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).

Advertisements

Dear NFL: Can you please, please bring back the Refs?

On so many occasions in the past, I, like other casual fans of football, found myself screaming at the television screen until I lost my voice. I yelled and screamed, kicked over furniture, drank heavily to console myself, sobbed, pleaded and ultimately made a complete fool of myself. How could they miss the call?! It’s not like they’re staring at the play through a flickering, freezing TV screen like I am, I mean they’re right on the field with the players! Are you BLIND?! Everyone in the room, including the completely hammered unconscious man sitting in the recliner that I’ve never met before, can see that it was the other team who started pushing and throwing punches and whatnot, but somehow your throwing a yellow flag at the guy on my team? I don’t know how old the man in the corner is, what he does for a living or whether he’s a child molester or a serial killer, but I’m 110% certain that he’d do a much better job calling the game then the zebras on the playing field.

Or at least that’s what I used to think. Like one of those bedtime stories my parents used to tell me, it seems there’s a moral to the story, karma has come back with a brutal vengeance to bite me in the rear. Those idiots who couldn’t possibly call a game any worse have been replaced by a group of shopping mall employees, or perhaps rag-wearing drug abusing vagabonds. Yes, you heard me correctly, vagabonds, the guys wearing filthy ripped rags, shuffling slowly across the street from their dumpster homes to the street corner they beg from. Instead of reading the rules handbook they were given on their first day of employment, these faceless drifters must have ripped out the pages and used them in a trashcan fire to help them stay warm.

Maybe they aren’t actual vagabonds. These “replacement officials” are probably trying to officiate these games as best they can. They probably aren’t out there trying to destroy the game I love and yet, that’s exactly what they’re doing. It’s not their fault that they haven’t been educated in the strange and complex language of the NFL rulebook, they were just the bottom of the officiating barrel, what was leftover after the team owners decided they would rather line their pockets with even more money than to give the real officiating crews a pay raise. As a fan of the game, someone who has nothing but time and interest invested, it seems to me that the team owners have more than enough money. If it takes a couple hundred thousand dollars or even a couple million dollars to settle this ridiculous negotiation, so be it.

Let me put it this way, the contract for even a mediocre player on an average team would cost at least as much, not to mention it would be paid for by a single team under a salary cap.

Any pay raise or benefits package for the officiating crews would be paid for by the combined might of all 32 team owners, each of who has a net worth over a billion dollars. Are you fucking kidding me? Jerry Jones and Dan Synder, owners of the Dallas Cowboys & the Washington Redskins respectively, have the 1st and 2nd highest net worth of any sports team in the world. THE WORLD! Under the circumstances, when the officiating has begun to affect the product put on the field, it wouldn’t be out of the question to pay the referees anything they asked for, new cars, private airplanes, millions of dollars, you name it.

Good officiating is part of the package we the fans are paying to see. When the officiating is actually causing serious reverberations across the country, such as in the Green Bay/Seattle game last night, it should send up a serious red flag to the owners and league offices. Now it’s affecting the product they are selling by causing us to have serious doubts over the validity of the win-loss columns. Maybe it will or maybe it won’t change the playoff fortunes of the two teams involved last night, either way I’m completely sure this isn’t the last time we hear about it. If my team failed to reach the playoffs due to a single horribly called game, I would probably riot, running through the night with a blazing torch and a glittering machete screaming like a maniac. [Note: For legal purposes, none of this would actually happen.]

So please, please, pay those damn referees! Am I going to boycott football games like certain television personalities say I should? Probably not. Will I still buy tickets and watch certain must-see games at the stadium? Absolutely. Is the NFL still more entertaining than watching professional baseball or hockey? Yes. How about basketball? Maybe. Either way, the owners can afford it, the referees deserve it, and the fans expect it. When the rules are enforced correctly, or at least more correctly, we as fans should not be able to point out how blatantly wrong the referees are.

Privately, we might question whether it was fair for them to throw a flag on our team when the play before that someone on the other team had done exactly the same thing, but at least we should feel reasonably comfortable that the referees aren’t taking bribes from the mob to throw the game [Note: Over a billion dollars in sports betting changed hands last night]. Just a couple of weeks ago, the NFL almost let a Seahawks fan officiate a regular season Seahawks game! Think about that for a second. Do you really believe that you could be impartial if asked to call a game for your favorite team? What if you were nearly bankrupt and had to take care of your wife and children?

It makes me suddenly grateful that someone else has to make the calls on the field. Well, most of the time. Hopefully the owners and the referees will soon shake hands, sing Kumbaya around the campfire and get back to making difficult rulings that are only tempered by the failings and limitations of being human. Otherwise, someone far more unstable than me is going to make this decision for them real soon.

Michael, Wong_83@hotmail.com

Teams Michael identifies with: The Baltimore Ravens (NFL), Baltimore Orioles (MLB), Miami Heat (NBA), Washington Capitals (NHL), Maryland Terrapins (NCAA) and sometimes the Philadelphia Eagles (NFL).