Monday, November 24, 2008

How do you like your Eagle cooked? Well done!

The Ravens helped their playoff chances yesterday, overcoming a slow first half, eventually dominating the Eagles in route to a 36-7 drubbing of the Philadelphia Eagles.

In the first half, the Ravens and Eagles traded punts before a second-quarter Ed Reed interception gave the Ravens the ball at the Eagles 6-yard line. Two runs later, QB Joe Flacco hit TE Daniel Wilcox for his 9th TD pass of the season, putting the Ravens ahead 10-0.

On the following kickoff, the Eagles’ kick-returner Quentin Demps ran 100 yards through the Ravens kick-coverage like a hot knife through butter for the touchdown. 10-7 Ravens.

But, that was where the Philadelphia scoring ended.

In the 3rd quarter, Eagles head coach Andy Reid benched Donovan McNabb, who had thrown 3 INT in the first half, and handed the ball to Kevin Kolb. Kolb had just as much trouble moving the ball as McNabb, and a stalled drive resulted in a blocked Sav Rocca punt a safety. 12-7 Ravens.

After Kolb threw an interception to Samari Rolle, a Matt Stover field goal put the Ravens up 15-7 Ravens.

And that’s where the fun began.

After another stalled Eagles drive, Flacco hit Mark Clayton for a 53-yard touchdown, his 10th TD pass of the season. 22-7.

And get a load of this: In the last 5 games, Flacco has had 4 touchdown passes of 43 yards or more. When was the last time that happened to a Ravens QB?

Shortly after that, Ed Reed caught his second INT of the day, this one in the Ravens endzone, and returned it for an NFL record 108 yards for a TD. 29-7 Ravens.

And finally, to add insult to injury, the Ravens tacked on yet another score, this time it was Le’Ron McClain for a 1 yard TD. 36-7 Ravens. Final.

After a rocky game in New York, Joe Flacco returned to his usual cool, calm and collective self, passing for a now standard 183 yards and 2 TD’s. Despite a slow first half, and an impressive pass rush by the Eagles, Flacco never panicked. He moved around the pocket well, and threw the ball away instead of forcing passes.

It’s really nice to have a QB you don’t have to worry about.

However, the Ravens had trouble getting the running game going for the second game in a row. Willis McGahee and Ray Rice combined for 15 yards. But big Le’Ron McClain did the rushing dirty work, ripping and romping for 88 yards on 18 carries and the late TD. At one point early in the game, I think McClain rushed 6 straight times on the same play.

On the receiving front, Mark Clayton had the best day, hauling in two passes for 76 yards and the big TD. It’s nice to see someone other than Derrick Mason catching passes for once, and after a miserable 2007 season, Mark Clayton is back on the map.

So in review, the game was closer than the lopsided score might indicate, but the Ravens turned it on when it mattered most. Not only did they improve their playoff chances with a win at home, they also pretty much hammered the final nail into the Eagles coffin of a season.

And I couldn’t be happier about that.

There were a lot of Eagles fans down at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday, and despite coming off an embarrassing tie with the lowly Cincinnati Bengals, one where your star-QB had no idea that a game could end in a tie, Iggles’ fans were quite vocal in the very limited opportunities they could be vocal. And as a result, there were quite a few shoving matches up in 540.

Thankfully, the Ravens shut the Iggles’ fans up and sent them home early in the second half. Sorry Iggles fans. That Phillies World Series win will have to keep you warm during your long and cold playoff-less winter.

Back to the Ravens. At 7-4 they head to Cincinnati to take on the 1-9-1 Bengals. And while you never want to say a road game in the NFL is an easy win, if there ever was an easy road win, this is it.

With Carson Palmer still on the sideline with a shoulder injury, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick looks to be in for a long day against the Ravens defense. The Bengals will get Chad Johnson back for the game after a deactivation, but he’s been a non-entity this season without Carson Palmer, and it appears Ocho Stinko’s conspiracy theories about not being thrown to are proving true. Johnson has only caught 41 passes so far this season.

So, the Ravens have to take advantage of the struggling Bengals this week before their schedule gets difficult again, with Washington and Pittsburgh at home, and then Dallas on the road.

And with so many teams fighting for the Wild Card in the AFC, the Ravens’ easiest path to the playoffs could be by winning the AFC North. The Ravens currently trail the Steelers by 1 game, and on top of facing the Steelers once more this season, Pittsburgh has a pretty tough schedule in front of them: @ NE, DAL, @ BAL, @ TEN.

So, will the Ravens make the playoffs? Can they win the division? Stay tuned.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Waiting Game

For years, fans have drooled over the prospect of Mark Teixeira becoming a free agent so that the O’s could bring their favorite homegrown player back to Baltimore.

And apparently, it wasn’t just the fans who were drooling. For years, rumors have swirled like leaves in the wind about Peter Angelos wanting to bring Teixeira to Baltimore. Angelos believes that giving the fans a Maryland-born heir apparent to Cal Ripken will do wonders for attendance. And it doesn’t hurt that Teixeira also has the potential to hit 40 home runs a year in Camden Yards.

So now that Mark Teixeira actually is a free agent, what have the Orioles done to put Tex in one of those new O’s uniforms?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

The Orioles appear to be playing their favorite game - the waiting game - waiting to see where C.C. Sabbathia will land to get the ball rolling on the 2008-2009 offseason.

I really didn’t expect the Orioles to come out of the gate, guns blazing, and blowing Teixeira and his super-agent, Scott Boras, away with an offer to bring Tex to Baltimore.

But I really wished they would have.

Because if the Orioles play the waiting game and lose out on Teixeira, they could find that all of their back-up plans are gone too.

It’s in the Orioles best interest to make their best offer to Teixeira now, and if he doesn’t agree to it, fine. Move on to the next option.

Making a good offer right off the bat would also appease some of the fans who tire of watching the Orioles sleepwalk their way through the offseason.

But, it appears that the O’s are content to hunker down and wait like a Star Wars fan in line for Episode III.

And in Baltimore, like always, the hot stove remains cold.

Giant Loss

Going into yesterday's game against the New York Giants, the question on everyone’s mind was if the Ravens run-stuffing defense could stop the Giants’ “Earth, Wind and Fire” rushing attack of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.

That question was answered right away with a resounding “NO!”

Brandon Jacobs scampered for 52 yards and the TD on the Giants' first offensive drive and it set the tone early as the Giants went on to beat the Ravens 30-10.

As a team, the Giants rushed for 207 yards (but no one had over 100 yards individually! YAY!)

Meanwhile, Joe Flacco led the Ravens in rushing yards with 57, which should tell you all you need to know about how well the Ravens were able to run the ball.

They couldn’t.

As a passer, Flacco was mediocre. He threw a bad interception in the second quarter and then made a great pass to Le’Ron McClain for a TD in the third quarter before his bobbled pass to Derrick Mason was intercepted and returned for a TD by Aaron Ross at the end of the third.

But without a running game to set up the passing game, Flacco struggled to gain any semblance of rhythm. And asking a rookie QB to win the game with his arm is a tall order and one he’s not ready to fulfill. Yet. Flacco finished with a less than stellar line: 20-33, 164 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT.

Some might say that the game was closer than the 30-10 score, but I’d have to disagree. The Ravens were pretty much dominated in every facet of the game. They couldn’t run and they couldn’t stop the run. And without the run, the Ravens couldn't get the passing game going either.

The closest the Ravens ever came to making it a game was late in the third quarter. While trailing 20-10, the Ravens were driving down the field, and had they scored, (either a field goal or a touchdown), they would have been down by only one score. But Flacco’s pass was bobbled by Mason and returned for the TD that put the game out of reach at 27-10.


In my opinion, yesterday’s loss was a reality-check. The Ravens looked good for the last month, beating up on the NFL’s bottom feeders (excluding the Dolphins, who are now 6-4), but as they’ve faced the better teams in the league, they’ve found ways to lose.

And the schedule doesn’t let up any time soon. The Eagles come into town next week. Philly is licking their wounds after playing to a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals, and they’ll be playing hard to save their season, which is on the ropes in the tough NFC East.

Then the Ravens get a break of sorts as they travel to Cincinnati to face the somewhat improved Bengals. But the Ravens haven’t won in Cincy since 2004. Then it’s Washington and Pittsburgh at home, at Dallas and then home against Jacksonville to close out the season.


At 6-4, the Ravens are still very much in the mix for the playoffs. But if they want to make it to the postseason, they’ll have to actually beat some good teams for once.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Give fans a reason to buy new uniforms...

By unveiling their new uniforms today, including putting “Baltimore” back on the road uniforms for the first time in 36 seasons, the Orioles have set themselves up for an offseason that could use the uniform change as a pre-cursor for bigger things to come – or a wasted opportunity to reinvigorate a desperate fan base.

In simple terms, today’s uniform unveiling was an appetizer. A small cube of fish served decoratively over squiggly lines of a white-wine lemon-butter sauce.

The entrée would be watching as GM Andy MacPhail signs free-agents-with-local-ties Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett and trading for a short-stop who won’t be a liability at the plate.

Dessert would be giving fans the first winning season in twelve years and restoring the passion that fans had when the Orioles were winning back in the mid-90’s.

Will I buy a new road uniform with Baltimore on the front? Yes. I’m happy it’s finally back where it belongs. But it won’t change the way I feel about this team and won’t satisfy the heart-breaking desire I have to see them get back to the positive side of a .500 record and the playoffs.

So what will it be, Orioles?

Should I go ahead and order the entrée? Or should I just skip out after the appetizer and head home to nuke some leftovers?

My final opinion on the new uniforms? They look great, but give fans a real reason to rush out to Dicks and Sports Authority to buy them.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wins are bigger in Texas

Can you believe that people were once talking about the Ravens 2008 season with low expectations? I myself even pontificated whether or not the Ravens could get to 4 wins this year.

Shame on me for not believing. Talk about a pleasant surprise.

Even if it was only the 3-5 Texans they beat yesterday, the Ravens sent a message. They finally have a QB in Joe Flacco and they finally have an offense to go along with their still-dominating defense.

The Ravens scored a season high 41 points en route to a dominating win over the Houston Texans, 41-13, and were once again running on all cylinders.

Joe Flacco turned in another solid game, going 15-23 for 185 yards and 2 TD’s. In the four games since the Indianapolis meltdown where Flacco threw 3 picks, he’s thrown 6 TD’s and 0 INT’s. He also completed another long TD pass, this time connecting with Yamon Figurs for 43 yards.

Tight End Todd Heap came back from the dead, hauling in 2 TD’s for 58 yards. If Heap can start contributing like this week to week, the Ravens passing offense is going to start to scare opposing defenses if they haven’t already. No longer can opposing defenses stack the box to stop the run. They have to worry about Flacco’s ability to throw the deep ball, which the Ravens have done successfully for 2 TD’s in two straight weeks as well as the now successful “Suggs Package” with Troy Smith lining up under center (Smith tossed a late-game TD to Todd Heap).

I wonder if Terrell Suggs is happy yet?

For the second straight week, the Ravens got a huge performance from their running back. This time it was Willis McGahee, rushing 25 times for 115 yards and 2 TD’s.

And even though the defense allowed 355 yards of total offense, they stepped up when it mattered most, picking off Texans’ QB Sage Rosenfels 4 times including a Haloti Ngata tipped pass and catch for an INT in the endzone, preventing a Houston TD. Ray Lewis also had 2 INT's, and Samari Rolle, fresh off of the injury report, caught one too.

The win in Houston has given the Ravens a four game winning streak, and they have rattled off the first two wins on a three game road swing. They are tied with the Steelers for first place, although the Steelers currently hold a tie-breaker over the Ravens.

The 3-game a road trip comes to an end next Sunday, as the Ravens travel to the Meadowlands to take on the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants who won last night to improve to 8-1.

And even though the Ravens sent a message with their win yesterday, to go into New York and beat the Giants, would strike fear into the hearts of the NFL.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Get a load of this

Danys Baez wants to start.

Yes, you heard that right. The Orioles reliever who pitched to a 6.44 ERA in 2007 and missed all of 2008, now wants to be given a chance to join the starting rotation.

I don’t blame the guy. He probably looked over the statistics from the 2008 rotation and thought he could do better. But even I could do better. You probably could too.

Baez is in a contract year and probably thinks that becoming a starter gives him a better chance for one more payday before retirement. Again, I don’t blame the guy.

But there is just no chance in hell this happens.

True, Baez did have some success as a starting pitcher in Cleveland during the 2002 season, posting a 4.41 ERA that would have looked Cy Young-worthy on the O’s 2008 rotation.

But that was seven years ago.

Andy MacPhail was diplomatic, saying, "He's expressed some interest in preparing himself as a starter, and we'll see how things go from there. It seems to make sense. I don't know if you lose anything by doing that. Preparing yourself so that you are going to start is not going to retard your development whatever the role you end up being in."

Read between the lines, and MacPhail said this, “Hahaha. Good try Danys. You were grandfathered in from the Flanagan/Duquette days when they spent millions on crappy players like Jay Payton and yourself. Times have changed. I can pitchers better than you in most beer leagues, but go ahead. Practice as a starter. Throw more pitches. If, and it’s a very big if, you make the team, preparing yourself as a starter will only make you a better mop-up guy.”

And MacPhail did use the word “retard”, too. Coincidence? I think not.

I seem to remember Baez wanting to be the closer when he signed his 3 year, $19 million dollar deal. Who is this guy to make such demands? Doesn’t he realize he’s lucky to still be in the major leagues at this point?

If the Orioles entertain this past a few starts in spring training, I really have to wonder about MacPhail’s intelligence. This should be nothing more than a few early November laughs around the water cooler before the offseason action begins.

The Orioles have a crop of MiL pitchers ready to join the rotation but are also in need of a few veteran starting pitchers who can keep the team in the game and eat innings.

Danys Baez does not factor into that.

He’ll be given his chance to earn what’s left of his paycheck during spring training, and if he doesn’t metamorphosis back into the 2005 version of himself, he’s gone.

And rightfully so.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Viva La Ravenlution!


If ever there was a game to represent a revolution in the Baltimore Ravens organization, yesterday’s 37-27 win over the Cleveland Browns was it.

The Ravens overcame a 14-point deficit after trailing 27-13 with 6 minutes in the 3rd quarter to score 24 unanswered points.

The Ravens of old would have switched to auto-pilot, especially on offense, where the three-and-outs would have abundant.

Not yesterday.

Down 14 points in the 3rd quarter, the Ravens offense turned it on when it mattered most. And then the defense matched the offense blow-for-blow, shutting down the Browns offense for the rest of the game.

After the Browns scored their last touchdown making the score 27-13, the Ravens drove right down the field for a Le’Ron McClain touchdown. After the Browns were forced to punt, Joe Flacco hit Derrick Mason for his second TD of the day, tying the game at the start of the 4th quarter. And after Ray Rice scampered for a 60-yard run which put the ball at the Browns three yard line, the Ravens couldn’t get in the endzone, so Matt Stover kicked the go-ahead field goal with a little over five minutes left.

That gave the Browns offense some life, but Terrell Suggs quickly snuffed it out, returning a Derek Anderson interception for a touchdown.

Game. Set. Match.

I am still in awe. Did the Ravens really score 24 unanswered points in a little over 20 minutes?

Yeah. They did.

And it couldn’t have happened without Joe Flacco. Unibrow has played 3 flawless games since his 3-INT debacle in Indianapolis, throwing 4 TD and 0 INT in that span, while rushing for a TD as well. He hit Mark Clayton (he lives!) for a 47-yard TD bomb that reminded Ravens fans that deep passes can result in something other than incompletions or interceptions. But what was really impressive about Flacco yesterday was how he performed in the clutch.

Flacco and Mason are starting to go together like Hall and Oates. Flacco hit Mason 9 times for 136 yards and a TD. Flacco was also able to work Mark Clayton back into the offense, hitting him 4 times for 87 yards and the 47 yard TD bomb.

No Willis McGahee? No problem. Rookie Ray Rice filled in admirably, rushing for 154 yards and caught 3 passes for 22 yards. Le’Ron McClain chipped in, rushing 13 times for 34 yards and a score.

Despite the 27 points allowed, the defense played well, especially in the 4th quarter when it mattered most. Even though they only sacked Derek Anderson once, they were able to disrupt his momentum, and he underthrew and overthrew several receivers. If there was one unit that underperformed, it was the Special Teams, who allowed Browns kick-returner Josh Cribbs to score a TD and give the Browns the ball deep in Ravens territory on another occasion.

All in all it was a wonderful win, and a reminder that the changeover in coaching staff personnel is starting to take hold on the Ravens sidelines.

Next week, the Ravens fly to Houston to play the Texans in a game that was originally supposed to be played week 2, but was postponed because of Hurricane Ike. The Texans have a high-flying offense, regardless of who is under center (Matt Shaub or Sage Rosenfels) and a pair of wide-receivers who are among the best in the league in Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. The Ravens, however, should be able to stop the Texans mediocre running game and the Texans’ defense is their weakness. They rank 17th overall in yards allowed, and 27th in points allowed.

Playing the Texans should remind fans of playing the Browns, but with a better offense. If Chris McAllister is in deed out for the season, the Ravens weak secondary could be exposed by the Texans WR’s. But, if Flacco and the rest of the offense are on their game like they were yesterday against the Browns, there is no reason to think that the result can’t be similar.

And it would be nice to steal another game on the road before the Ravens travel to New York to take on the defending Super Bowl Giants in two weeks.

At 5-3, the Ravens are a half game behind the Steelers, who play the Redskins in Washington tonight.

Things are getting interesting. Especially now that the “new Ravens” have arrived.