State of the Franchise: Baltimore Ravens 3/30/13

A few quick updates on our beloved Super Bowl XLVII Champion Baltimore Ravens.

Things are not NEARLY as bad as everyone thought only a few short weeks ago. The sky is not falling, the Ravens are rebuilding but not in bad shape at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest fan of the Boldin to San Francisco trade (more on this later), nor the release of Bernard Pollard or Ed Reed. I just realize that there will always be turnover each year, just like the NFL analysts and the radio show hosts are saying. Get with the program, our team will still compete for the AFC North crown with Pittsburgh and *cough* Cincinnati. So relax.

1. Furthermore, I have to say I like many of the free-agent signings so far this offseason. Michael Huff, the versatile former 1st-round draft pick out of Texas, has a ton of potential and can be very good in Baltimore. He’s far from a lock Hall of Famer like Ed Reed is but at this point in their respective careers, I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s going to play a lot better than he did in Oakland. He might even make the Pro Bowl if our defensive line can generate any pass rush this year.

2. Chris Canty is another big acquisition this offseason. I seem to remember him being a pretty big deal a few years back when he got traded from Dallas to New York. I think that was 2009 or 2010. Either way, he’s definitely a good defensive lineman, better in run-support than pass-rush, and I’m pretty sure he’s got at least a few more good years in the tank. If you don’t really understand what kind of player he was previously, only 3-4 years ago he was worth $42 million to the Giants. He JUST turned 30. Unlike wide receiver or cornerback or ESPECIALLY running back, the big uglies in the middle of the field don’t suddenly go bad, they often play into their mid or even late 30s.

3. F*#k Paul Kruger. He can go eat a bag of baby dicks in Cleveland. For all of you who thought he was such a huge loss this offseason, I promise you never even heard of him until really the beginning of this season. He was a huge bust for like 3 years of his rookie contract coming out of Utah. So either he was lazy as shit and just underwhelmed with his play for several years or was too stupid and just took that long to figure out our defense. Either way he’s the Browns problem now. Here, let me make it real simple for you:

Paul Kruger is 27 years old. In 4 seasons he has a total of 15.5 sacks regular season, 6.0 sacks postseason. Since 9.0 regular season and 4 postseason sacks all happened this season, he only had 6.5 and 2.0 through 3 whole seasons. Combine that with how bad he truly is in run-support and you can see why I’m not really all that stressed over losing him. He’s costing Cleveland $40 million dollars/5 years!

“One year of decent pass rush does not a star defensive end make.”

Elvis Dumervil is 29 years old. in 7 seasons he has 63.5 sacks regular season, 1.5 sacks postseason. 5 out of 7 seasons he’s had at LEAST 8.5 sacks, including 17 in just 2019!!! Look up the definition of reliable pass-rushing defensive end and there’s a picture of Dumervil next to it. Nobody in the league short of Jared Allen, Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware or Terrell Suggs gets to the QB as often as he does. Guess how much we got him for? $26 million base or $35 million max, contributing only $2.5 million towards this years salary cap.

Who would you take, Kruger for 40 mill over 5 years or Dumervil for 35 mill over 5 years. Enough said.

4. Let’s talk about Anquan Boldin for a minute. This is the guy who dominated the Super Bowl this season, the guy who caught 6 TDs this postseason. Boldin is a large, powerful possession-type receiver who is hard to tackle and even harder to bring down. That kind of receiver can be quite effective in the NFL for a long time, especially when he’s comfortable in an offensive system with a good Quarterback. So WHY the F#$K did we give him to San Francisco for peanuts?!?! Answer me that!!

Ok, now that I’ve calmed down, slightly, let me explain. Keep in mind that I might not have access to all relevant information involving Boldin’s contract, cap numbers or terms of the trade. This is what I think:

Boldin would have costed Baltimore around $6 million dollars this season, which would mean 6 million towards our salary cap number. Because he would be an unrestricted free-agent if we refused to pay this number, Ozzie/Harbaugh/Whoever decided to offer him up to San Francisco in return for a) not having to pay him $6 million dollars and b) because we would receive a 6th round draft pick in return. Seriously think about that for a second.

There is nothing wrong with a 6th or even 7th rounder, plenty of decent NFL starters are drafted in the later rounds. At the time Baltimore had next to no salary cap room, and that’s why we gave him away for chump change. The thing is, we’re not talking about Bobbie Williams here or even David Reed, the receiver we did end up resigning, albeit for a lot less money ($2.5 million). This is arguably the best receiver on the team when you consider just how valuable he was during the playoffs if nothing else. Instead of getting all antsy and dumping him for whatever we could get for him at the time, I would have done things way differently.

Instead of accepting that trade offer, a better strategy involves paying him the 6 million we owed him this season, and then initiating trade talks with any number of teams. I’m sure there are plenty of teams who would be willing to give us more than a 6th rounder. Since any team that traded for him would essentially be picking up his tab, the $6 mill that we couldn’t afford to pay him wouldn’t have been a problem anyways. Or we could have just kept him, especially since we made so many other moves to free up cap space later anyways.

5. Quickly running through the projected starting lineup. This is how I see things in terms of positional value at this very moment. I’m sure things will fluctuate all the way up until opening day, so in no way is this issue settled:

Quarterbacks: A+ Starting QB Joe Flacco is coming off his best season ever, culminating with a world championship for the team and a Super Bowl MVP award for himself. You couldn’t ask for much more from your QB. Back-up QB Tyrod Taylor is, well, Tyrod Taylor. He’s not great at anything in particular, except for scrambling around during the preseason. It’s not like we ever use him anyways, knock on wood.

Running Backs: A+ Ray Rice is still one of the premier backs in the league, regardless of a minor case of fumblitis during the playoffs. He should still have a few good years left in the tank, especially since his back-up Bernard Pierce is looking like a capable starter himself. Hopefully both will stay healthy and be a steadying veteran influence on the many new players joining the team this offseason. There are several other young backs on the team, such as Bobby Rainey, trying to make the team but they are trying to make the final roster. There’s always hope that one of them can help the team, maybe. FB Vonta Leach is still on the team too. He is a gigantic part of our running game and continues to play at a Pro Bowl-level, despite the NFL’s numerous attempts to eradicate the position.

Wide Receivers: C+ Torrey Smith will be the primary option now that Boldin is playing for San Francisco. He has become an exceptional player over the past couple years, bringing elite speed and above average route running to the table. Jacoby Jones will help him stretch the field, using his speed and quickness for other things besides Dancing with the Stars. David Reed was re-signed during the off-season and will compete for playing time w/ Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams, Tommy Streeter and several other players that have thus far failed to make an impact. Luckily we’ve got over a dozen draft picks AND we’re solid at the tight end position.

Tight Ends: B+ Both of our impact tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, are restricted free agents this season. We’ll get Dickson back since he already signed his tender but Pitta is still up in the air for the moment. Tight ends that can take advantage of mismatches are in high demand, especially those with a history of making big plays in the postseason like him. If we somehow escape free agency with both, the Ravens will be in pretty decent shape in terms of receiving options. If all else fails, we still have uh… Billy Bajema, Alex Silvestro, and Steve Watson? 😛

Offensive Line: B For some reason, Michael Oher is still with the team. Ever since the Blind Side came out, he has been one of the most overrated players in the league. He will NEVER be the franchise left tackle the Ravens thought we would be when they drafted him out of Mississippi, contrary to what Hollywood says. Having said that, I am still overwhelmingly impressed with how the O-line blocked during the playoffs. They should staple Oher to the ground at right tackle. Bryant McKinnie, the incredible bulk, looked like a new man after being benched and embarrassed during the regular season. Marshal Yanda continues to play at a Pro Bowl-level, while Kelechi Osemele will be even better with a year (and a Super Bowl ring) under his belt. Gradkowski is in for some “Welcome to the NFL”-moments this year at Center, while everyone else will battle for playing time while continuing to provide depth. If you asked me this question before the playoffs, I would have given a very different answer. As it stands though, I’m actually ok with this group of relatively young men.

PS: KEEP MICHAEL OHER @ RIGHT TACKLE. Or cut him, whichever.

Defensive Line: B- Star Defensive Tackle Haloti Ngata should move back in the middle, surrounded by Chris Canty, Arthur Jones, Marcus Spears, Pernell McPhee, etc. That doesn’t sound TOO bad. I’m obviously not 100% sure about how good this group will be since games are won on the field, not on paper. Canty and Spears are new acquisitions and will need time to get comfortable. They might not be accustomed to playing Baltimore defense, which is more aggressive, and more physical than anywhere outside of the AFC North. Players need time to play instinctively, or as a team. The primary objective of this group will mostly be to take on blockers and stop the run so that our linebackers can flow to the ball.

Linebackers: A- Speaking of which, our star linebackers appear to be all set to make plays all over the field. Close your eyes and imagine a back to 100% Terrell Suggs on one side, elite pass rusher Elvis Dumervil on the other side, with Courtney Upshaw, Jameel McClain, and Albert McClellan rotating in the middle. Even before adding anyone else through free agency or the draft, our linebackers look pretty solid. There’s plenty of potential fireworks in this group, as long as they can figure out how to work together. We still have to find Ray Lewis’s heir apparent but with 12+ draft picks already, it won’t be as difficult as many people think. We don’t need a Hall of Fame-caliber middle linebacker, at least not at the moment, we just need someone who can get the job done for now.

Cornerbacks/Safeties: C+ Did anyone see Jimmy Smith during the Super Bowl? The former 1st round pick out of Colorado made two of the biggest plays of the game, solidifying the Ravens trust & faith in his abilities. If you don’t know which two plays I’m talking about, go watch the 4th quarter, you’ll figure it out. Jimmy-boy still has a long way before I will consider him a dependable starter on Baltimore’s defense but luckily he won’t have to do everything by himself. Cary Williams is long gone, having taken a job in Philly to the tune of $17 million over 3 years. Lardarius Webb (aka: Webbie) is on schedule to make it to training camp. When he’s healthy he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player, which will take some of the pressure off losing Williams, Ed Reed AND Bernard Pollard. Corey Graham is coming back too, and he played well enough to warrant a starting gig last season. Hopefully between free agency and the upcoming draft, we’ll find some upgrades for the defensive backfield.

Special Teams: A+ This is the best Special Teams group in the entire country. Period. There might have been games where the Ravens gave up some big plays or missed a field goal, but that happens to every team. Both of our kickers, punter Sam Koch and kicker Justin Tucker, are as good and confident as they get. Koch already has a few Pro Bowls under his belt, while Tucker will get his share if he continues to play like he did last season (He got ROBBED by Phil Dawson BTW). Jacoby Jones was the best kick returner in the NFL last year, even over the usual suspects like Devin Hester or Josh Cribbs. Baltimore’s coverage unit continues to be led by Pro Bowl Special Teams-Ace Brendan Ayanbadejo.

To put that in perspective, Pro Bowl-caliber Punter, Pro Bowl-caliber Kicker (check his stats! honestly!), Pro Bowl-caliber kick returner, AND Pro Bowl-caliber coverage gunner. You can’t really beat that, but I dare you to try.

That’s pretty much all I got for today. Feel free to voice your agreements and complaints alike, it’s not like I honestly care what anyone thinks about my beloved Ravens anyways but I’d love to hear what everyone has to say. Opinions are like chocolate cake, they can go fudge themselves. I’m just kidding, I must be tired or something.

~Michael

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Contact me @ Wong_83@Hotmail.com OR message me @ Kyarnboy.Wordpress.com

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Congratulations Baltimore, the newly minted 2012 World Champions!

This is my shout-out to the 2012 World Champion Baltimore Ravens, the best team in the NFL. Finally you did it! Against all odds, you got to the mountain top, taking the hardest possible route through the playoffs to boot. All I can say is WOW. You did it for us, you did it for Ray Lewis, and you did it for Ed Reed. This is just a list of thoughts I’ve been gathering for such an occasion, I figured there’s no better time to share them with y’all than right now, while the memories are still fresh and the celebration is still rampaging through Maryland. In CatonsvilleArbutusBaltimore CityReisterstown, Columbia, Ellicott City, Turf Valley, Glen Burnie, Pasadena, Clarksville, Silver SpringWhite Marsh, Bel Air, and everywhere in between, the streets filled with Purple & Black flags, streamers, hoodies, jerseys, hats and anything else that the team can put their stamp on. So what should we remember from this historic trip through the playoffs? Here’s 10 things I took away from our romp through the playoffs.

1. Can anyone else in the modern era say they went through Tom Brady & Peyton Manning to get to the Super Bowl? That’s a combined 7 Super Bowl appearances, 4 Super Bowls, 3 Super Bowl MVP awards, and 6 Regular Season MVP awards between them.

2. Nobody can deny Joe Flacco his Elite-status any longer. 11 Touchdowns, 0 Interceptions in 4 Postseason games. I think that speaks for itself.

3. Baltimore’s defense, the same defense that struggled the entire regular season, was also the main reason we just won the championship. It still wasn’t as dominant as it’s been in past seasons but came up big on numerous occasions against Indianapolis, against Denver in overtime, definitely against New England, and even at the end of the Super Bowl against San Francisco. The Last Stand of Ray Lewis indeed.

4. I’m still not convinced the power outage right after halftime in the Super Bowl wasn’t some insidious plot hatched by a vindictive 49ers fan. According to Entergy Corp., the company in charge of providing and maintaining power for Mercedes-Benz Superdome Stadium, an electrical device installed expressly to prevent such power outages was the source of the Super Bowl Blackout. HELL NO, that’s the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard plenty of lame excuses. Mainly coming from me in a vain attempt to not go to school.

I imagine a rabid 49ers fan, dripping with red & gold apparel, creeping through the labyrinth of stadium corridors while gripping a chainsaw. Maniacally. He had plenty of time to plan his terrorist plot considering his team hadn’t scored but a pair of field goals the entire 1st half. Watching the game on his smartphone, the score becoming more and more lopsided by the minute, his frustration and necessity to help his team growing by the minute, the Jacoby Jones kickoff-return for a touchdown was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Two things, my family always tells me I’ve got the most vivid imagination, and hell, I would’ve done the same thing if my team was down 28-6 in the Super Bowl. The NFL was just happy to have a more competitive game, so they kept the whole thing hushed-up and made up some random “device failure”-excuse instead.

5. Speaking of Jacoby Jones, I sure hope we have enough Cap-space next season. Can you imagine the Baltimore Ravens without Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger, or Matt Birk? I mean Birk’s getting kinda old but still. The same thing happened the last time we won the Super Bowl, in 2000. That time we figured out ways to keep most of our team intact, at the expense of forfeiting the 2002 team. A balance must be struck between paying players what they’re due for years of faithful service, and cutthroat business tactics to ensure continuity, like the New England Patriots. They don’t really pay anybody, especially not homegrown talent. Look at WR Randy Moss or WR Wes Welker, WR David Patten, and TE Benjamin Watson. Rather I should say they don’t pay anyone what they’re worth.

6. I’ve said this before but Joe Flacco deserves every penny of a 100+ million dollar contract. He’s not worth more than say Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but pretty close to it. Look at it this way, if we don’t pay him 17+ million dollars a year, with most of the money back-loaded and an enormous signing bonus, we’re still going to have to use the franchise tag on him or chance him skipping town to a team starving for decent quarterback play. The franchise tag would still cost almost 16 million in pure, guaranteed money, and that way we wouldn’t be able to use the tag on someone else extremely important to the continued success of the Ravens.

Someone like one of the players I listed in the previous paragraph.

7.  I know Terrell Suggs has been playing with his arm nearly falling off for over half a season, and Haloti Ngata has been more banged up than a hooker by the Slap-Chop guy, but can we please get some pressure on the opposing QB? Paul Kruger led the team with 9 sacks in the regular season, and 2.5 in the postseason. To put this in perspective, Broncos LB Von Miller  had 18.5 sacks in the regular season, 49ers LB Aldon Smith had 19.5, Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware had 11.5, which is an off-year for him, and Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil had 11. If we’re not going to pay Paul Kruger, I’m pretty sure we won’t, somebody is going to have to take his place.

8. Oh and another thing about Joe Flacco. Did anyone else see him sleeping on the sideline during the power outage? What’s that about? I was probably the only person on Earth screaming at the TV-screen when I saw him lounging around, cool as a cucumber. No wonder our offense was so slow out the gate during the 2nd half. If not for the defense stepping up, especially Jimmy Smith, everything could have gone so terribly wrong. I know I’m nitpicking but still.

9.  Statistics my ass. Everyone and everybody is using their considerable brainpower to come up with new analytical statistics in a vain attempt to predict the future of football. “This quarterback or that one is elite because of his true QBR or true yards per attempt.” If we used even a portion of that computing power on say, Cancer research, we’d all be immortal by now. “Turnovers are divided into different categories of harm. Some can even be beneficial.” I read that in ESPN Insider a couple of weeks ago. All I can say is REALLY? Maybe NFL teams should turn the ball over on purpose sometimes. Yeah right.

10. I leave you with this final thought… for now. Does any team have better fans than Baltimore? The people who run M&T Bank Stadium projected 25-30,000 people max to show up for the free-admission fan celebration on Tuesday. Do you have any idea how many people showed up at the stadium alone, not to mention the parade route?

200,000 people packed the stadium and its immediate surroundings. Police acted as crowd control since the stadium authority couldn’t handle all the crazed fanatics climbing over the entrance gates. Hundreds of thousands more called out of work sick *cough cough*, just to see Ed Reed walking down the street with a camera strapped to his Django-style hairdo. Every window of every building along the parade route was open and filled with screaming fans, including the church. Everyone sure loves the Baltimore Ravens, even if many of them are just bandwagon fans.

Either way, we gladly embrace all football fans who want to convert. Just make sure you keep your purple & black jerseys on, regardless of whether we do well next season.

Las Vegas Betting Line Favors 49ers in Super Bowl

The opening line, posted a few hours after the Ravens punched their tickets to Super Bowl XLVII, has the 49ers as 5 point favorites. Somehow that doesn’t sound quite right to me.

Oddsmaker Benjamin Eckstein of America’s Line says he set the line at 4 1/2 to encourage betting action on both sides. Even if that response makes sense, it still feels like more of a popularity contest than anything based on logic.

It seems like that contest is quickly shifting in Baltimore’s favor. Within a matter of hours, the line has already changed to 4 even. I could honestly care less whether my boys are considered the underdog in New Orleans. Just ask Tom Brady what he thinks about those odds. Zing!

First it was Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, favored to beat the Ravens by 9 1/2 points.  Then it was Princess Brady and the New England Patriots,  favored to win by 8 1/2. Baltimore won 38-35 and 28-13, respectively.

Now it’s San Francisco’s turn. According to Bill Cowher, the ex-Pittsburgh Steelers coach, the Ravens will have trouble with the 49er-offense because ‘we have never faced a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick.’ *dramatic pause*

ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?!

We haven’t faced a quarterback like a 2nd year player with 9 total starts?! Oh I’m sorry, our team was too busy beating 3-time Super Bowl champion,  2-time Super Bowl MVP, 8-time Pro Bowl Quarterback Tom Brady last night.  Did I mention his two regular season MVP awards or that he currently holds the record for most playoff wins in NFL history? What a load of crap.
What about the quarterback we beat in the AFC divisional round, 4-time regular season MVP, Super Bowl MVP,  Super Bowl-winning, 12-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning?! I know Bill Cowher used to be the Steelers head coach but come the fuck on,  you can’t be serious. Colin WHO???

I get the feeling that it doesn’t matter who the Ravens beat to get to the Super Bowl. Insert quarterback’s name here, Bill Cowher will find a way to tell the public the Ravens can’t handle ‘him.’ All I have to say is, “we’ll see about that.”

Consider this. No rookie quarterback has EVER won a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.  Not Andrew Luck, not Ben Roethlisberger, not T.J. Yates, NOBODY. Technically, Colin Kaepernick isn’t a rookie quarterback but since he hasn’t even played a full season,  for all intents and purposes he’s still a rookie to me.

Who really cares about the wildcat/pistol offense?  Does anyone really think a few gimmick plays or a quarterback who can run the ball effectively is going to fool a defense led by Ray Lewis at linebacker and Ed Reed in the secondary?  We’re not talking about scrubs or even Pro Bowl players here.  We’re talking Hall of Fame-caliber defensive stalwarts,  each with over a decade of experience.

That’s plenty of time to get acquainted with every little offensive nuance and gesture. The only way to win against experience like that is to beat them physically;  to out muscle the other team. Not that there’s a chance of that happening. Nobody can match Lewis/Reed or even Bernard Pollard’s intensity. Just ask Stevan Ridley.

Dubbed the “Patriot Killer,” by his loving teammates, Safety Bernard Pollard has slayed 4 New England players since 2008. His hit last night on Ridley caused a crucial 4th quarter fumble, helping the Ravens limit the Patriots to a season-low 13 points. Luckily,  the referees forgot to flag Pollard.

How I feel about the many legal-yet-flagged hits by Baltimore players is a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that nobody will ever mistake Baltimore for a finesse team. Anyone who knows anything about the AFC North teams can attest to that. We love to play defense and run the ball through our opponent’s guts here in the Charm City.  So is anyone around here worried about a “dual-threat QB?”

Not Really. 

We feast on them. The Ravens will come hungry on February 3rd. Paul Kruger, Terrell Suggs, Haloti
Ngata, Ray Lewis, Courtney Upshaw, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, Corey Graham and all the other members of the vaunted Ravens defense will be chomping at the bit come Super Bowl Sunday. 

As Terrell Owens once said, “Getcha’ Popcorn Ready.” After 12 years of waiting, Ravens fans are ready. Trust me.

SUPER BOWL PREDICTIONS:

Ravens(-6) defeat 49ers: 30-24 (54 total points)

What were you thinking?!

It’s about time I explain my title.

I know it’s catchy and all but here’s the deal. I’m rationally insane. I have ADHD, meaning I live in a constant state of confusion and distractions. So I understand when people ask why my ideas, opinions and direction are all over the place.

My name is Michael, and I’m your average Chinese-American living on the Eastern Seaboard of the beautiful United States of America. I make jewelry for fun and for a living, whenever I’m not busy studying or running one of my family’s numerous restaurants/bars.

I’m an avid fan of professional sports, primarily Pro Football and Pro Basketball but also including Major League Baseball and even Soccer or Hockey on occasion. My favorite teams are as follows:

(NFL) 1. AFC Baltimore Ravens/ 2. NFC Philadelphia Eagles.

(NBA) 1. Miami Heat 2. Oklahoma City Thunder 3. Washington Wizards

(Soccer) 1. Barcelona(Vern Massey!) 2. MLS Baltimore Blast

(MLB) 1. Baltimore Orioles 2. Anything not from Pittsburgh(like the Steelers/Pirates/Penguins/Panthers, BLEHHK!)

(NHL) Washington Capitols

When I’m not writing about these topics, I often go on strange voyages/tangents into the unknown. I’m constantly reading and writing, drawing and using internet search engines to find obscure yet interesting data. I believe that curiosity and a sense of wonder lead to a life of fulfillment. Plus you never know when that tiny snippet of information will bring you fortune or save your life!

I also watch a lot of movies & television shows. I especially enjoy watching japanese animation or reading manga, such as Naruto Shippuden, Rouroni Kenshin(Samurai X) or Full-Metal Alchemist. There are tons of obscure, well-drawn, well-animated shows on the internet, just waiting to be dusted off and enjoyed.

One of the great inventions in the history of mankind is free, shared, downloadable torrents. At least in my opinion. As long as your not sharing it and/or charging people money for your movies/tv shows, you should be fine.

Other things I talk about from time to time include my family, stupid ignorant people that can’t mind their business, cocktails and jewelry fabrication & repair. Well that should do it. There’s a small look into what this blog is about, just in case your wondering. Maybe you’ll find what I write amusing and witty, and then again, maybe you won’t.

I encourage you to check it out for yourself. What I have to say may not be as linear or to the point as you might like, but it’s usually pretty thorough on whatever subject matter I’m currently thinking about.

Michael

PS: I also write a lot about food I really enjoy, cooking techniques, idiots, fast food nation, the fucked up things people are willing to put up with instead of cook it themselves, stuff like that.

Who’s “Running” the Show in Baltimore???

Something stinks in Baltimore, Maryland.

I’m not talking about the discarded crab shells, Domino sugar factories, or boarded-up row houses. The Baltimore Raven’s defense reeks of something terrible this year. This is the Baltimore defense, for god’s sake. The heart and soul of our team, the cause and reason for our lone Super Bowl win, the one thing we could always count on. Through all the years with Vinny Testaverde, Chris Redman, and especially Kyle Boller at QB, we always knew one thing. Our defense would bail them out, or at least keep the score respectable so we didn’t have to hang our heads in shame. Even after we drafted Joe Flacco, our defense was as good as advertised, helping the rookie QB guide our team to the AFC Championship Game. So what exactly changed this year?

I mean it’s not like Ray Lewis isn’t roaming from sideline to sideline, pounding running-backs into the dirt. Ed Reed is relatively healthy, still destroying wide receivers too stupid to stay off his side of the field. Haloti Ngata‘s still smacking offensive linemen left and right, while Lardarius Webb is blanketing receivers and pressuring the quarterback. So why is our defense, perennially ranked in the NFL’s top ten, suddenly ranked 22nd out of 32 teams?

Sure we’ve had a few players leave during the free-agency period or get injured, but every team has the same problems. Losing Terrell Suggs, the reigning defensive MVP, definitely hurt our defensive front. We’re also still trying to replace a couple of our more talented defensive backs. S Haruki Nakamura and S Tom Zbikowski were unsung heroes in our aggressive 3-4 defense. So was our slot-corner Chris Carr. Cary Williams doesn’t get physical enough and our 1st-round pick CB Jimmy Smith seems a little lost sometimes.

Playing solid defense depends on knowing the plays, recognizing offensive formations and reacting instinctively, all in the span of a few seconds. Our defense has been so successful over the years for being more physical and by playing sound, fundamental football. You just can’t do that when your always thinking about what position to be in, or whether or not you have  coverage help down field.

Just as an example, MLB Ray Lewis has been with Baltimore for 17 years now. Most players have retired by this age, spending most of their time doing guest-appearances on ESPN, or making commercials for a charity fund. When a player gets to his age, the cumulative effects of a football career start to take their toll. Joints hurt, old injuries throb, ligaments, muscles and tendons become worn down. Memory fades, the result of years of concussions and helmet to helmet tackles. A nearly 40-year old football player shouldn’t be able to keep up with players barely half their age. What it comes down to is a form of premonition, otherwise known as being able to see into the future.

I’m not talking about magic or psychics here. Combining a knack for play-recognition with superior instincts and muscle memory makes it seem like Ray-Ray knows where the ball is going and how long it will take to get there. This allows him to make split-second decisions, moving and utilizing his considerable strength to blow up the opponent’s play before it even has time to develop. To a true football believer such as myself, seeing these moments are what we live for.

Getting back  to the point, I believe our major deficiencies lie solely upon the Raven’s defensive players stopping the run. Since we can’t seem to stop anyone from running on us this year, offenses aren’t making nearly as many mistakes as normal. Usually our defense forces teams into 3rd and long situations, which is a lot easier to handle than 3rd and 2. Our single loss this year, to Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles, happened because our defense allowed Vick to run and pass his way straight down the field. At the end of the game and under 2 minutes no less.

Against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, we nearly lost again due to defensive issues. The problem was not the replacement officials. When the defense gives up 31 points, you’re gonna have a hard time winning games, unless your Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. I don’t think the Ravens will give up that many points on a regular basis but you never know.

Luckily our offense is holding up it’s side of the bargain for once in like, ever. Maybe that’s the problem with our D, they aren’t playing as hard now that they think it’s no longer necessary. A man can only hope that’s all we have to worry about. Then our season wouldn’t depend on Paul Kruger, Sergio “My Mind is Somewhere in Texas” Kindle, Courtney “Things were Easier in Alabama” Upshaw,  Pernell Mcphee, etc.

~MSW, WONG_83@HOTMAIL.COM

The author has written articles on the Baltimore Ravens, Baltimore Orioles, and Philadelphia Eagles for Bleacherreport.com. He also scribbles sporadically, either on WordPress.com, or on Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace(note: a long time ago).

Some of my All-Time Best NFL players…

Potential players that most certainly should make the ALL-CENTURY List…  I would suggest the following:

1. Lynn Swann WR, Steelers
2. Terry Bradshaw QB, Steelers
3. Ray Lewis LB, Ravens
4. Orlando Pace OL, inventor of the “pancake-block,” Rams
5. Lawrence Taylor(!) DE, Giants
6. Deion Sanders CB, 49ers+Cowboys+Falcons+Ravens
7. Randy Moss WR, Vikings+Patriots
8. Darrell Green CB, Redskins
9. Gale Sayers RB, Bears
10. Barry Sanders RB, Lions
11. Reggie White DE, Eagles+Packers
12. Peyton Manning QB, Colts

There are numerous other people that probably could or should have been listed who I have either forgotten or just didn’t have the time or space to put on this list. The people that HAVE been listed so far are, for the most part, NFL players who have changed the game of football at their position by being so infinitely superior to their comrades of the day that the rules had to be changed to make the game fair once more.

Swann makes the list for changing being a receiver into an art form.. Bradshaw for calling his own plays and creating his own audibles in an era when the head coach or offensive coordinator called the plays. Ray Lewis is in for being underestimated from the very beginning of his career and becoming an annual fixture on the All-Pro and Pro-Bowl lists.. as well as destroying and tackling anyone who opposed him. Orlando Pace makes this one for leaving college early, not for the money or the prestige but for pure competitive spirit.. he had noone left to compete with at the collegiate level, even leaving Florida State-star Simeon Rice in the dust.

Lawrence Taylor will always be on my list of all time greats for this simple truth: He single-handedly jumped the price-tag of defensive ends and therefore left tackles tenfold. It doesn’t hurt that he will forever be known as the monster who destroyed Hall of Fame QB Joe Theismann’s career. Deion Sanders was known on and off the field for his larger then life antics, highlights and mouth. He talked a good game but also played one as well, and was one of the first complete shut-down corners who was versatile enough to even contribute in the passing and special teams game.

Randy Moss makes this list for being not only an incredibly tall receiver who can jump as well, but also for routinely beating double and even triple-teams. Any team that has him on the field, regardless of the QB, is instantly better offensively. He also has some of the softest hands in NFL history. Darrell Green is very similar to Deion Sanders in that he was also a shut-down corner.. only Darrell is even faster and played in an era where defensive backs like him did not exist. He was SO good that teams often would blank out the side of the field that he was on, telling their team not to pass even in the general direction of wherever Green was.

This comment is running a little long so I’ll keep the rest of it short and sweet, with no disrespect intended to the following players.

Gale Sayers, if not for a few career-changing injuries, was among the fastest and shiftiest RBs to ever live. The fact that he’s in the Hall of Fame and only played 4 years speaks volumes about his game-changing ability. Barry Sanders was such an incredible RB that he helped the Lions get to the playoffs and made the Hall of Fame despite playing on some of the most awful teams in NFL history. His ability to turn a 3-yard loss into a 30-yard game was without equal. The Rev, Reggie White dominated QBs and struck fear in offensive coordinator’s minds and game plans by sacking and tackling people for a loss with impunity. He WAS the Packer defense.

Finally, a player who is still currently playing and is about to play in his second Super Bowl in 4 years.. Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts deserves a stake in the All-Time Greatest Players for being a complete QB. When I say that, I mean that he is every head coaches wet dream/fantasy; He does everything he’s supposed too and more, he says only the most appropriate things to the press and on TV, his idea of a night out is watching game film into the wee hours of the night. Oh, by the way, this is in addition to him having the height and the physical attributes of the prototypical QB.. a specimen with perfect mechanics and the intelligence to call his own plays/audibles, kind of like Terry Bradshaw a generation ago. For all these reasons, my hatred for the Colts withstanding, Peyton will in my opinion go down in NFL history as one of the best QBs of all time.

-Michael, Wong_83@hotmail.com (Sorry I rambled so long… I just get really passionate about some of these players who are sometimes snubbed by other fans, analysts and media insiders.)

Farewell to Baltimore’s favorite son, Ray Lewis.

“Goodbye, dear king of men.

Farewell, oh, favorite son of Baltimore. We will miss you in the days to come and hopefully when your journey is complete, you will find the meandering path back to the Garden of Eden from which your NFL career sprung.

I for one will not be the same as I gaze upon the familar purple and black of M&T Bank Stadium, the familiar numbers 5 and 2 reflecting brilliantly in the afternoon sunlight nevermore. The proud stance with which the Ravens’ defense carries itself, knowing that it’s stallwart captain is near, forgotten and lost to Father Time.

One day soon, too soon it seems, a man who seems to be made of the same material as legends or myths will disappear into the comfortable and well-deserved archway of retirement. Knowing that our time together runs short, the grains of sand forever climbing walls of glass, brings chills and shivers from out of the blue.

In our many vivid memories is where we Ravens’ faithful will find solace in times of need, remembrance of places and plays long past climb ever closer to the surface of the mind. Hopefully reciprocation will be felt on the end of the purple titan, aching mentally for the sound and touch of those who gazed upon him with wonder and admiration.”

——————-

If you didn’t really understand that, the point of this semi-poem was to show the world exactly how collective Ravens’ fans, including and especially me, feel about losing our Pro-Bowl/All-Pro Linebacker.

We know that time is slipping away from us and we also know the best player on our team since it’s rebirth will NEVER be cut. He will retire on his own terms, of this I am 100% sure.

When the day comes for us to be apart, I will continue to go to the Blue Moon BBQ…Ray-Ray’s famous BBQ restaurant. I will never forget him, even when I am 90 years old, hard of hearing and wheeling around with a colonoscopy bag hanging from the back.

-Mikey, 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