While Houston held Oakland running back Darren McFadden to only 51 yards, the Raiders still averaged 4.3 yards per running play. Let’s hope Cam Cameron spent the bye week doing some soul-searching, and doesn’t stubbornly continue to try to force the pass if it’s not working.

As we discussed earlier this week, the Ravens have been very reliable coming off of bye weeks under John Harbaugh. Add to that their home dominance since 2008 (21-5) and playing in front of a rapid purple crowd that hasn’t seen football in two weeks, and the Ravens should be too much for a depleted Texans roster to handle.

Ravens 24 Texans 13

P.S. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Derrick Mason is back again. LOL.

Want to be in the Next GOOBVISION?

October 13, 2011

This weekend not only marks the return of the Ravens from their bye week, but the return of the tailgate version of GOOBVISION!

Goob is coming up from Raleigh this weekend to take in Ravens-Texans, and will be traveling all over the M&T Bank Stadium tailgate lots prior to the game talking to Ravens fans and Texans fans (if we can find any) alike. If you want to be in the next GOOBVISION – or if you just want to have a cold one with the guy that’s quickly becoming one of the most recognizable Ravens fans around behind Captain Defense and Sports Steve – let us know!

Send Goob a tweet (@RavenManiac) and let us know where you’ll be (you can try tweeting at me but it will be futile as I remain in the stone ages cell phone-wise)! We’ll do our best to get to as many tailgate groups as possible.

Or, if you see the guy walking around with a camera, microphone, and beak hat, don’t be shy! Call us on over and let’s talk Ravens. We promise not to drink ALL your beer.

GOOBVISION: Texans @ Ravens

October 13, 2011

In this week’s GOOBVISION, it’s a reunion of sorts. Some of your favorite GOOB-lebrities from GOOBVISIONS past make their returns, including Rex Ryan, Bill Belichick, Tony Sparano, and good ol’ Cletus Kelly. It will take a great meeting of the minds such as this to have any prayer of figuring out what in the Sam hell a “Houston Texan” is.

Secondary Still Thin as Carr, J.Smith Miss Practice

October 12, 2011

It looks like at least two of the five guys we singled out as being most important for the Ravens to get back on the field moving forward aren’t going to see the field this week against Houston. Both Jimmy Smith and Chris Carr were absent from the portions of Wednesday’s practice open to the media today, according to several reporters.

On the one hand, it’s disappointing that the team will still be extremely thin in the secondary, especially against a high-powered offense like the Houston Texans. On the other hand, though, it’s most important to get Carr and Smith 100% healthy before they take the field again and risk re-aggravating their existing injuries. Not to mention that Houston will be without All-World wide receiver Andre Johnson this week, which takes considerable pressure off the B’More back line. The fact that the Ravens travel to Jacksonville – whose passing game scares nobody – next week before coming back home to face another potentially explosive air attack in the Arizona Cardinals also relieves a bit of the urgency to get those guys back right now. In addition, it wasn’t all bad news in the secondary, as Haruki Nakamura was able to practice.

The Ravens should be OK this week and next without Carr or Smith. It’s imperative, however, to get them back for the critical Week 9 contest in Pittsburgh.

The other two guys from our “gotta get ’em back” list, Ben Grubbs and Lee Evans, were on the field Wednesday, so let’s be hopeful that they are able to continue practicing pain-free throughout the week and that they can suit up on Sunday.