Friday, January 23, 2009

Dreaming of the O's and Bohs...

So there are still 2 months of winter to suffer through and already I am ready for a trip to Camden Yards for an O’s game.

Yeah, the team doesn’t look to be that competitive – again – but at least Andy MacPhail is making moves that fit into a bigger plan. So at least there’s that.

But the fact remains, regardless of whether the O’s are good or not, Camden Yards is still a great way to spend a summer afternoon or evening.

And even though OP@CY will be celebrating its 17th birthday this season, the stadium still exudes that new feeling. Maybe it’s the new hi-def scoreboards.

Granted, Baltimore’s mass-transit system leaves a lot to be desired, but getting to and from the stadium couldn’t be easier. The Light Rail, completed in 1995, drops you off at the doorstep of the warehouse, and the Metro is located only a few blocks up Howard Street. Remember the days when you’d be on the Light Rail sitting motionless for 5-10 minutes at a time? Since they finally completed double-tracking the entire line a few years ago, there is no more waiting time, unless you head north through downtown from the stadium. Something should really be done to speed up that portion of the Light Rail. But regardless, taking the Light Rail or Metro is the easiest and cheapest way to go.

Want to hang out and get a drink before or after the game? Federal Hill with its seemingly endless amount of bars and restaurants is only a short walk away. Pickle’s Pub has been right across the street from the stadium where Washington Blvd. begins its journey westward since OP@CY opened in ’92. And new(er) establishments like Sliders and Gino’s have opened up to satisfy fans' thirst and hunger before and after games.

My favorite place to go before a game? Heading a few Light Rail stops past Camden Yards to Lexington Market for a Faidley’s crabcake platter and a Natty Boh to wash it down. In my opinion, Faidley's is the best crabcake in Baltimore, second to maybe only G&M. Anyway, after I'm finished the crabcake, I head over to the Berger’s stand to by some fresh Berger’s cookies for desert. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

When I actually get to the stadium, I’ve always been partial to the bleacher seats. They’re the cheapest seats in the house, they’re located close to the exit and it’s the place where most of the “real fans” still sit. I was in the bleachers at a game as recent as 2007, and had a great time heckling Cleveland Indians fans along with dozens of other rowdy O’s fans. More importantly, no one got hurt or thrown out and the O’s won the game. It was like being back in 1996 or 1997.

Another reason the bleachers are great: up until last year, you could buy a Natty Boh can on Eutaw Street for $5. Yeah, it’s still a total rip-off since a 6-pack of cans retails for about $3.50, but in the era of $7 dollar stadium beers, most of them of the “lite” variety, $5 seemed like a bargain. Plus drinking Boh at an O’s game allowed me to connect with the ghosts of fans past. It’s a shame that they stopped selling it at the game. Hopefully they will bring Boh back, and to find out I sent an e-mail to the National Brewing Co. to see if they could give me an answer on that, but 3 days later, my in-box is still empty.

I'm ebarrassed to say I still haven’t had a Boog’s BBQ sandwich. That will change in 2009. My food consumption at the game usually involves peanuts, picked up outside the stadium for about $3. If there’s no Boh, I’ll buy a Yuengling or a Clipper City at one of the “fancy beer” stands. It’s worth the extra dollar.

Now that I think about it, the game itself is usually down on the list of favorite things about going to OP@CY. Sure, I cheer the O’s on, heckle the other team’s players, and have a blast doing it. But the discussions to be had with friends and other fans have become more important than watching Daniel Cabrera try to work out of a bases loaded jam when he walked 2 of those batters himself.

Am I more hopeful going into 2009? A little. The defense looks to be solid and the line-up will be potent again once Matt Wieters arrives in Baltimore. But the starting rotation as it stands on January 23rd looks horrendous. Hopefully MacPhail still has a few tricks left up his sleeve.

Until then, I’ll be dreaming of drinking a $5 Natty Boh in the bleachers and ragging on Eric Hinske – until he hits a home run and shuts me up, like he did on Opening Day, 2008.

Here’s to hoping 2009 winds up differently.

Monday, January 19, 2009

O's trade Bierd for David Pauley

Well, at least you can’t accuse Andy MacPhail of working slow anymore. He capped off a busy weekend in which he traded SP Garrett Olson for OF Felix Pie and neared a deal to extend Nick Markakis by trading relief pitcher Randor Bierd to the Red Sox for SP David Pauley.

To most fans, this trade means little. Hell, most fans probably didn’t even know Bierd was an Oriole in 2008. But he was. And the deal actually has some major implications to the Orioles since Pauley is out of options and will likely be a shoe-in for the 2009 starting rotation.

His MiL numbers are pretty impressive. 3.92 career ERA, 749 K’s to 299 BB’s so at least he throws strikes. And in 2008 he went 14-4 with a 3.55 ERA for AAA Pawtucket. In 2 short stints with the Red Sox he was shelled to the tune of a 9.53 ERA in 5 starts and 28 total innings. The right-handed Pauley is a sinker-baller, but allows more HR’s than he should, and those numbers could continue to increase drastically in Camden Yards.

On the surface, Pauley replaces Garrett Olson. Both are about the same age with similar success in the minors, and little to no MLB success to speak of. Both are likely to be back-end rotation starters.

And only in Baltimore would Pauley be handed a job in the starting rotation. But, the O's need pitching and Pauley is a pitcher while Bierd didn't factor into the club's 2009 plans, so I have no complaints.

O's trade Olson for slice of Pie

The Orioles traded LHP Garrett Olson to the Chicago Cubs for OF Felix Pie over the weekend in a move that had me scratching my head.

The Olson/Pie deal had been a long-gestating one, which at one time involved the San Diego Padres as part of a three-way deal that would have sent Olson to the Padres and Jake Peavy to the Cubs give or take a few more players involved somehow.

But yesterday the O’s and Cubs hooked up the deal alone, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cubs send Olson to San Diego like originally planned.

Olson was a promising LHP when he joined the O’s last season. His career MiL ERA of 2.96 translated to a mid-rotation guy in the majors who relied on craftiness to get batters out. And while Olson had some success early on after being called up from AAA Norfolk, as the season progressed, Olson regressed and ended the 2008 campaign with a dreadful 6.65 ERA. And that was enough for GM Andy MacPhail.

The O’s get Felix Pie, only 24, who like Olson, was a once-promising MiL player who has never succeeded in his short stints in the majors. In 260 AB’s, Pie has amassed 3 HR, 30 RBI and an OPS of .615. But in the minors, Pie was one of the Cubs’ best OF prospects, with a career-MiL .823 OPS.

Pie may also remind people of another highly-rated prospect the O’s acquired in a trade in Adam Jones. And MacPhail, who was once GM of the Cubs, sees enough in Pie to think that Pie can find that promise he had in the minors as an everyday player.

And this where I start the head-scratching. Pie is a highly-touted prospect, but the O’s also have their share of OF prospects in the minors, starting with Nolan Reimold, who is coming off his best season as a player. In 2008, Reimold totaled 25 HR, 84 RBI and an .868 OPS. Reimold will be 25 in 2009, so if he is ever going to get a shot, now is the chance.

In addition to Reimold, the O’s also have Luis Montanez, who was going for the Eastern Division’s Triple Crown before being called up and having some moderate success for the O’s in 112 AB’s.

So by acquiring Pie, it makes Reimold and Montanez’s once-bright futures as Orioles that much more uncertain.

However, with Pie the O’s OF is set for the next five years, assuming that Pie and Jones keep improving (Nick Markakis is close to an extension with the O's). Pie also allows the O’s flexibility with Luke Scott, who can move into the full-time DH position and keep Aubrey Huff at 1B.

It also allows the O’s to aggressively shop Scott for pitching.

And speaking of pitching, losing Olson further weakens the O’s starting rotation. And while Olson was never a sure thing, he was expected to improve from his miserable 2008 season to become a #4 pitcher. As it stands, anyone beyond Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara are big question marks, and even Uehara, who will be making his debut in the MLB, is far from a sure thing.

Radhames Liz looks to assume his rotation spot in 2009, but his 6.72 ERA in 2008 doesn’t inspire confidence. And while newly signed swing-man Mark Hendrickson looks to be a starter by default with Olson gone, a handful of younger pitching prospects could force their way into the rotation by pitching well in spring training.

But MacPhail will probably play it safe, as he should, and sign or trade for at least one more starter. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him land two. Safety in numbers isn’t a bad thing in Baltimore, especially after the rotation’s inability to go deep into games wore out the bullpen by the All Star Break.

So while the Olson for Pie deal isn’t a major one, it does represents some positives. First and foremost, it represents MacPhail’s desire to fill the O’s roster with as much young talent as possible. And while Garrett Olson was still viewed as young talent, MacPhail valued Pie higher and made his move.

Nothing wrong with that.

Ravens Lose in AFC Championship Game

The Ravens 2008 season came to an official close last night as they fell to the AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, 23-14.

The Pittsburgh defense stifled the Ravens all night, disrupting Joe Flacco enough to force him to throw 3 interceptions including one that was run back by Troy Polamalu for a touchdown that sealed the victory for the Steelers.

We all knew beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh was going to be a tall order to fill. But that didn’t stop us from hoping they could pull it off. After all, Pittsburgh had lost 4 of their last 5 home AFC Championship games and Flacco played much better on the road this season. But in the end, the better team won.

However, the Ravens weren’t without their chances. After trailing 13-0 early, the Ravens went on a 14-3 run (2 Willis McGahee TD’s) to pull within 2 points late in the 4th quarter.

They had the Steelers right where they wanted them. Down 16-14, the Ravens looked to get the ball on their own 39-yard line with a little more than 6 minutes left in the game. But when the game came back from a commercial break, Ravens fans were dismayed to learn of an Daren Stone penalty that backed the Ravens up a whopping 25 yards to put them at the 14-yard line.

Stone, a special teams player, should be getting his walking papers as I write this article. His unnecessary roughness penalty occurred at least 5 yards out of bounds and was just plain stupid. It may not have single-handedly lost the Ravens the game, but it severely hurt their chances to drive 30 yards for a field goal attempt had they started on the 39-yard line. Instead, the Ravens struggled to get a first down on that drive and it ended with the Flacco interception returned for a TD, which put the Steelers ahead 23-14.

When the Ravens got the ball back, the game was already over, but to add insult to injury, Steelers defender Ryan Clark plowed into Willis McGahee, causing a fumble which the Steelers recovered, and leaving McGahee motionless on the field for a ten minutes. Clark himself was stymied by the unintentional helmet-to-helmet hit, and needed help walking off the field. McGahee was carted off the field and the latest news is that McGahee has a neck injury but can move his arms and legs.

But in the end, the Steelers went 3-0 against the Ravens this year, and no matter how many “shoulda, woulda, couldas” you can come up with, the Steelers were the better team then and now.

And yesterday, they were masterful on 3rd downs. While their 7-18 efficiency on 3rd down doesn’t look that impressive (38%), they converted those 3rd downs when it mattered most. It was almost as if the Steelers were doing it on purpose just to mess with the Ravens. After getting stuffed on 1st and 2nd down, the Steelers would then pull some random miracle play out of their ass. See the Ben Roethlisberger stumbling, bumbling pass lofted up into the air for anyone to catch -- and I mean anyone -- and then caught by Santonio Holmes for a 65-yard touchdown.

It was just not in the Ravens cards for them to win the game last night.

All in all, 2008 was probably the second most exciting season in Ravens history. They surprised the NFL by winning 7-8 more games than most people predicted (myself included) and won a playoff game for the first time since 2001. Then they travelled to Tennessee and knocked off the #1 seeded Titans like they did in 2000.

In short, watching a veteran-like Joe Flacco -- and swarming Ed Reed play the final 11 games of the rookie season was a joy to watch and the defense played with heart and determination even as injuries to Chris McAllister and Samari Rolle looked like they would become devastating weaknesses.

And then there’s coach John Harbaugh, who except for a handful of terrible penalties, has whipped this team into a disciplined bunch and will not settle for “me” players like Chris McAllister and Willis McGahee.

Losing to Pittsburgh and watching them celebrate another Super Bowl appearance on their home turf last night was horrible, but to be expected.

But there is reason for optimism in Baltimore. If the Ravens fill a few needs (CB, DL, TE, & WR), they can come back strong in 2009 and be right back in the AFC Championship game again.

Thanks to the 2008 Baltimore Ravens for making this season an amazing one.

Until then, please be sure to check in to read my takes and opinions on the Ravens offseason moves and draft.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What makes a fan?

With the Ravens/Steelers AFC Championship game looming on the horizon, I've been spending more time than I should at the Baltimore Sun's Ravens message board. To say it's been infested with Steeler fans would be the understatement of the year.

Dozens of them signed up for their Sun forums account on Sunday night or Monday morning (depending on when their local library opens so they can use the 'puter), so now their accounts are being activated after the mandatory 3-day waiting period and they are coming out of the woodwork like termites from hell.

Anyhow, most of them are fair-tempered, talking honest X's and O's while having confidence in their team. But many of these Steeler fans are trolls. They come to opposing team's message boards to run their mouths, talk trash that is mostly made up of bad grammar, and insult the city of Baltimore in general, as if Pittsburgh somehow transformed into Malibu over the last 20 years.

But the fact remains. The Pittsburgh Steelers are perhaps the most successful NFL franchise since the NFL-AFL merger. They've got 5 Super Bowl rings, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for most by any franchise.

So it comes as no surprise that these 2 teams have fans stretched from the Atlantic to Pacific.

And to me, this is where it gets complicated.

What does it say about people who don't live in Pittsburgh or Dallas -- and even worse, fans of those teams who do live in cities with NFL teams -- and are fans of the Steelers and Cowboys?

It's simple. People like to win. Why root for the Cardinals or the Browns when you could just as easily adopt the Steelers or Cowboys as your team? OK, if people want to do it, fine by me. But live with the consequences.

And boy are there consequences.

The way I see it, there are different levels of fandom. I am sure many people will have problems with it, especially those who find themselves living in an NFL city and rooting for another team. Especially a winning team. But that's on them.

So here we go.


These are people who are born and raised in a city with an NFL team and are fans of that team. To them it wasn't a choice. Like they didn't have a choice to be male or female, black or white, smart or stupid when they were born, they didn't have a choice in what team they would root for. These are the fans who should never catch grief for being a fan of the team they root for, good or bad. From New York Yankee fan to Detroit Lions fan, if you're from either city, you are A-OK in my book.

I also find it common that these are the nicest fans, the ones who can admit defeat when they lose and be humble when they win.


These are people who once lived in the city their team plays in and moved, whether it be by force or by choice. No one can blame a Steelers fan who grew up in Pittsburgh and was forced to move when the steel mills closed and the local economy went into the toilet. And no one can blame the fan who went to college somewhere outside their home town and never returned. It happens. It's called life.

These fans are usually just as respectable and courteous as the native fans, but with more edginess. They feel the need to represent their team more because they are surrounded by fans of another team. They go on the defensive faster than a native fan because they feel cornered.

But displaced fans are usually good natured. They hang a team flag from their porch to show their loyalty to their team. They display a license plate frame on their car. They wear their team's jersey on game day when they go to the supermarket before the game. At work they might laugh at you when their team beats yours, but promptly thereafter, they slap you on the back and say "honestly, it was a good game" and move on quickly, letting you deal with the loss alone.


This is where it gets tricky. When a fan says he roots for his team because "his family is from there", you never know whether to believe him. Either it's true, which is fine in teamless cities, or the fan knows he's full of shit and only roots for the Steelers or Yankees because they are perennial winners and doesn't want to get called out for it.

But, in places where there is no team, it is usually acceptable to use this reasoning for being a fan, after all you didn't choose your family, and they didn't choose their team. So by proxy, you're a fan of your family's team. No harm, no foul.

However, if you live in a city with a perfectly good franchise, you can expect your fair share of shit thrown your way if you use this excuse, especially if your team is a good team, and you have to deal with it. It was your choice. You made the bed, now lie in it.


OK, kids are dumb. They just are. They usually can't tie their shoes right and have pudding mustaches after they eat their lunch. They can't help what uniforms look "neat" or "cool" to them when they are kids. For me it was the Bengals. The stripes on the helmet were just as cool as the red and blue colors on Optimus Prime. So I rooted for the Bengals. I couldn't help it.

However, when that "cool looking uniformed" team happens to be the Steelers or Yankees or Duke or UNC, an instant bullshit flag should be thrown. And it is the responsibility of a native fan to throw that bullshit flag.

For you are a real fan, a native fan, and this guy is using his former-child self as a human shield. Who is going to call a kid stupid? He should admit that he "is a loser and wants to feel good about himself by rooting for a winning team", but never will that happen. These guys just refuse to accept that fact that they are posers and will go to any lengths to deny it. They'll say "I am as much a fan of my team as you are of yours." Wrong.

These are also the same fans who say "well because they were winning, they were on TV the most when I was a child, so I had no choice but to root for them". Also bullshit, since there was another team playing too. Why didn't they root for them? Everyone loves an underdog.

These are also the fans who are most likely to be assholes.

They feel the need to justify their fanship so they celebrate victories by rubbing salt in the wound, e-mailing you video of the winning play with "LOL" at the bottom. These are the fans who troll opposing team message boards, running lame smack without using proper grammar. These are the fans who go to their team's games when they come to town and act a fool because it is the only time they get to say in front of a thousand people "Hey. HEY!!! Look at MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!! I am a STEEEEEEEEELERS fan!"

Since these people know deep down that they themselves are not real fans, they have to make up for it every second of their lives, usually in an aggressive and asshole-y way. In the end they lead a hollow existence.

And if they have a football team playing in the city they grew up in, and never root for that team, it's a tragedy on the scale of Hamlet or MacBeth. If Shakespeare was still around, you can bet he'd write a play about it.

So that's it. It can't be debated.

People will say "fans are fans" and "no fan is more a fan than someone else" but they are wrong.

Real fans don't have a choice just like people don't have a choice when they are born. I was born looking like me. If I could, I would make myself look like Brad Pitt. But I can't. And that essentially is what fake fans do. They choose what they want to look like. Some are brave and decide to look like Paul Giamatti by rooting for the Bears when they live in Philadelphia. Others may decide to look like Sylvestor Stallone by rooting for the Redskins when they live in Tacoma. But fans who decide to make themselves look like Brad Pitt essentially choose how they want to feel on most Sunday nights -- because they decide to root for a team that wins more than they lose.

So to all the fans of the Steelers, Cowboys, Yankees, Duke, UNC or any other perennial winning team who never lived in the city in which their team lives in, I just have one message:

You're not as much a fan as me.

Deal with it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ravens sink the Titan-ic!

I still haven’t fully recovered from that one.

During the second half of the Ravens’ 13-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans, I was doubled over from nerves and could barely watch. That doesn’t happen to me often. And at this rate I’ll be watching the Ravens/Steelers AFC Championship game from the ER waiting room.

Needless to say, the game was as smash-mouth as football can get. It was like watching two heavyweight fighters stand toe-to-toe for 12 rounds, wailing on each other, barely able to stand, and hanging on each other as they are too tired to throw another punch.

But in the end, the turnover battle was the big difference. The Titans bettered the Ravens in pretty much every statistical category, totaling 391 total yards to the Ravens’ 211, but Tennessee committed 3 turnovers deep in Ravens territory and that was the difference.

And with the score tied 10-10 and about 4 minutes left in the game, the Ravens got the ball, and Joe Flacco drove down field and Matt Stover capped off the victory with a 43-yard field goal.

Joe Flacco has yet to commit a turnover in the post-season and that is all you can really ask him to do. He turned in another workmanlike performance, tossing for 161 yards and a 48-yard TD pass. He is the first QB to win 2 games in the playoffs and one more would make him the first rookie QB to reach the Super Bowl. This kid doesn’t stop impressing you, does he?

Derrick Mason came up huge for the offense yet again, catching that 48-yard TD bomb and totaling 78 receiving yards. Mark Clayton caught 2 for 45, but the big one was an amazing 37-yard pass caught in double coverage that set-up a go-ahead field goal to make the score 10-7. Say what you will about the Ravens wide-receivers, but they are making some fantastic grabs this season. A welcome change from the Clarence Moore and Frank Sanders days.

The running game had a tough day. Le’Ron McClain only rushed for 12 yards on 12 carries and left the game with an injury. Willis McGahee had a better time of it, getting 32 yards on 12 carries. Ray Rice did not touch the ball.

But the story of the day was the defense. Their bend-don’t-break mentality was the difference. The Titans were having success moving the ball in the first half, and Chris Johnson was poised to have a huge day running the ball (72 yards on 11 carries and a TD) until he was folded up like a metal chair in the third quarter and didn’t return. LenDale White pounded the ball well at times, and was tackled at the line of scrimmage at others, and amassed 45 yards on 15 carries. His fumble deep in Ravens territory was crucial. Titans’ WR Justin Gage had a huge day, shredding the Ravens secondary for 135 receiving yards.

But when it came down to crunch time, the Ravens came up with huge turnovers (A Samari Rolle interception of Kerry Collins, and fumbles from LenDale White and Alge Crumpler) stopped impressive Titans drives.

The obligatory controversial call (there is always at least one in these kinds of physical games) came on the Ravens final drive, when Flacco seemed to get an extra 2-3 seconds after the game clock expired before completing a huge 23-yard pass over the middle to Todd Heap to set up Stover’s game-winning FG.

Yes, it was a bad call that ultimately contributed to the Ravens victory. Who knows what would have happened if the delay of game penalty was called and backed the Ravens up 5 yards. But one thing is for sure, the Titans 3 turnovers on the Ravens side of the field didn’t help either. And Ravens fans should know all about that after allowing the Steelers to drive 92-yards for a controversial touchdown in week 15 to lose the game.

If you put yourself in a position to allow the refs to lose you the game, you don’t deserve to win anyway.

However, the win didn’t come without its setbacks. Samari Rolle was injured and may miss the AFC Championship game. Le’Ron McClain and Terrell Suggs both missed time with scrapes but appear to be OK for next week. And one has to wonder if the Ravens will run out of gas after playing 17 consecutive games after Hurricane Ike bumped their bye-week up to week 2 of the regular season.

The Steelers are going to give the Ravens another hard, physical game and take it up a notch. Running the ball will be even harder than it was against the Titans. Which is exactly why the Ravens should try to come out with a different game plan.

They should let Flacco throw early and often, and throw deep. It worked against the Titans. And even if you don’t complete the deep pass, the possibility of getting a pass interference call is always there, and any deep-pass interceptions can be written off as non-4th down punts.

I really wonder if the Ravens can turn in another physical game like the one they just played. The Steelers are completely healthy and rested after their first round bye and an easy win against the Chargers.

The Ravens have proven that they can win on the road, but you have to keep wondering if they can do it again.

I think they can.

The Ravens take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game this Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Finally! O's Big in Japan!!!

The Orioles did something they’d never done before yesterday, agreeing to terms with Koji Uehara, a former All-Star pitcher from the Japanese Baseball League. (Go here for video of him pitching in Japan.)

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last 15 years, you know that the O’s roster has been barren of Asian players at a time when most of the bigger names from Asia routinely signed with the Mariners, Dodgers, Yankees or Red Sox. So signing Uehara, regardless of the outcome, is a huge step for the future of the Baltimore Orioles. Andy MacPhail promised that the O’s would extend their scouting department past the western hemisphere, and he’s delivered on that promise by inking Uehara.

Koji Uehara is currently 33-years-old, and will turn 34 this April, so he’s no spring-roll... I mean... chicken. He’s also battled through his share of injuries during the last 2 seasons in Japan so there is some risk when it comes to his health. But, prior to his injuries, Uehara has been an innings eater throughout his career, and even better, he does something that most of our pitchers haven’t done lately, and that is throw strikes at an alarming rate.

As of now, it looks like Uehara is slated to be the #2 behind Jeremy Guthrie, while most media talking heads see Uehara as more of a #4 or #5 on better teams. But as we all know, the offseason is not over and the Orioles should add another starting pitcher or two.

All in all, this is not a huge free agent signing. It’s not going to make headlines outside of Baltimore. But it does represent a small step in the right direction for a franchise that has been so narrow-minded in the past that they were 10-15 years too late to the Dominican Republic baseball-hotbed party.

And combined with the Mark Hendrickson signing and letting Daniel Cabrera go to the Nationals, MacPhail is clearly going after players who can throw strikes.

Thank God.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ravens spear Fish

The Ravens got their first playoff win since 2001 yesterday, and ironically, it was against the Miami Dolphins, the same team they beat in 2001.

The 27-9 victory was somewhat of an ugly win. Joe Flacco threw for only 135 yards and completed only 39% of his passes. Le’Ron McClain fumbled on the Ravens’ opening drive. And while the Ravens ran for an impressive 151 yards and 2 TD’s, only 2 drives went longer than 50 yards.

Most of the highlights, as usual, were provided by the defense. The Ravens forced the Dolphins to commit 5 turnovers, including 4 interceptions by Chad Pennington, who threw only 7 interceptions all season.

Ed Reed had 2 INT’s yet again, and scored a touchdown on a brilliant Willie Mays-style over the shoulder catch that he returned for 64 yards and the score. Fabian Washington and Jim Leonhard also had a pick each.

It was great to get the winless-in-the-playoffs monkey off our back, but it would have been nice to see the offense clicking a little better. Flacco missed 3 deep passes by overthrowing the receiver, who was open each time. Credit the Miami defense for pressuring Flacco and keeping him off balance all day, but it won’t get any easier this Saturday in Tennessee. Flacco has struggled against the better defenses of Washington, Pittsburgh and Miami over the last few weeks, and he’ll face another stiff challenge while facing the Titans. Hopefully he’s gotten his playoff jitters out of the way.

Like the Dolphins, the Titans are not a high-powered offense. They are much like the Ravens of old on offense. Run, run, pass. Kerry Collins has taken on the Trent Dilfer-role of “control the game, don’t lose it”. The Titans’ running attack is 7th in the league, but they match up poorly with the Ravens defense who are ranked #3 in rushing yards allowed. The Ravens are also great at stopping big bruiser running backs like LenDale White, but the speedy Chris Johnson could pose problems. He’s also a great pass catcher, so if the Ravens succeed in bottling up Chris Johnson, the Ravens should be able to hold Kerry Collins and the Titans receivers in check.

On offense, however, the Titans rank #6 against the run and #9 against the pass, so it will be hard to move the ball. It would be great to see Ray Rice worked back into the offense since he is healthy now, and utilize the screen-pass a little more.

But the key to winning is the same as it’s been since week 1. Protect the ball and force turnovers on defense.

And for the love of God, Rex Ryan, do not call the dogs off on defense when we get a lead! Ryan did the same thing yesterday while the Ravens were up 20-3 early in the 4th quarter, which allowed the Dolphins to waltz down the field 74 yards and score a TD.

Hopefully, he will not allow the Titans to do what they did against the Ravens in Baltimore earlier this season, and drive the field to score a late TD.

My prediction, the Ravens force some turnovers, score at least once on defense, and establish somewhat of a run game.

Ravens 20
Titans 10

The Ravens take on the Tennessee Titans this Saturday at 4:30 p.m.