Monday, October 31, 2011

The Good, The Bad, The Ravens

I guess it’s time to say something. I’ve been pondering what to write about them for a couple of weeks now. Even when I was in Hawaii I was thinking about them, well in a distant “I wonder what they’re up to right now while I sip this Mai Tai” kind of way. Baseball is over, hockey is settling into it’s regular season and despite Nike’s claim, basketball is still stopped. So it’s time. Time to say something about the Baltimore Ravens.

I could point out the good. They have a gaudy 5-2 record and the largest point differential in the league at 75 ( 185 points scored vs. 110 points allowed). They’ve knocked off the Steelers and the Jets. Their quarterback has more wins than anyone else since 2008. They rolled off a 21 point, second-half comeback on Sunday.

Or I could point out the bad. They are 5-2, but four other teams in the AFC have two losses as well. That makes for quite a crowd come playoff time. Those big wins against the Steelers and Jets are off-set by losses to the Titans and Jaguars. Flacco may win games but he also spent 6 straight quarters missing receivers like he was a Dr. Pepper “Million Dollar Throw” contestant. The fact that they needed to come back from 21 down at home against the Cardinals is pathetic in itself.

Normally, I don’t condone booing a home team. However, if there was ever a team that deserved some hometown derision it was the squad that walked into the locker rooms at halftime on Sunday. They had spent a game and a half looking as inept as any of the “Suck for Luck” contenders this season. It wasn’t Joe Flacco’s fault, or Cam Cameron’s fault, or the offensive line’s fault, or Edgar, Allen and Poe’s fault. It was everyone’s fault.

In my preseason preview I pegged them as a 10-6 team. I was trying to be pessimistic, with their schedule I could have been talked into them as a 14-2 or 13-3 team. Heck, even now 12-4 isn’t out of the question. Unfortunately neither is 8-8. I’ve never watched a team that is as unpredictable as this year’s Raven’s squad.

After dropping a bomb in Jacksonville, conventional internet wisdom had them taking out their frustration on a hapless Cardinals team. Instead, the Ravens spent the first half fumbling around the field incoherently. Despite the fact that they turned it around in the second half I have no confidence in them winning going into their rivalry week with Pittsburgh. Of course, that means they’ll beat the Steelers by 25.

Highlighting their inconsistency brilliantly is their quarterback Joe Flacco. Through 7 games he’s been as unpredictable as spring weather in Baltimore. Twice he’s tossed three touchdowns in a game, and three times he’s thrown for zero scores. He’s completed less than half of his passes in 2 games, he’s also completed more than sixty percent of his passes in two games. He threw for 137 yards in the Jacksonville game, in the games before and after he threw for more than 300 in each. So good luck figuring out what he’s going to do on a week-to-week basis.

Whether a team struggles or succeeds, an inordinate amount of the focus is on the quarterback. In Baltimore that goes even more so for Joe Flacco. The Charm City is quietly a cruel place to play for quarterbacks. Even though he hasn’t thrown a pass in 40 years Johnny Unitas looms large in the town. Every quarterback that laces them up for the Ravens has been compared to him (normally along the lines of “He’s no Jaaawwwwwnnnhheee U!”.

When a team struggles for consistency from week to week, the struggles are usually caused by the offensive line. The Ravens, as would any NFL team, would love to run the ball 25-30 times a game and succeed. The problem is, with their patched together line, they aren’t able to get enough push to make that successful. Nor are they able to keep away the blitzing hordes on third down situations.
Flacco has a lot of strengths as a quarterback, reading through his progressions is not one of them.

He tends to look for his primary, glance at a secondary receiver and if both options are covered immediately look for his safety blanket - the check down to Ray Rice. Unfortunately, as of late his line hasn’t even given him time to make those reads. Moving to a shotgun offense seemed to give him that extra second or two to find his open receivers and regain his confidence. It will be interesting to see if that becomes more of an option in the season as it progresses.

The Ravens need to find a way to make him feel comfortable in the offense. He is no longer a rookie learning the game, rather he is the quarterback that he is destined to be. If the organization believes that he is the long term answer it is time to develop the game plan around his strengths, not force him to change to accommodate their plays.

Settling down their quarterback will help steady the team. The defense is proving to be the best the organization has had since the Super Bowl year. Even the secondary, which I had doubts about, has proven to be good enough to shut most teams down. With the exception of the pass happy Patriots, the Ravens actually match up pretty well to the other teams that look to be playoff bound this season.

With just over half of their season remaining, and a stretch of winnable games looming after Pittsburgh, the Ravens need to find the consistency that has been lacking so far in order to remain with those front runners. It’s hard to imagine any 5-2 team facing must win games, but should they fall to the Steelers next week, Baltimore could face that exact possibility.

Friday, October 28, 2011

This is the most impressive Vinny card I've ever seen. It's mine. It took me two weeks to get this. This card is expensive. It's about $3 on the 'Bay, because of the awesome. It doesn't fit in a standard top-loader, because it doesn't belong in a standard top-loader.
It's the kind of thing that this card is so good that even if you don't like Vincent, you won't trade it away 'cause it demonstrates incredible collecting capabilities. Collecting is not about value, it's about having awesome cards.
My card has a die cut window. My card is serial numbered. My card is game worn. Authentic guaranteed. Not kidding.
My card, instead of telling you it's worth $15, 'cause who cares about Beckett, tells you I collect awesome. Guaranteed. What do you own – guaranteed?

Yup, I picked up another card for the ol' personal collection. A very generous blogger by the name of Kevin over at The Mojo Beard sent this one my way about a week ago. In return for…….nothing. The generosity of people on the internet never ceases to amaze me. His goodness will be returned…once I get back to Florida and the home of the collection. In the meantime, check his writing out.
Oh and that first part, in case it sounded familiar, was lifted directly from one of my favorite youtube clips of all time. Check it out here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Should He Stay or Should He Go

A future line for the Bolts (photo from
Decisions, decisions. You see, I'm in the market for a new Lightning jersey. Since they've gone and updated their uniforms as a fan, it is required that I update my wardrobe. Actually, it's not, but I did get me usual jersey signed by Mr. Lecavalier so I can't really wear that one around anymore.

The problem is, other than finances, is that I haven't decided whose jersey I should get. My first inclination is to go with another Lecavalier or perhaps a Stamkos, but my contrarian nature is pushing me away from the masses. While I'd like to be one of the few to rock an Adam Hall jersey, I'd also like a player who has a decent chance of being around for more than one season. So, at this point, I'm leaning towards my latest hockey player crush – Brett Connolly.

That leads to the topic of Connolly's chances of staying with the big club this season. For those not aware, in the NHL, teams have the option of sending first year players of certain age back to their junior team after nine games and not having their salary count against the cap. With an influx of 18 and 19 year old players this year it has been a major talking point for the last few days around the NHL. Winnipeg has already sent their best prospect, Mark Scheifele, back to the Barrie Colts (former home of former Lightning forward Sheldon Keefe!) and Edmonton is mulling over sending down top pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as well.

There are benefits to both the player and the team with this arrangement. Let's face it, no matter how good a player is at 18 years old, most of the time they are not physically ready to compete with grown-ass men. Jumping directly from juniors to the NHL is hard, even players that stuck such as Stamkos and Sidney Crosby admit that they weren't ready for the speed of game in the pros.

It is not beneficial for a young player to be scratched three out of every four games or log six minutes a game when they do get a chance to make the lineup. Nor does it do a lot for their confidence to get shoved around the ice by a 4th line center who happens to outweigh them by 30 pounds on the ice. Better for the youngster to get another year of seasoning at the junior level, and better for the team to not have to pay them the entry level contract.

Finances are important for the team, as is maintaining control of the player as long as possible, but I don't think it's as important as it is in baseball. The hard cap and reasonable arbitration contracts (when they get to that point) make it easier for hockey organizations to retain their young talent than their baseball brethren. Still, teams don't like forking over first round money for a player that is mostly riding the pine.
If you happen to have one of these I'd take it off your hands! (photo from

Connolly is an interesting case. GM Steve Yzerman has admitted that he is having a tough time deciding if he should retain the services of his young winger. Mr. Yzerman admitted to the St. Pete Times that, "We're a better team with him in the lineup". While the youngster hasn't been lightning up the scoreboard at a Calder Trophy pace he has been effective on the ice. He's notched two assists and has averaged 13:44 minutes on the ice through his first eight games. While that number pales in comparison to the likes of Stamkos (18:57) Martin St Louis (19:31) it is higher than veterans Teddy Purcell (12:42) and Steve Downie (13:22).

The coaching staff is giving him quality ice time. Instead of putting him on a checking line he has spent the majority of his playing time recently on Lecavalier's line. He's also averaging about a minute and a half of power play time a game as well. Those aren't exactly the numbers of someone that is destined for a demotion, especially on a team that is desperate for secondary scoring. Even though its importance as a stat is debatable, it is worth noting that he is second on the team (and tied for first among his fellow rookies) in +/- at a healthy +4.

So if they do keep him, how does the team keep him effective for the entire year? Without a doubt he will hit the proverbial "rookie wall". He has never played more than 65 games in a season and is only two years removed from hip surgery. At a listed 181 lbs. there is no doubt that he is undersized for a NHL forward as well. Banging around in the corners with 230 lb defensemen will take its toll on him over the course of the season.

The team should take caution with his playing time, perhaps putting him on the Stamkos program. For all of his faults as a head coach Rick Tocchet handled Stamkos' rookie season beautifully. One of the more important aspects was the occasional "classroom session". Throughout his rookie season Stamkos was occasionally scratched and sent to the press box to watch the game. Normally seen as a punishment, being a healthy scratch not only allowed the young sniper a chance to rest physically, it also allowed him to see the game from a different aspect.

I think we can all agree it worked out rather well for Stamkos.

The Lightning have enough depth that they can afford to sit Connolly once every four or five games to give him a breather or to regain focus. Coach Boucher is fond of keeping players refreshed anyway so it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to rotate Connolly through the lineup. Despite his rough early play, there is no doubt that Ryan Shannon can step into the lineup and contribute, and the same goes for Tom Pyatt.

From the games I've watched it's apparent that Connolly deserves to stay with the big club (which, of course, means he'll be sent down within moments of me posting this) and with the right handling can be and effective member of the team. Now the only decision remaining is if I should get the road or home jersey.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dear God! Lightning! Wrestling! Together in One Place!

I’ll write a season preview of the Lightning, I promise I will. As a matter of fact, I’m finished almost half of it already. OK, more like a third, but it will be done this week. Hopefully. I got a little sidetracked. You see when I was thinking about what I would say about a couple of players and for some reason the idea of comparing them to wrestlers popped in my mind.

It’s not like I’m a huge wrestling fan. In fact, I hadn’t really followed it had been ignoring it until CM Punk cut his epic promo earlier this year. The WWE trashed the so-called “reality era” storyline and things seem back to normal (last week’s show ended with wrestlers and employees walking out on new CEO Paul Levesque – better known as former/current wrestler HHH.

As I tried to sleep last night the idea grew in my head and I was able to match up more and more players with wrestlers. So, what began as a throwaway comment in my season preview post grew into its very own post. I’ll warn you right now – if you don’t like wrestling you might as well start reading something else. Also, if you’re a die-hard wrestling fanatic the following will seem trite, so feel free to start reading something else as well.

Wrestling and sports have shared the spotlight a few times over the years. From athletes like Karl Malone and Floyd Mayweather appearing in story lines to the Green Bay Packers championship belt and Dustin Pedroria hanging Ric Flair’s robe over his locker, sports and entertainment have mixed well together. Wrestling isn’t a sport, but that doesn’t mean the people who participate aren’t athletes.

I’m going to start off by eliminating a few names from consideration: Mathieu Garon, Bruno Gervais, Matt Gilroy and Tom Pyatt are all too new for me to get a good handle. So they don’t get their own wrestling partner. If you have a suggestion for those guys hit me up in the comments! Here we go!

Martin St Louis - Edge. I struggled with this one a bit, putting different names down next to Mr. St Louis. Marty was undrafted, he was picked up on waivers, buried on the checking line early in his career until he went into the coach’s office and asked for more playing time. To say he that he made the most with that opportunity is an understatement. Edge was also known as the “Ultimate Opportunist” for cashing in his Money in the Bank chance and claiming the heavyweight belt. Both are offensive highlight machines and well liked by the majority of fans.

Brett Connolly – John Morrison. I have no better reason than having an inexplicable fondness for both of them. Like Connolly, Morrison has a tremendous arsenal of offensive moves. His ability to land those moves convincingly isn’t quite as tremendous (a Google search for “John Morrison both” returns about 450,000 hits). Connolly has shown some flashes in his first few games, but has made enough mistakes that he’ll be returned to his junior team in the next week or so.

Mattias Ritola, Dominic Moore, Adam Hall, Blair Jones – Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes, Alex Riley, Ted DiBiase, Jr. Is there really any difference between Rhodes and Ziggler, well other than Rhodes current gimmick of putting paper bags on people’s heads? In the same mode the3rd and 4th liners for the Lightning all tend to be interchangeable at well. Unlike wrestling, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Marc-Andre Bergeron – Kofi Kingston. They both are known for their offense. The other parts of their game aren’t quite so strong. MAB has his issues with defensive zone coverage and Kofi tends to struggle with anything that doesn’t involve jumping really high in the air.

Teddy Purcell – Evan Bourne. Vinny’s running mate gets the other half of the Tag Team Champ – Air Boom. Dumb name aside, at least they are working as a true tag team with matching tights and combination moves. Bourne, a high flyer, and Purcell, a surprising talented offensive player, both give you the sense that they haven’t quite lived up to their full potential yet.
Ryan Malone – CM Punk. I’m not going to lie; this one was kind of a stretch. At best they’ve both have tattoos and have a rumored history of being disgruntled with their respective organizations. They’re both best in the role of secondary characters. Despite his current popularity, Punk is best fighting against the establishment instead of being the establishment. Malone is never going to win a scoring title, but is extremely effective as a second line winger who can chip in 20 goals a year.

Eric Brewer – Jack Swagger. Both of them are big, imposing hitters without too much in the way of personality. Swagger does pretty much everything right in the ring and he is billed as the “All-American American,” but is big, blonde and boring. Brewer is also a physical being that doesn’t offer much of a sound bite when a microphone is in his face.

Pavel Kubina – Kevin Nash. They’re both big, a little past their prime and move like their cartilage has been replaced with rusted door hinges.

Brett Clark – Daniel Bryan. They are both kind of there, very steady contributors who occasionally chip in something exciting. Oh, and they both work under two first names. This, as my buddy Hambone would say, means you can’t trust them. If I find out that Clark’s real name is Clark Brettelson my head might explode.

Ryan Shannon – Zack Ryder. Yeah, I got nothing with this one. I just wanted to include Zack Ryder. Woo, woo, woo.

Dwayne Roloson – The Undertaker. No matter the age, they keep on trucking. I bailed on wrestling right as The Undertaker began his reign as one of the top draws in the wrestling world so I’ve been watching some of his “classic” matches on Youtube. The most surprising aspect of his matches is his agility for being so large a human being. In the same way, Roloson is shockingly quick between the pipes.

Nate Thompson – John Cena. Stay with me on this one because I’m sure it seems like a bit of a stretch. John Cena is the most marketable name in wrestling right now and Nate Thompson is a fourth-line, checking center. So what makes them similar? Both are that consummate company men. Thompson is sometimes known as “Textbook” for his ability to play Coach Boucher’s system to perfection. Cena, for his part, is 100% loyal to the WWE brand and will do pretty much anything the company asks of him (except, apparently, go more than 3 days without having some sort of belt).

Victor Hedman – Sheamus. This one was a no-brainer for me. Both of them are big, European and pale. With Sheamus getting a baby-face push (look at that wrestlin’ lingo!) look for him to get a lot of airtime. Entering into his third season I have a feeling Hedman will establish himself as one of the best young defensemen in the game.

Steven Stamkos – early Goldberg. Yeah, I had to reach back into the vault for this one. There is no one wrestler that everyone loves. The rise of anti-heroes like Steve Austin and the constant switching back and forth between heel and baby-face of stars like the Rock and Hulk Hogan destroyed the concept of the pure hero. Even loyal face John Cena is so divisive that every time he wrestles the crowd alternates chants of “Cena Sucks” and “Let’s go Cena”.

When Goldberg came to the WCW the storyline had him as an unstoppable beast. Kind of like Stamkos is on the ice. From what I can remember, everyone loved the way Goldberg would storm through his opponents, not wasting any movement or even any breath (it was forever before he cut a promo). When he took down the members of NWO and won the strap in Atlanta in 1998, that arena went nuts. It was a legitimate sports moment.

The Lightning hasn’t had a player like Stamkos in their history. Lecavalier struggled early in his career, as did St Louis. Stammer struggled for approximately half of a season. Since then, he’s been unstoppable. Unlike other star players such as Sid Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, most of the hockey crowd seems to like Stamkos. In this age where we build up stars just to knock them back down, he seems to glide above it all.

Vincent Lecavalier – Alberto Del Rio. Both are former champs. English is the second language for both, and they both enjoy high-end automobiles. I also think both are a little underappreciated at times. Del Rio can handle himself well in the ring, and the development of his character as the smarmy, rich foreigner is starting to work. Lecavalier’s struggles on the ice over the past few years and his large contract have some pundits thinking he might be washed up – a notion he may have dispelled with a strong spring last season.

Steve Downie – Randy Orton Yup, you guessed it. This was the one that started the whole thing. Downie, a gifted offensive player who has struggled to control his emotions on the ice, and Orton, a third generation wrestler and former champion who seems to be in control until he “goes to that place” and flips out in the ring which occasionally leads to him getting disqualified or losing the match. The Little Ball of Fury and the Apex Predator are two peas in a pod. Also, if you were to tell me that Downie RKO’d someone on the ice, I would believe it in a heartbeat. So there ya go.