The Cost of Violence.

Like a lot of people in our country, I’m a big proponent of watching football on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, and even Thursdays. The first NFL game I ever watched just happened to be the first Super Bowl played between America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys… and that team from Buffalo. Not to make it sound like I favored the Cowboys, it’s just at the time I didn’t know I was supposed to hate them.

Just like I hate the Patriots. Not to mention the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s taken a lot of time, patience, studying and stat-watching to figure out the ways of professional football. It was like a shining light when I finally could watch games and understand nearly everything that’s going on. A moment of clarity in a world filled with uncertainties. I could tell the difference between a horse-collar tackle, unsportsmanlike conduct, a clean hit, and a reasonably assumed penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact.

I thought I knew what’s legal and what’s not. I was badly mistaken.

As you already well know if you read this blog on a regular basis, I am a big fan of the Baltimore Ravens. I’m guilty of being biased as much as any other REAL fan of another team, so it’s not like I am promising neutrality or anything. Anyone who watches games in our division, the AFC North, knows that we play big boy football. Physical, grinding football, as much as that is possible in today’s turbulent, changing times.

We aren’t talking about the jewels of North America here, like New York City, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, or anywhere else you’d think of when taking your next vacation. You go to Baltimore if you want to eat crabs (or get crabs), buy drugs or squat in abandoned row-housing. You go to Cincinnati if you are lost and it’s the closest city with a hotel, or you are a locally born-raised Ohio native (who thinks Cincy is considered a big city). You go to Pittsburgh if you like Primanti Bros. sandwiches (big ass sandwiches stuffed w/ fries & coleslaw), if you just got here to America (like my parents did.) or if you still somehow earn a living making American steel. As for Cleveland, I can’t really think of too many reasons to go there unless your European ancestors settled the area. These cities are called ‘The Rust Belt’ for a reason.

All jokes aside, the main reason people come to my lovely city is either they’re stuck here because of work or family, and because of serious football. Ask any real Ravens fan who they’re favorite player is and I guarantee they’ll be able to tell you his jersey number, what position he plays, his first AND last name, and his stats this season. None of that bandwagon bullshit (“I’m from West Virginia but my friend likes the Cowboys so I like the Cowboys! Go Toby Romo!”). Here in Baltimore, there’s a common saying we use. ‘Ain’t shit to do around here so let’s get fucked up.’ Sad but true. That’s why our football is so important to us, and why we don’t care much for these fancy new rules changing our sport. At least I don’t.

Fancy new rules, what’s he talking about? If you watch football, anyone and their non-NFL watching mother can tell you that shit has changed over the past few years. Just a few days ago, the world watched as the AFC/NFC Divisional games set a record for most points scored in a single weekend. Denver and Baltimore combined to score 10 touchdowns and 73 total points. Houston and New England scored 69 total points. None of that happened because of luck or coincidence. Defense’s are being flagged for anything and everything. Quarterbacks and Kickers are nearly untouchable. Entire jobs are being erased that have been in the game since the very beginning. Something has to be done before this game is ruined forever (Then what am I going to do, watch hockey? pfft).

Ed Reed is a prime example of these changes. As a safety, Reed’s job since the day he was drafted was to provide deep coverage, almost like an outfielder in baseball. Anyone throwing the ball down the field knows that he will be waiting for them, either with a big hit or an interception. His job description is to stifle opposing offenses with fear, forcing them to rethink their game plan. If your a Ravens fan, you already know all the crap he’s had to deal with, including a number of legal hits that were penalized regardless. He’s not the only one guilty of laying the law down in Baltimore. Bernard Pollard, Ray Lewis, and a number of our defensive backs have all been flagged or fined for [hitting defenseless receivers]. Let’s explore this little rule, shall we?

There is NO SUCH THING as a defenseless receiver. That may not be 100% true, but it’s closer than you think, maybe 98 or 97% true. Before this ridiculous rule was implemented (or enforced), wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs were defending themselves just fine. Quarterbacks are taught not to put the ball where it will get their receiver killed, like up high over the middle when a linebacker is charging from 10 years away. With the change in rules/enforcement, all of a sudden QBs are putting the ball wherever they want too, possibly hoping to draw a flag. Ed Reed is good at hitting people like a ton of bricks without using his helmet. So if it’s considered a legal hit, and the receiver he just blew up purposefully left himself defenseless, why is he the one getting flagged. Enough with the flopping, ok?

This is not the only problem, and definitely not an isolated incident. Offenses are pushing off, hand-fighting, chop blocking and anything else they can get away with. If both the receiver and defensive back are pushing/holding each other, 75% of the time the defensive player gets called for pass interference. How is that interference when both players have an equal right to the football? These flags are bad enough to change the course of a game, especially when 3rd or 4th downs are turning into 5/15 yards and a 1st down, completely at the mercy of biased officials. I ask myself all the time how league officials could allow this travesty to occur.

After careful consideration, this is what I have come up with:

1. Offenses, especially passing touchdowns, bring more fans to the stadium. This means more tickets sold, more direct TV packages, more concessions, etc.

2. The commissioner, Roger Goodell, and his cronies are in cahoots with the large market teams. Pittsburgh, Dallas, New York, San Francisco, these are teams that have fans across the country. If these teams do well, more people will watch. This means higher ratings, which in turn, leads to more lucrative TV contracts, advertisement money, etc.

3. Nothing in the world will remove the looming danger of concussions from the game of football. To actually limit dangerous activities to the point where players can’t get concussions would mean changing the sport until it’s unrecognizable. Why don’t they have players sign liability/injury waivers, and let them go back to their barbaric ways of yore.

4. The players union claims that many retired players should get royalties, free insurance, a pension fund, etc. The minimum salary for a rookie is $405,000 this season (as of 2013). The average salary for any NFL player is OVER $1.9 million(as of 2011). You give me either amount of money and I guarantee I will be able to pay my own insurance/start my own retirement fund. It’s the players own own fault if they can’t invest their huge incomes wisely.

5.  Only real fans of football could watch a theoretical game with a final score of 6-3. I’m not talking about two inept teams that are just unable to score points. I’m talking about two teams filled with brutish, violent ogres on defense. Can you imagine the physical battle, blood-stained jerseys and a test of sheer willpower. Dominating your opponents with a gap-toothed smile, rain and mud flying as bodies slam into each other and the ground like bulging sacks of meat. If you can’t envision, or enjoy, this spectacle in your imagination, real football isn’t for you.

So go back to your Banana Daiquiri, sipping it delicately through a twisty straw. Perhaps you should watch figure skating, or gymnastic floor routines. It’s not like I have anything against watching men spinning around in spandex on ice skates, or Gabby Douglas  flying around like a tiny squirrel across a floor mat.. it just isn’t football. If your jersey is clean, either your opponents aren’t very good, or more likely you ain’t doin’ it right. That’s what I think about finesse football.

The best example of what could happen to professional football is probably Arena Football. It’s kind of like NFL or NCAA football except the field is only 50 yards, it’s always indoors, and there are padded walls instead of boundary lines on each side. If you haven’t seen it yet, Arena Football is very exciting to watch. There’s a ton of offense, and very little defense. Players often hit the padded boundary lines, jumping or getting tackled into the bleachers. A lot of people who didn’t make it in the NFL or can’t play professionally anymore end up in the AFL, like Terrell Owens. Nobody bets on AFL games, there’s no high drama, it’s kinda like a pick-up game except that they get paid and they have fans. There is no draft, and I doubt many people even know when their championship is played.

This is the future I foresee for the NFL if it doesn’t shape up quickly. The reason the game is so successful is because the rules are enforced, the stage doesn’t get any bigger, statistics are carefully kept and tradition/history is honored. There is no bigger sport in the world. From Vince Lombardi to Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman to Tom Brady, heroes are immortalized for all eternity. The more we change the sport, from taking away kickoffs to changing the rules, adding games or changing playoff format, the farther away we move from the original, unadulterated version of football.

 

 

Something stinks like Bronco Manure in Baltimore.

You heard me right. Joe Flacco is stinking up the joint like he was Kyle Boller, circa. 2004.

I say this with love, hoping that the best Baltimore Ravens QB in franchise history somehow sees this(except for Steve McNair in 2006, but that was a fluke). As of today, December 17th, 2012, The hometown Ravens have dropped 3 games in a row, including 2 at home!  This is almost unheard of, especially not in the past few years.

Before the 20-17 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that started this losing skid, against a 3rd string back-up that hasn’t played a meaningful down in the last decade, the Ravens had won 16 home games in a row. We took the Steelers game at 3 Rivers Stadium, we were perfect against divisional opponents, and had a chance to lock up the divisional crown before week 11. Everything was looking perfect, almost as if Joe Flacco and the Cam Cameron(I shudder as I type his name) led-offense were finally able to take over for our newly suspect defense.

…Yes, that defense. The vaunted Baltimore D that has finished no worse than 3rd in the league for the past decade. We were counting on our offense to finally take that next step, to finally join the elite offenses of the league. Like Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, Drew Brees and New Orleans Saints, or even Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers of 2009. Well that didn’t happen.

Our defense can’t get out of 1st gear, with notable injuries across the board. MLB and Defensive Captain Ray Lewis is drinking his magic ‘juice’ by the gallon, hoping to come back this season and actually have an impact. Even though he didn’t earlier this season when he was healthy, AND’ he’s almost 80. Pro Bowl CB Lardarius Webb is out for the season with a torn ACL,  DE Terrell Suggs is playing even though he’s not even fully recovered from his injury this summer, and DT Haloti Ngata is pretty banged up on the defensive line. You gotta give him credit for playing anyways.

If your not familiar with Baltimore football, just for the record, that’s 4 Pro-Bowlers, 3 of which are All-Pros, 1 of which is the reigning defensive player of the year, while the other has won multiple DPoY awards. I don’t care if you buy into the next man up routine or not, your defense has a 0% chance of playing at a higher or even equal level when you lose that many star players on one side of the field.

Pro Bowl S Ed Reed(shoulder), CB Jimmy Smith(abdomen), WR Torrey Smith(concussion), TE Ed Dickson(knee), S  Bernard Pollard(chest), FB Vonta Leach(ankle), DT Arthur Jones(shoulder), Pernell McPhee(thigh), Dannell Ellerbe(ankle) and Jameel McClain(neck), WR Jacoby Jones(ankle), and both starting running backs, Bernard Pierce(back) & Ray Rice(hip) round out the list of significant injuries.

So was I really surprised at how badly the entire team played last Sunday? Not really. It was like I was waiting all year for the other shoe to drop, and what better time to drop a stink bomb than against the reinvigorated Denver Broncos, led by Peyton Manning. Coming into the game, we already knew what would happen if we fell behind against a QB of his caliber, and we still let it happen. It was almost like watching a scrimmage between the Alabama Crimson Tide and a first year Pop Warner team. The Ravens were dominated, out-played, out-coached, and basically unprepared on both sides of the ball.

What I’d like to address, however, is the State of the Football Team. Consider this, we just fired our head offensive coordinator, Cam, who had been with Flacco ever since he got drafted. Our defense is completely maimed with injuries, while our offensive line wasn’t great to begin with, even worse now that Pro Bowl OG Marshal Yanda is hurt as well. Even when the team is relatively     healthy, Peyton Manning has beaten them 8 times in a row. Well 9 times in a row as of yesterday.

Personally, I’m going to reserve judgement for the end of the season.  Joe Cool has had his share of good and bad games this year, typically good at home, and bad on the road. The fact remains that he’s still the best option we’ve got, the best and most consistent QB in Raven’s history, and far too valuable to risk losing on the open market. Desperate teams like the Cardinals, Chargers, Raiders, Jets and Bills will be more than happy to toss a tall stack of hundreds at him. Hopefully the play calling gets better on both sides of the ball.

Dean Pees, this is my opinion. Get your act together. If your players can’t tackle, and they can’t defense against the run or pass straight up, your probably going to need to gamble to win the game. Take some chances, the worst thing that happens is you give up some extra points. That’s already happening so you might as well try to do something differently. If too many starting defensive players are injured, go sign some free-agents. It’s not like our team doesn’t have the money. Just stop making excuses and adapt your game plans.

Jim Caldwell, I heard your really good at working with quarterbacks. Maybe you aren’t cut out to be a head coach, but it’s time you take a relatively smart, strong, athletic, young QB like Flacco and turn him into a Manning or a Brady. We’re not asking you to work miracles, I’ll be happy to accept 2 passing touchdowns per game, along with 0 fumbless and 0 interceptions. Also, can you please tell Joe not to hold the ball so damn long? It’s hard to watch when he has that furrowed brow/slack jaw expression, right before he throws a pick-6 from inside the red zone. If he can’t find anyone open, tell him to dive ahead for 3 yards, or throw the frickin’ ball at someone’s feet.

With the Steelers losing last night to the Cowboys in overtime, the Ravens still look good to win the division. If Flacco & Company manage to win their remaining 2 games against the New York Football Giants and the Cincinnati Bengals, we’re pretty much guaranteed  a home game and even a possible bye week. We own the tie-breaker over the Patriots, so we still control our own destiny.

Let’s keep it that way, one game at a time.

 

~Wong_83@Hotmail.com

Rating and Comparing the AFC North. [Offseason Edition]

Just a quick update on how I feel the AFC North is shaping up this year.

As has been most often the case in terms of the past decade, the AFC North is once again most likely a two horse race, what with the Cleveland Browns and the Cinncinnati Bengals having severe deficiencies in one or more categories.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the most revered and ancient of all the current NFL franchises, has won two championships in the past decade. The Baltimore Ravens, one of the youngest expansion teams, has taken home one. For two very different franchises there seem to be a number of striking similarities.

As offseason workouts come to an end and with training camp looming, this is how I see the two elite teams and the other two teams in the AFC North shaping up.


Baltimore Ravens:
Predicted Finish 10-6 or 11-5

Key Additions: RG Michael Oher, CB Domonique Foxworth

Key Losses: S Jim Leonhard, CB Chris McAllister, LB Bart Scott, DC Rex Ryan

Key Weaknesses: Wide Receivers

With the departure of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan and Star-LB Bart Scott, the defense is under a ton of pressure this season to continue to perform at a high level this season. Defensive captain and stalwart LB Ray Lewis returns, as does Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, helping ease the transition.

On offense, the only major weakness on paper seems to be the WR position, with the only consistent option being venerable veteran WR Derrick Mason. QB Joe Flacco and our trio of RBs have looked good in offseason workouts and voluntary sessions so far. First round pick RG Michael Oher was a complete steal at the 23rd pick and has looked very mature in quickly picking up the playbook this offseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Predicted Finish 10-6 or 11-5

Key Additions: DT Evander Hood, WR Shaun McDonald, WR Mike Wallace

Key Departures: WR Nate Washington, LB Larry Foote, CB Fernando Bryant, CB Bryant McFadden

Key Weaknesses: Wide Receivers, Offensive Line

Even with the success of winning the NFL championship last season, the Steelers enter this season with needs at the WR, CB and OL positions. Even though Hines Ward has signed a contract extension that will probably keep him in Pittsburgh until retirement, the departure of speedy 3rd WR Nate Washington leaves them without any options other then Ward and Santonio Holmes.

At CB, the retirement of recently re-signed CB Fernando Bryant and the loss of  CB Bryant McFadden leaves question marks at the position. To counter this the Steelers drafted CB Joe Burnett in the 5th round.

The O-line is the largest question mark or weakness on the entire roster. Last season, the Steelers O-line gave up over 40 sacks, an unheard of number for a championship-caliber team. The Steelers re-signed franchise player Max Starks but little else other then to draft OT Kraig Urbik in the 3rd round. If the O-line doesn’t get any better this season, the Steelers will find themselves in a world of trouble.

Cinncinnati Bengals: Predicted Finish 7-9

Key Additions: OT Andre Smith, LB Rey Maualaluga, WR Laveranues Coles

Key Losses: G Stacy Andrews, WR TJ Houshmandzadeh

Key Weaknesses: DL, CB, S, LB

As bad as it may seem in the state of Ohio, there IS hope in Cinncinnati this season. I say that with the utmost conviction, even though it would obviously be detrimental to the Ravens for them to do well.

The offense has quietly become better over the past couple months, mainly due to Star-QB Carson Palmer finally returning from injury.  He has looked good in offseason workouts and his return, in addition to new WR Lavernaues Coles, only bodes well for WR Chad Ochocinco and the rest of the Bengals offense.

As for the entire defensive part of the Bengals roster, it remains to be seen whether they can play better then they did last season. The addition of LB Rey Maualaluga and DE Michael Johnson in this year’s draft is a step in the right direction and should give them at least a semblance of an improved pass rush. Either way, the defense remains the Bengals Achilles heel and will be the primary basis to how the team finishes in ’09.

Cleveland Browns: Predicted Finish 5-11

Key Additions: C Alex Mack, WR Brian Robiskie, WR Mohamed Massaquoi

Key Departures: TE Kellen Winslow Jr, WR Donte Stallworth, CB Roderick Hood

Key Weaknesses: Quarterback, Wide Receiver, Cornerback

It all comes down to question marks for this troubled team. There are so many question marks that I have limited my review to just the largest of them, including the big one at the QB position. Even as we begin to enter training camp, the Browns are still deciding whether QB Derek Anderson or QB Brady Quinn will be the starter this upcoming season.

Other then that, WR and TE appear to be of major concern to new head coach Eric Mangini and the Browns organization. The departure of their most consistent receiving option TE Kellen Winslow Jr. to Tampa and the loss of WRs Joe Jurevicius and Donte Stallworth greatly depleted the team’s depth. The only remaining starting option is drop-prone WR Braylon Edwards. Hopefully the addition of Massaquoi and Robiskie in the draft will help alleviate some concern.

The CB position stands out as one of the weakest parts of the roster, even among an inconsistent defense as a whole. The only impact moves the Browns made in free-agency and the draft to address this was to sign former-Cardinal/Eagle CB Roderick Hood, former-Raven backup-CB Corey Ivy and to draft rookie-CBs Coye Francies and Don Carey in the 6th round. I don’t have a ton of faith that this will really improve the defensive backfield a great deal.

In review the Bengals, the Ravens and the Steelers all have at least a shot of winning the division crown or at worst earning a wild-card berth. Of these three teams, the Ravens and Steelers are head and shoulders above the others in terms of team chemistry, depth and raw unadulterated talents.

The Browns, seemingly as usual, find themselves on the wrong side of the fence in terms of question marks and lack of battle-tested talent. It’s not that they don’t have a chance to surprise some good teams this year, it’s just that it would be surprising to just about anyone if they manage to win 8 games this season.

-Mikey, Wong_83@hotmail.com