Thursday, September 26, 2013

Better Late Than Never...Week Three Review

At least I made it to Week 3 before getting one of my picks wrong.  Hey, I can admit it when I make a mistake.  The young Raven defense impressed me with their win against Houston as they kept the high octane Houston offense from getting off the ground.  Does that make me change my opinion that Baltimore will miss the playoffs?  Nope., but it does make me feel better about the defense.

This picture has nothing to do with the post, I just miss the Fu.

Granted I only watched the first half of the game (thanks hospitality job!) so my thoughts are only based on a half of football where the only consistency on the Baltimore offense was Bryant McKinnie getting face mask penalties. Luckily for Joe Flacco and his cohorts  Matt Schaub lost sight of the underneath coverage and hit Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith right between the numbers.  Smith scampered 37 yards and the Ravens had their first touchdown of the day.  If you want a sign that this is indeed a new Baltimore defense, they managed to score a defensive touchdown without a single lateral.  I’m sure on the other sideline Hobo Ed Reed wept.

Tandon Doss then totally redeemed his horrible preseason by running a punt back and the Texans’ backs were officially broken.  Let’s take a moment to congratulate the prognostication powers of Dan Dierdorf (and his broadcast partner Greg Gumbel totally whiffing on his point)

It’s hard to be critical of an offense that was missing its number one running back, number one tightend and number two wide receiver, but man is it brutal to watch at times.  Flacco is never going to be the efficient, precision passing leader of offense like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees. That’s just not his game.  He’s a big-armed quarterback that relies on his receivers to make difficult catches.  He is, to mix sports metaphors, “wild in the strike zone”.  The ball gets to the general area that it needs to be, but his receivers tend to need to stretch an extra inch or five to make the reception. And THAT is the reason that losing Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta at the same time hurts the offense.  At this point, no one on the team has that ability to make the difficult catch consistently.  Heck, they are still working on catching the passes that he does get on the mark (ahem Dallas Clark).

"I totally forgot to up my 401k contribution"

One nice thing about procrastinating this week is that I do get to ignore the rest of the game and mention the Love Bus controversy.  For those of you that block any Ravens related news story it appears some members of the team went out to celebrate McKinnie’s birthday and, allegedly, a minor altercation ensued.

All in all it probably would have escaped TMZ’s attention except for the part where the stripper named Sweet Pea hit Jacoby Jones over the head with an oversized champagne bottle - allegedly. Which is freakin’ allegedly hilarious.  I’m sorry, I’m sure that I’m supposed to be outraged that 20 and 30-year-old men are hanging out with strippers, but I can’t help but laugh.

Let’s look at the bright side.  The only thing brandished was a bottle, no firearms. And no one was drinking and driving. In the world of professional sports this was a downright responsible party. Heck, even if Jones has been concussed by the bottle it wouldn’t have been the wackiest injury of the week in the NFL.  Congratulations go out to Nate Burleson and his pizza-related broken arm for winning that award.

Coach Harbaugh is putting on his best Ward Cleaver face by saying that he was “disappointed” with the reports and that is isn’t something that the players should be “proud of”. Heck, he even dropped the “nothing good happens after midnight” line.  Can you see Harbaugh calling Jones into the office and giving him the, “Jacoby, I’m not mad at you, just disappointed” speech?  Because I can. That’s why we need a HBO 24/7 show on a football team throughout the whole season.

This being the world we live in, the incident didn’t die the quick death it deserved.  On ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown Ray Lewis was asked to comment on the altercation and he spun into a lack of leadership on the team. If there is anyone who knows that nothing good happens after midnight, it’s Ray Lewis.  He does make a valid point - a point that others have made. Who is the leader on this team? Is it laid back Joe Flacco? Terrell Suggs?  While most expect them to be, neither one is particularly suited to being clubhouse leaders.  At least not publicly. What happens behind closed doors no one, including Ray Lewis, knows. My vote for team leader - Justin Tucker, bitches!*

For the record, the team has brushed off any concerns about leadership, Suggs even mentions that they have a “lot of leaders” on the team.  Which might be a bit of a problem.  Too many chefs in the kitchen and all that….

Right now the Ravens are ranked 20th in passing yards and 25th in rushing.  That’s not good enough to get it done.  The defense, which has righted the ship since the Debacle in Denver, needs help.  Even if the offense doesn’t score points, they can’t keep stringing three-and-out drives together.  Even a young defense will get tired out if they’re on the field for too long.

 In the end, the Ravens are 2-1, tied for the division lead with the Bengals and two games clear of the reeling Steelers and one game ahead of the Browns.  With Buffalo up next for them there is a good chance that they finish the first quarter of the season at 3-1, which keeps them in the playoff race….for now.

*The phrase “Justin Tucker, bitches” was created by my sister, lover of kickers and punters, who once asked her husband, “Do you think he gets sad when he throws an interception?” At least that’s how the story goes.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Nervous? C'mon it Was the Browns

One nice thing about being a Ravens fan over the last decade and a half is that there is no feeling of panic being down to the Browns 6-0 at the half. I wouldn’t say I was happy with their first half performance, more like accepting of it.  If you have a friend who is a heroin addict do you get mad when he steals your wallet to buy more heroin?  No, you accept it and hide your wallet better.  The Ravens are my hophead friend.  Instead of being addicted to smack, they are addicted to three-and-out drives.

Just for you Big K.  #kickersarepeopletoo

At some point during the game a NFL “insider” tweeted something along the lines of “How about that Browns defense! Shutting out the Ravens!”. Apparently, this guy (I think it was Ian Rappaport) wasn’t watching the game, just the ticker.  The Browns defense was indeed pitching a shut out, but only because Justin Tucker was honoring Billy Cundiff by shanking two field goals and Joe Flacco had two touchdowns dropped by his receivers.  At best it should have been 20-6, at worst 10-6.  So yeah, great job Browns!

That being said, the Ravens still had their fair share of stalled drives in the first half (four of them).  Flacco is indeed the King of Cool, but at times the entire offense seems to adopt a laissez-faire attitude toward scoring.  And while that works against Cleveland, it really, really doesn’t work against teams that actually play competent football.

Next week they have to take on Houston, and while the Texans have their issues, they can definitely move the ball down the field at a better pace than the Browns.  Even if brittle wide receiver Andre Johnson is out, Matt Schaub still has Owen Daniels, Arian Foster, Ben Tate and rookie DeAndre Hopkins to choose from.  Getting pressure on Schaub is a must, and the good news for zubaz-clad Ravens fans is that the defense has done well pressuring quarterbacks so far.

In two games they’ve racked up 8 sacks, mostly while rushing only 4.  Terrell Suggs is healthy and benefiting from the attention paid to Elvis Dumervil and Chris Canty.  Now that Arthur Jones is back from his life-threatening viral infection the front seven is looking vastly improved.

Which is good, because the secondary is still a bit Chykie, I mean shaky.  It appears John Harbaugh experiment of playing a safety who can’t tackle is over now that rookie Matt Elam (GO GATORS!) has seemingly replaced Michael Huff.  Having 11 players on the field who know they can tackle should improve the defense a tad.
Yes that Chykie Brown reference was just so I could post this picture

Unfortunately, they are still having issues covering multiple threats in the open.  Several times Browns’ tight end Jordan Cameron was wide open. So open that even Brandon Weeden couldn’t miss him. That was something that plagued the Ravens against the Broncos and could cause havoc next week against the Texans.

Also a possible cause of havoc - Ray Rice’s injury.  It’s never good when a player goes down without being hit. While the team is “hopeful” that his hip flexor will be better by next week, if he’s out it could be a big blow to the team’s struggling offense.  The good news is that Bernard Pierce is capable of filling Rice’s cleats, behind Pierce there isn’t much of an option.  Right now the only other running back listed on the roster is newly signed Shaun Draughn who was picked up off the waiver wire to boost the return game in Jacoby Jones absence.

Pierce isn’t as reliable catching the ball out of the backfield as Rice is, so it potentially removes one of Flacco’s safety valves. Rice is tied with Torrey Smith for the team lead with 11 receptions, and while fewer of them have been check downs then they have been in the past, Rice is still one of the few receivers that Flacco is familiar with. Against the Browns he almost completely abandoned throwing to the tight ends as Dallas Clark only had one catch (and he held on to it!) as did new comer Billy Bajema.

I have a feeling that the Ravens are going to go back to a pound-the-rock ground game next week after two weeks of flinging the football around.  Keeping the Texans offense off of the field seems to be the best way to keep them from scoring, so prolonging drives and slowly moving down the field seems to be the smart way to go.

Marlon Brown does seem to be emerging as a capable replacement for Jones, despite dropping a sure touchdown in the first half.  He did have some nice catches in the second half and at 6’5” he has the height to reel in some of Flacco’s less than accurate passes.  If he keeps progressing he could develop into Anquan Boldin 2.0 and give the Ravens the third down/ red zone possession receiver they need to compliment the deep threat in Torrey Smith.

Through two games the Ravens are 1-1 (tied for the AFC North lead!) which is better than being 0-2.  I know, master of the obvious, but in the AFC this year there is a decent chance that a 7-9 team makes it to the playoffs.  Why can’t the Ravens be that team?

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Showdown on Showtime on Saturday in Sin City...Seriously

Big fight weekend.  If there is anytime to be in Las Vegas it’s on a weekend when Floyd Mayweather is fighting.  It’s when Vegas is at it’s Vegas-iest.  Overpriced hotel rooms, mobs of people walking around the strip, bumper-to-bumper traffic, old men with 20-year-old bottled-blonds on their arms, and nary a $10 table to be seen.  So are all of those people in town to see Mayweather win and keep his undefeated streak going? Or are they there to see Saul Alvarez defy the odds and give the old man the beating people have been hoping for since “Money” dispatched a broken down Oscar De La Hoya over a decade ago?

It’s nice to see a main stream, media-backed web outlet like Grantland give quite a bit of attention to the Mayweather/Alvarez tilt.  A couple of articles and a mention on the B.S. Report pod cast is more coverage than boxing has seen from basic sports sites in a long, long time.  One of the pieces, by Jay Caspian King, is a rather cynical piece delving into the hype that surrounds Alvarez - the young, undefeated Mexican boxer who has catapulted to international fame over the last year.

King posits that while Alvarez isn’t without some skill, he is more a product of Golden Boy Promotions never-ending search for the next De La Hoya than a serious fighter.  Personally, I thought the article came off a little harsh on Alvarez, making him seem little more than a red-headed puppet who can’t dance.

While it’s true that Alvarez has few world class victories under his championship belt, he has won against everyone put in front of him.  The last year has seen the 23-year-old  record his two best victories as he beat Josesito Lopez into submission in September of 2012. Then in  April of this year, Alvarez beat Austin Trout unanimously on the judges’ scorecards to earn his shot against Mayweather.

There is no question that the quiet Mexican is far from being a finished product. That’s part of the reason he is in this fight. If he was at the peak of his ability there is little chance that the aging Mayweather would have chosen to fight him.  “Money” is a master of defense in the ring, but his true genius might lie in his ability to pick opponents that match up well against him.  He knows that he has to fight someone that has the illusion of a chance against him, because no one is paying $70 to watch him whip Matthey Hatton’s ass.

Robert Guerrero was supposed to bring an elusive defense and enough hand speed to be able to counter Mayweather in the ring.  Which worked for about 3 rounds.  Still, going into the fight you could almost make an argument that “The Ghost” had a chance.  That helps sells tickets.

In Alvarez I’m sure The Money Team saw a popular fighter with power and a rabid fan base that can convince themselves Canelo has a chance.  Let’s face it, going back to the Rickey Hatton fight, most fans have rooted for Mayweather to lose, not necessarily for his opponent to win. Boxing fans like Miguel Cotto and Victor Ortiz, but they weren’t packing press conferences around the country three months before the fight to support them.

In King’s article he argues that Alvarez’s popularity is more of a myth created by Golden Boy and Televisia, the Mexican television network that has broadcast many of his fights.  I think he’s a bit off and based way too much on the lackluster showing at the Mexico City press conference.  I was at the Chicago Theatre with 3,000 other fans for their press tour.  At least 80% of that crowd was pro-Alvarez.  The same with the pre-fight weigh in on Friday night.

You can argue that some of that fame is based on his looks or the Mexican boxing fan’s unrelenting need for a hero. However, to say he isn’t popular, or that his popularity is a sham propped up by a media empire is just plain wrong.

That being said, I don’t think he has a shot against Mayweather. His hands are too slow and if by some chance he does land a few power shots against Mayweather early then there are going to be boos from the crowd later.  Floyd is smart enough, and still fast enough, to go into defensive mode.  Do enough to win a round with jabs and straight rights and then spend the rest of the three minutes dancing around in the ring.  It isn’t fun to watch, but it it’s good enough to win and cash a paycheck.

For Alvarez this is the defining moment of his young career. If he floors Mayweather with a lucky punch he instantly becomes the new face of boxing and HBO offers him 3 gazillion dollars.  The good news for him is that he doesn’t have to win the fight to gain popularity.  As long as he is willing to go blow-for-blow with Mayweather, as long as he stands in there and takes the beating that is coming his way and battles back he will earn the respect from those that think he is a paper champion.  This is the fight where he can prove that he embodies the “warrior spirit” that critics like to talk about when describing Mexican fighters.

There is little chance that the fight will live up the hype, it’s damn near impossible given the amount that has been generated over the past few months.  In fact, there is a more than likely chance that the Danny Garcia/ Lucas Matthysse light welterweight match-up will be the best fight of the night.

I’m hoping that Alvarez has a game plan for getting Mayweather to box. I’ll be sprinting from work to a bar and forking over a $20 cover just to watch the fight and I really, really don’t like running. Hopefully I’ll get my money worth and we see an action packed 12 rounds of boxing (I have Mayweather winning by decision). If not, then I’ll just go on with life and wait for the Manny Pacquiao/ Brandon Rios fight in November.  God knows there is no way that one isn’t a slugfest.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Nothing to Say - Just an Old Fashioned Giveaway

So as my birthday rolls around it's time to figure out what I'm going to do over the next year of my life.  Since curling up in a ball and bemoaning my lost childhood is not really an option I guess I'll have to go in a different direction.  One thing I would like to do is pare down my collection.

A couple of weeks I went down to the Florida HQ to clean out my condo for a new renter.  That meant moving a closet full of cards. I have too many cards.  Waaaay too many cards.  And now they're cluttering up my in-laws closet.  Which isn't cool.  Not much I can do about that right now, especially since we have no room in Chicago for them. So for now I can only get rid of what I have on me here in the Windy City.

My goal over the next year is give, trade or sell 5,000 cards.  A somewhat lofty goal I think, but something that should be doable (and make the Duchess happy). I'll be keeping track on the blog (thinking somewhere over there to the right, probably where I used to track my TTM autos).

The best way to get started, in my opinion is to give away a set that's been sitting on my desk for a couple of months.  It's the Upper Deck 25th Anniversary USA Baseball set.

It's open (hey I had to see if there was a Carl Crawford autograph) but complete.  That means the lucky recipient will receive the entire 200 card set, 3 autographs, 1 memorabilia card and 1 pin (of what appeared to be a puzzle to put together.

All you have to do to win is be the first person to post in the comments below the answer to the following question:

Which former Team USA star was drafted in first round by the Orioles, hit .305 in his first 110 atbats with the O's, then suffered injuries that prevented him from living up to the Rickey Henderson comparison bestowed on him by former Baltimore great Frank Robinson.

bonus hint - he ended up playing for six major league teams over parts of 12 seasons.

First correct answer posted in comments wins!

Friday, September 6, 2013

So That Went Well

Now before all of you Ravens fans start jumping off the Bromo Seltzer Tower, take a deep breath and try to stay positive.  Here are a few things to remember:

The Orioles are still in the playoff hunt!
Fall is a great time of year in the MidAtlantic area!
Mayweather/Alvarez is only a week away!
The Ravens sacked Peyton Manning three times!

Sure he torched them for 7 touchdowns and 462 yards passing, but still - they actually got pressure on him.  Manning is the best quarterback of his generation at avoiding sacks. At least, I’m pretty sure he is, I don’t feel like finding any data to support that claim because I am a sports stats Luddite.  I’m ok with that.  The point is, the Ravens D had the worst night in the organization’s history and there are still some positives to take from the game.
Hopefully he's prepared at least 19 more sack celebrations

For the last two years they’ve had problems getting to the quarterback consistently.  Hopefully, with a healthy Terrell Suggs, Chris Canty and Elvis Dumervil there is hope that they can cause some havoc in the opponents backfield. If they can get three sacks against Manning, they should be able to double that total against Brandon Weedon next Sunday.

Ok, so that’s the good.  Now for the bad, the very, very bad.  Manning a exploited a young, disorganized defense.  He beat them like a 12-year-old playing against me in Maddon. There were too many plays where the receivers weren’t just open, they were WIDE open, as in the Baltimore defender wasn’t even in the picture. I don’t think it’s the result of bad talent, most likely it’s coverage breakdowns and miscommunication - the two-headed demon that plagues all young defenses.

Luckily, that’s why teams are allowed to practice during the week.  There is a good bet that there will be some looooong video sessions in Baltimore over the next 9 days. They should play better against Cleveland, because well - Cleveland.  Unfortunately, the week after that, they will be right up against another high-powered offense in Houston.  Matt Schaub doesn’t have as many options as Manning does, but he still has big threats in Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Arian Foster and (hopefully for my fantasy team - DeAndre Hopkins).  That will be the real test for the defense.

Offensively, the Ravens actually looked as good as team could when passing the ball 756 times.  Ok, so it was only 62 times, but with Ray Rice on the team that’s too many passes.  BUT JUSTIN THEY WERE LOOOOSING SO THEY HAD TO THROW THE BALL!!!  First of all, stop yelling at me in my internet space.  Second, Flacco chucked the ball 29 times in the first half, you know, before the dark times, before the 3rd quarter.

It’s not like the Ravens have a bunch of shiny new toys for Flacco to throw to.  The biggest pickups in the off season were stars back when Trent Dilfer had hair and Tony Siragusa weighed less than a humpback whale. Just because Flacco is making a $100 million dollars doesn’t mean he needs to throw the ball a 100 million times.  Line up behind Leach and run the ball.

The good news is that it looked like the play calling was working.  Part of the reason it was so painful to watch Dallas Clark drop passes like the AT&T drops phone calls is because he was wide open.  Same thing with Ed Dickson and Brandon Stokley. As much as the non-challenge by Harbaugh changed the momentum, so did Clark’s touchdown drop (so much so that Steeler Fan/Crusher of Golf Balls Link sent a message saying that the Ravens would regret leaving those 4 points on the field).
Everyone regrets their college photos

Cris Collinsworth did make a salient point last night (granted he made it two or three times, beating it into the ground as he is wont to do). Flacco hasn’t developed the trust in any of his receivers that he had with Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta where he could throw the ball in their general area and be pretty sure they would make the catch.

In time, Torrey Smith will be that guy.  Late in the game he made a hell of a one-handed catch with a Bronco defender ripping one of his arms back.  Marlon Brown looks like he has pretty sure hands and could develop into a solid possession receiver (side topic - can we start a petition to have him drop the “n” in his name.  I feel the Baltimore will be better with a “Marlo” on the team.  #TheWire #TeamStanfield).  If Jacoby Jones is out for any length of time, Flacco is looking at an receiving unit that he has very little familiarity with.  That’s not exactly a template of success for a less-than-accurate quarterback.

Before the start of the game I told the bartender that I thought the Ravens were a 7-9 team this year.  Young defense, tough schedule, Super Bowl hangover and a depletion of talent were just too much for me to think this team could be an upper echelon team. They will improve as the season goes on, but Manning laid out the game plan on how to beat them - fast tempo, multiple receiver sets and short routes. There is no reason to think that they aren’t going to see the same thing from Houston, Green Bay, New England and Cincinnati (my pick to win the AFC North). Pittsburgh will try, but honestly who is Ben going to throw to?

I could be wrong and the defense could gel quicker than expected, but I’m more than prepared for 15 more games of Michael Huff whiffing on tackles and Ed Dickson alligator-arming passes across the middle of the field. I call week three when we actually see Joe Flacco express an emotion of disgust.
Joe Flacco is not amused.  Or is he? I can't really tell.

How Justin G. sees the season unfolding:

Week 1  at Denver - Loss

Week 2 Cleveland - Win. Defense redeems itself with a pick-6 and 5 sacks

Week 3 Houston - Loss .Andre Johnson 250 yards receiving before blowing a hamstring in the 3rd quarter

Week 4 at Buffalo - Win. Flacco throws four TDs and the defense picks off surprise starter Jim Kelly 4 times

Week 5 at Miami - Win. The annual ugly 12-10 win

Week 6 Green Bay - Loss. Aaron Rogers throws 3 TDS and fans start booing Flacco

Week 7 at Pitttsburgh - Loss. Felix Jones runs for 120 yards and I regret not starting him

Week 8 Bye - Eighty-Five “Should Harbaugh Be Fired?” columns are published

Week 9 at Cleveland - Win. C’mon it’s Cleveland

Week 10 Cincinnati - Loss.  Eighty-Five “The Bengals are For Real!” columns published.

Week 11 at Chicago - Loss. The annual 12-10 loss.

Week 12 NY Jets - Win. Ravens celebrate Thanksgiving by picking off Mark Sanchez 7 times.

Week 13 Pittsburgh - Win. Flacco hits Smith on a 98-yard pass that bounces off of Ike Taylors helmet in overtime. Playoff hopes are alive!

Week 14 Minnesota - Win. Christian Ponder is cut at halftime. Adrian Peterson is one week away from returning from his Week 2 ACL surgery.

Week 15 at Detroit - Loss.  Megatron with four receiving touchdowns. Possible rookie of the year Matt Elam is hurt when Terrell Suggs body slams him in a weird post-sack celebration.

Week 16 New England - Loss.  Patriots extract revenge for the playoff loss last year. Recent free-agent tight end Tim Tebow catches 6 passes for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Week 17 at Cincinnati - Loss.  Bengals celebrate first AFC North title since 2009. Five players promptly arrested in post-game celebration.

Final record 7-9. Harbaugh keeps his job, fans demand the Ravens trade up to draft Teddy Bridgewater, Ray Lewis mulls a comeback.