Monday, September 28, 2009

Brown Beatdown

There's not much to say about yesterday's 34-3 win over the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens looked great on both sides of the ball against a Cleveland team that probably couldn't beat some college teams.

The Ravens got it started early, with Dominique Foxworth intercepting Browns QB Brady Quinn on the Browns first drive, which set up a Willis McGahee TD, his first of 2 TD's on the day. From then on, the Ravens drove the ball at will and treated the Browns like they were an annoying kitten.

Joe Flacco had another career game, passing for 342 yards and a touchdown. McGahee is also looking like a fantasy beast, racking up another 2 TD's and 67 rush yards. Even Ray Rice finally found the endzone for the first touchdown of his career.

On the receiving end, Derrick Mason hauled in 118 yards and a touchdown on a 72-yard pass while Kelley Washington continues to be a huge part of the passing game, with 66 yards. Mark Clayton also caught 3 balls for 35 yards, and looks like he has been passed by Washington as the #2 WR for the Ravens.

The defense was their old selves. They needed to come up big after a disappointing performace in San Diego a week ago, and they answered the call. They held the Browns to a total of 186 yards and 11 first downs. They forced 4 interceptions. The Browns only points of the game seemed to come out of spite. Down 27-0, Browns head coach Eric Mangini opted to go for a field goal, ending the shutout, instead of going for it on 4th down in the red zone.

If anything, the game was a warm-up for next week. The Ravens travel to New England to take on the 2-1 Patriots in what is shaping up to be an epic game for the Ravens. The Patriots are showing signs of slowing down despite finding ways to win and the Ravens look like a team that is just finding its stride. If they can put pressure on Tom Brady and force him to move around in the pocket, they could replicate the success the Jets had against the Patriots a week ago. The health of Patriots WR Wes Welker will also weigh heavily on this game.

Meanwhile, the Bengals knocked off the Steelers yesterday, sending the Steelers to 1-2 and the Bengals to 2-1.

The Ravens are 3-0 and are second in scoring only to the New Orleans Saints.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Taking Charge

The Ravens overcame the Chargers and their 474 total yards to win 31-26 in San Diego yesterday to improve to 2-0.

It was a win that had me sitting on the edge of my seat for most of the second half, and one that despite the win, has me worried going forward.

Let's start with the 474 yards allowed, 421 of which came on the arm of Chargers QB Philip Rivers. If the Ravens defense did one good thing yesterday (besides the final play of the game), they limited the Chargers to just 53 yards rushing, which is why the Chargers had to rely on Rivers to win the game. And he almost did. Rivers routinely exposed the Ravens' secondary and their lack of effective pass rush gave Rivers enough time to pick the Ravens secondary apart.

Don't get me wrong. The Ravens defense stepped up when it mattered most, especially on the final play of the game. The Chargers had the ball on the Ravens 15 yard line and needed a touchdown to win the game. It was 4th and 2. Rivers handed off to Sproles and Ray Lewis came through the line untouched to demolish Sproles for a 5 yard loss. (Yahoo! Sports is saying it could be Lewis' best play of his career. I disagree.) The secondary also came up with some great defensive plays to bat away balls that would have put the Chargers in a better position to win the game, avoiding pass interference calls in the process.

But going forward, the Ravens are going to have to address their weaknesses on defense. Despite allowing only 188 yards to the Chiefs last weekend, they did allow them to drive 80 yards for a touchdown at one point in the game. And yesterday, their lack of pressure (2 sacks) on Rivers almost cost them the game.

Thankfully, the offense stepped up to the plate for the second week in a row. Whereas the Chargers relied on explosive big plays to stay in the game, the Ravens stayed with what works best for them -- ball control -- and used it effectively.

For most of the game, the Chargers' depleted defensive line were unable to stop the Ravens running game, which resulted in 130 yards rushing offense. Willis McGahee is starting to take over as the go-to guy for the Ravens, and his 73 yards on 15 rushes and 2 touchdowns is proof of that. Ray Rice also ran effectively, 36 yards on 8 rushes, and helped on screens, catching 5 balls for 46 yards.

Joe Flacco had a workmanlike afternoon, and ended up with 190 yards passing, 2 touchdowns and an interception. He spread the ball around well, and Kelley Washington lead the Ravens in receiving yards, with 58 yards and a touchdown that came on a blown assignment. Derrick Mason caught 3 passes for 31 yards, and came up big on a drive before halftime. And Todd Heap caught his second TD in as many weeks, becoming a bigger part of the Ravens offense than he was a year ago.

True, the Ravens offense did enough to win the game, but they came up short with 25 minutes left to play in the game. After a Rivers INT lead to the Washington TD with 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Ravens' next 3 drives only resulted in a Steve Hauschka field goal.

Thankfully it was enough.

All things considered, this was a huge win for the Ravens and one that can set the tone for this season. But the Ravens will have to study the game film and try to fix what went wrong. Yes, they won, but they allowed 474 total yards of offense, which cannot be ignored. And with good offensive teams like the Patriots, Vikings, Colts, Packers awaiting the Ravens this year, they might find themselves in trouble during those games.

But don't let me spoil this victory. In the end the Ravens came up big and won. And that's all that matters.

The Ravens host the Cleveland Browns next week at 1 p.m. in the first AFC North divisional game of the season.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chief Rocka

The Ravens opened up the 2009 season with an impressive showing by the offense. They racked up a total of 501 yards, a franchise record, en route to their 38-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

It was much closer than the score would indicate, as two key turnovers lead to Chief touchdowns, the first coming on a blocked Sam Koch punt deep in Ravens territory and the second being set up by a Joe Flacco interception by Derrick Johnson who returned it 70 yards.

The Ravens trailed early in the 3rd quarter, 17-14, and at one point the game was tied at 24. But the Ravens closed it out with 3 scores in the 4th quarter to put the game away, and while the end result was a win with a seemingly strong 14 point margin, the game was a lot closer than most Ravens fans would have liked.

Thankfully, Flacco's interception was his only mistake of the day. He had a career game, going 26-43 for 307 passing yards, with 3 TD's and 1 INT. He spread the ball around the field nicely, resulting in Mark Clayton and Todd Heap each having more than 70 yards receiving and a TD. Ray Rice lead the rushing attack with 108 yards, and added another 12 receiving for 120 total yards of offense. Willis McGahee also had a great game, rushing 10 times for 44 yards and a score and hauling in 4 passes for 31 yards including a TD.

The defense played well, allowing only 188 total yards of offense and can only be held responsible for one of the Cheifs 3 touchdowns on the day. The one TD the Chiefs did score was impressive though. Starting at their own 20 yard line, the Chiefs marched down the field almost at will, driving 80 yards in 6 plays and picking on cornerback Fabian Washington for most of the drive. But the Ravens sacked Chiefs QB Brodie Croyle 3 times during the game, 2 of which came from Jared Johnson, and took RB Larry Johnson completely out of the game, 11 carries, 20 yards rushing.

Disappointingly, the Ravens committed 8 penalties for a whopping 65 yards, something that is somewhat out of character for a John Harbaugh coached Ravens team.

Looking forward to San Diego, the Ravens will have to protect the ball better and play a more disciplined game to beat the Chargers. That said, the Ravens did pretty much everything else about as well as they could have.

It just goes to show you how turnovers can change even the most lopsided of games.

P.S. I hope Ben, Katie, Jay and Jaime all enjoy San Diego and may the Ravens treat you to a win. Enjoy the cruise.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hoping history doesn't repeat itself...

Looking back at the past few years and the players we pinned our hopes on, I really hope that this crop of players we have on our team now turn out differently.

Here's a trip down memory lane.


Larry Bigbie - 25 years old, .821 OPS.
What happened: Bigbie, a former first round pick, failed to stay healthy. He had a decent 2004 season but was traded in 2005 for Eric Byrnes.
Who he best resembles on the current team: Nolan Reimold.

Luis Matos, 24 years old, .811 OPS.
What happened: Like Bigie, Matos couldn't stay healthy. He played in 121 games in 2005, but managed only a .711 OPS. He was released in 2006.
Who he best resembles on the current team: Adam Jones.

Jay Gibbons, 26 years old, .786 OPS (100 RBI).
What happened: Gibbons couldn't stay healthy either, but in the end, it didn't matter. Gibbons couldn't draw a walk to save his life, was a butcher in the field, and was listed on the Mitchell Report for steroids. He was released by the Orioles before the 2008 season despite being signed through 2009.
Who he best resembles on the current team: No one.

Sidney Ponson, 26 years old, 14-6, 3.77 ERA.
What happened: Ponson put it all together for just one season (in a contract year no less) and was traded to the Giants for Damien Moss, Kurt Ainsworth and Ryan Hannaman. He re-signed with the Orioles that offseason and his ERA never dropped below 5 again. His off the field troubles, involving punching a judge in Aruba lead the Orioles to voiding his contract after 2005.
Who he best resembles on the current team: No one.

Jorge Julio, 24 years old, 36 saves.
What happened: Julio was a a flame-throwing closer who relied on a fastball and not much else. His ERA continued to balloon and he was traded to the Mets with John Maine for Kris Benson after 2005.
Who he best resembles on the current team: Dennis Sarfate.

John Parrish, 25, 1.90 ERA.
What happened: Parrish teased the Orioles in 2003 for 23.2 IP, leading them to believe he would be a valuable LHP out of the bullpen. However, his control problems got the best of him on most occasions despite turning in a solid 2004 season. He was traded to the Mariners in 2007.
Who he best resembles on the current team: No one.

Matt Riley, 23 years old, top-rated prospect.
What happened: Riley was the #1 pitching prospect for the Orioles for years and the team hung their hopes for success on his left arm. However, he was called up to the majors at the tender age of 19 after having logged 177 IP in the minors that season and was never the same. He struggled with control problems and injuries for the rest of his career.
Who he best resembles on the current team: Brian Matusz.


Daniel Cabrera, 23 years old, 12-8 5.00 ERA.
What happened: Cabrera arrived on the scene having skipped AAA all together and wowed fans with his fastball. He worked well with Ray Miller in 2004 and 2005, and those were his best seasons as a SP. But his control problems, lack of secondary pitches and poor defense eventually did him in. He was released by the Orioles after the 2008 season.
Who best resembles on current team: No one.

Kurt Ainsworth, 25 years old, top prospect acquired in trade
What happened: Ainsworth was believed to be damaged goods when he was acquired from the Giants for Sidney Ponson in 2003 and it proved to be true. The former first round draft pick made just 7 tepid starts with the Orioles before getting injured. He has never played since.
Who he resembles most on the current team: Chris Tillman.


Hayden Penn, 20 years old, top pitching prosect.
What happened: Like Riley before him, Penn was a highly regarded pitching prospect who never impressed in limited action with the Orioles and then suffered a bout of freak injuries, including appendicitus and being impaled with the broken end of a bat. His final chance to make the Orioles went horribly wrong this spring, and Penn was shipped off to Florida for back-up SS Robert Andino.
Who he resembles most on the current team: Chris Tillman

John Maine, 24 years old, 3.21 ERA in MiL.
What happened: For a while, John Maine was the top pitching prospect in the Orioles system. However he failed to show that potential in his brief stints with the Orioles in 2004 and 2005. He was ultimately traded to the Mets with Jorge Julio for Kris Benson after the season where he had some success in the Mets rotation, having won 30 games in 3 seasons, with ERA's lower than 4.52 in all seasons.
Who he best resembles on the current team: Chris Tillman.

Chris Ray, 23 years old, 2.66 ERA.
What happened: Ray was dominant out of the bullpen in 2005 and 2006, and collected 33 saves as the closer in '06. However, he began to regress in 2007 before suffering an injury which caused him to miss the entire 2008 season. With the Orioles in 2009 he has a 6.64 ERA in 39.1 IP.
Who he best resembles on the current team: Himself


Adam Loewen, 22 years old, top rated prospect.
What happened: Loewen, a 4th over all pick, was signed to a major league deal which perhaps forced his development in the minors. He battled control and injury problems throughout his career while showing flashes of what could have been. He was released by the Orioles after the 2008 season with the intention of re-signing with them as a positional player, but opted to sign with Toronto instead.
Who he best resembles on the current team: Brian Matusz.

James Hoey, 22 years old, 2.98 ERA in MiL.
What happened: Hoey was a K-machine out of the bullpen in the minors, but his short time in Baltimore proved to be a disaster, with an ERA above 8 in just 34 IP. He's battled injuries since then, missing the entire 2008 season and is now 26 in Bowie with a 4.50 ERA.
Who he best resembles on the current team: Kameron Mickolio


Garrett Olson, 24 years old, 3.17 ERA in MiL.
What happened: Olson was a rock in the minors, exuding great control at every level. When he reached the majors he began to nibble, likely meaning he didn't trust his stuff. He finished 2008 with a 6.65 ERA and a ticket to Seattle by way of Chicago.
Who he best resembles on the current team: Brian Matusz.

Radhames Liz, 25 years old, 10.1 K/9 in MiL.
What happened: Liz was a k-machine throughout the minors, but his flat fastball didn't fool major league hitters. Liz finished '08 with a 6.72 ERA and in just 1.1 IP in '09 has an ERA of 67.50. He's fared no better in Norfolk this season, with a 5.68 ERA.

So it kind of puts things into perspective when we hang our hopes on a new slew of young prospects. There's a good chance that few of them will pan out. After all, out of all those players mentioned, the Orioles produced only Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Erik Bedard to become above-average players at the major league level.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It's official

There was an added insult to the 10-0 loss the Orioles suffered in Boston last night.

It officially cemented the Orioles' 12th consecutive losing season.

It's nothing that we didn't know for the last month, but now that it's official, that doesn't mean that it sucks any less.

I am 30 years old. The last time the Orioles were any good was my senior year in high school.

The Orioles make me feel old.

Have no fear, though. Pittsburgh set the MLB record with their 17th consecutive losing season the night before. It's the longest losing streak in any of the major sports leagues.

I wonder who will have a winning record sooner -- the Orioles or the Pirates?

At any rate, my expectations for 2010 are being lowered the more I write, so I'll stop here.

2009 Predictions

Well, it's just a few days before the start of the 2009 season, so you know what that means: prediction time.

Looking back at 2008, I couldn't have been more wrong. I predicted the Ravens would go 3-13, but they exceeded everyone's expectations and came just a few plays short of making the Super Bowl. So needless to say, my expectations going into 2009 are going to be high. Especially after watching the first team breeze through the preseason with a 4-0 record.

One thing that troubles me is that the Ravens face a second-place schedule that is much harder than the Steelers' first-place schedule since the Dolphins and Titans each finished in first place in 2008 while the Patriots and the Colts each took second.

But, if you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best. So here goes:

Kansas City -- The Chiefs look to be in for another year of rebuilding. They traded for Matt Cassel, who led the Patriots to a 11-5 record last year in the absence of Tom Brady, but they still missed the playoffs. Cassel is hurt, but Tyler Thigpen passed for 18 TD's a year ago before going down with an injury. WR DeWayne Bowe is a threat, but the Chiefs traded away TE Tony Gonzalez last season. They still have RB Larry Johnson, but their defense is in shambles. The Ravens should be able to control the tempo of the game from the kickoff, and I don't expect anything resembling a close game unless Joe Flacco and the Ravens commit several turnovers, most of them coming deep in their own territory. I've got the Ravens starting the 2009 season in a big way, winning 30-3.

@ San Diego -- The Chargers miraculously came back from a horrible 4-8 start to the 2008 season by winning their final 4 games and winning the division before making a little noise in the playoffs, when they knocked off the Colts in the first round. Philip Rivers has established himself as an elite QB and their defense is strong. They still have RB Ladanian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates and WR Vincent Jackson is becoming a beast. This is going to be a very hard game for the Ravens to win, and ultimately, I don't think they will. I've got some friends traveling to San Diego for this game and I'm afraid they'll be in for a letdown. Ravens lose, 24-18.

Cleveland -- The Browns looked to be a strong contender for the division in 2008 after they finished 10-6 in 2007, but they fell apart. Derek Anderson reverted back to his turnover-machine self and was eventually benched in favor of Brady Quinn, who played only 2 games before being injured. Meanwhile, WR Braylon Edwards couldn't catch the ball after putting up a epic 2007 season. The Browns are still a mess, even under strict-HC Eric Mangini. They might be a little more disciplined this season, but they don't have enough talent to hang with the Ravens. Ravens win, 28-12.

@ New England -- All you need to know is Tom Brady is back after the Patriots still went 11-5 without him in 2008. The game is in New England. The Ravens will have to play perfect to win, and I don't think they will. Ravens lose, 20-10.

Cincinnati - The Bengals could be a sleeper team this season, with Carson Palmer (somewhat) healthy and their defense coming on as one of the better defenses in the AFC. But their offense and defensive lines are still weak and it shouldn't be long until Palmer is injured again. He might not even be healthy by week 4. Put me down for a Ravens win, 27-13.

@ Minnesota -- Unless you've been under a rock for the past month, Brett Favre is now a Viking. Whether that scares you or not depends on how you think the 39-year-old veteran can perform at this stage in his career. The Vikes still have the best running attack with RM Adrian Peterson and had the best run defense in the NFL in '08, but Favre doesn't make them much better than they were a year ago. It's going to be a tough game for the Ravens to win, but if they can contain the Vikings running attack, they can win. Ravens win, 23-17.


Denver -- The Broncos are starting to fall apart. They traded loud-mouth QB Jay Cutler to the Bears and got Kyle Orton in return and Brandon Marshall is a powder-keg. Their once-fearsome running attack is now populated by a slew of RB's who scare no one. The Broncos defense was ranked 30th last year, and didn't get much better. The Ravens should soundly beat the Broncos at home, 34-13.

@ Cincinnatti -- Besides the blowout the Ravens handed the Bengals in Cincy last year (I was there with friends), the Bengals have played the Ravens tough at home in the recent past. This game will depend on the health of Carson Palmer more than anything. That said, I still think the Ravens should come away with a victory, 27-20.

@ Cleveland -- Like Cincy, the Browns always give the Ravens fits at home. And the Ravens needed a huge comeback last season to beat the Browns in Cleveland. I don't think they'll need one this year. Ravens win, 34-16.

Indianapolis -- Oh boy. If there is any other team in the NFL I hate almost as much as I hate the Steelers, it's the Colts. After they inched their way past the Ravens in the 2006 playoffs, I have loathed them. Then there is the whole "they used to play in Baltimore" thing. Put simply, the Colts have owned the Ravens since 2001, regardless of whether the games have been played in Baltimore or Indianapolis. But I think this could finally be the year we beat the Colts. For one, the Colts are under a new head coach (Jim Caldewell) after Tony Dungy retired last season, and Peyton Manning will be without WR Marvin Harrison for the first time in his career. I am sure Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez will be a nice WR tandem, but if ever there was a time for the Colts' offense to slow down somewhat, it's now. Plus, Joseph Addai became a disappointment last season, prompting the Colts to draft rookie RB Donald Brown. Safety Bob Sanders (the Colts version of Ed Reed) has been hampered with injuries his whole career and is already slated to miss the first 4 games of the 2009 season. And without Sanders, the Colts defense is vulnerable. If the Ravens can finally get after Manning, it could be a long day for the Colts. Finally. Ravens win, 28-24.

Pittsburgh -- What a nice 2-game combo this is, huh? The Steelers beat the Ravens 3 times last season en route to winning their 6th Super Bowl in franchise history. Blah, blah, blah. The Ravens finally get the Steelers at home during a prime-time game and if they are going to beat the Steelers any time soon, it's going to be at home. Since these games are so late in the season it's hard to predict what each team will look like by then after injuries, but I still think the Ravens will pull out at least one win against the Steelers in '09. Ravens win, 17-13.

@ Green Bay -- Aaron Rogers established himself as a top-QB last year, and he looks to continue his roll in 2009. That said, the Packers defense is still a question mark and playing in Lambeau Field is not the dreaded task it has been in the past. Ravens win, 30-24.

Detroit -- The Lions didn't win at all in 2008, but they should have at least 1 win by the time they come to Baltimore. Top draft pick Matt Stafford has been pegged QB#1 in Detroit and Calvin Johnson is one of the league's best wideouts, but the Lions are still in shambles. Ravens win 44-10.

Chicago -- The Bears got QB Jay Cutler from the Broncos during the offseason and that move alone makes them a more dangerous offense. However, their WR's are questionable and their defense is not what it once was. But second-year RB Matt Forte looks to be a large part of their offense again, like he was in '08. I am glad the Ravens are playing the Bears at home, because I don't know if the Ravens could pull this one out in Solider Field. Ravens win, 20-13.

@ Pittsburgh -- The Ravens aren't going to sweep the Steelers, unless I am dreaming, so I just have to put this down as a loss on principle. Ravens lose, 17-14.

@ Oakland -- The Ravens close out the season with 2 road games, including this trip to the west coast. With the way the Raiders offseason has been going, it's questionable if they will even exist come week 17. But if they are, it won't be pretty. The Raiders do have some good parts, including CB Nnamdi Asomugha, RB Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas, and rookie WR Darrius Heyward-Bey. I also think QB JaMarcus Russell could be poised for somewhat of a breakout year after performing well in his last few games of the 2008 season, but there are too many problems that run too deep in Oakland. Plus the Ravens should be extra-motivated to win this game, since they could be fighting for the division title or possible home field advantage. Ravens win 27-10

Ravens Record: 13-3

Is there a ton of homerism in that prediction? You bet. I am thinking that a 11-5 record is a more realistic possibility,with losses coming against the Colts and Vikings, but I figured I'd reverse my 2008 prediction for continuity.

I just hope I'm not as off on this prediction as I was on that one.