Friday, October 5, 2007

First Rat to desert a sunken ship....

Jim Duquette has resigned as VP of the Orioles. Duquette was instrumental in such earth-shattering signings as Corey Patterson and Danys Baez, while also having the savvy to trade John Maine away for Anna Benson (kind enough to bring her husband, Kris, at least for one season). The Nest fully expects more shake-ups to continue in the coming weeks from all sides: front office, coaching staff, and players.

Another promising note: According to Baltimore Sun blogger Roch Kubatko, an MLB scout he talks with has called the O's "ugly," and the worst team in baseball.

Baltimore Baseball: Catch the Fever!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ravens @ 49ers

The Ravens (2-2) travel to San Francisco this week to take on the 49ers (2-2), who are on a 2 game losing skid since starting their season with wins over the Cardinals and Rams. The niners will be without their franchise quarterback, Alex Smith, who dislocated his shoulder in the opening minutes last week when Seattle lineman Rocky Bernard landed on him following a hit. The Nest notes a bit of a coincidence: Ravens fans who saw the hit were reminded of a similar hit that occurred (with similar results) just across the bay, by Tony Siragusa on Rich Gannon in the 2001 AFC Championship game. Connecting the dots, the Ravens quarterback in that game was Trent Dilfer, who just happens to be Alex Smith’s backup in SF this year.

Dilfer was ineffective, to say the least, in relief, as the Seahawks dropped the 49ers 24-3. Our old friend Trent will be making the start against his former team this Sunday, which of course stirred up a media frenzy over the already overplayed Dilfer-Brian Billick feud. The rift between the two has been played up whenever Trent’s teams came to town, when he was with the Seahawks and again when he started against the Ravens in B-More in 2005 for the Cleveland Browns. Trent has been quite outspoken regarding his animosity and hard feelings toward Billick (despite complete opposite views on the city, fans, players, and organization in general), whom he blames for letting him go following the Super Bowl. His most recent barbs came just this year, during Super Bowl XLI media week. However, Dilfer has, for the first time in the nearly 7 years since he left the Ravens, chose to take the high road, saying that he plans to clear the air with Billick before the game. So hopefully Trent, Brian, the media, and the players, will be able to focus on the task at hand, winning a ballgame.

Each team comes in fighting to stay above the .500 mark on the season. The 49ers were, for all intents and purposes, handed their first win by the Cardinals, and got their 2nd against the hapless Rams in St. Louis, before taking beatings the past two weeks at the hands of the Squealers and the aforementioned ‘Hawks. On paper, this should be an easy win for the purple and black. The 49ers, already ranked dead last in the NFL in total offense, are without Smith, while highly hyped RB Frank Gore is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. The Ravens defense, black and blue as it currently is both physically and mentally, will benefit from the (rumored) return of CB Samari Rolle. Having both #1 cornerbacks back on the field should allow Rex Ryan to turn up the pressure on Dilfer, blitzing him relentlessly just as the Seahawks did last week, and as the Ravens did in 2005 when they forced him into 3 turnovers. Keep an eye on this. If the Ravens fail to get pressure on Dilfer, as they did on Derek Anderson last week and Kurt Warner the week before, the Ravens may well leave the west coast at 2-3.

On defense, the 49ers rank 11th against the pass (213 ypg), but 25th against the run (130 ypg). Please, please, please, Brian: RUN THE BALL. The team of Willis Mcgahee and Musa Smith should be able to have a field day against this SF team, and the Nest would even like to see Mike Anderson active to give the Ravens yet another set of legs to pound the ball with. The Ravens will likely be without Todd Heap in the passing game, yet another reason to run, run, run. If the Ravens come out pass-happy again, and Sore-groin Steve is tossing it all over the (5 yards down-) field, be nervous B-More fans.

An X-factor in this game could be SF head coach Mike Nolan. Nolan, a former Ravens defensive coordinator, is in his 3rd season in the Gay city. We saw what happened last week when former coaches meet their old team, as an inferior Cardinals team coached by former Pittsburgh OC Ken Whisenhunt found a way to stop the Squealers high-flying offense. However, Rex Ryan’s defense is nothing like the basic 3-4 Nolan used when he was here, and enough faces have changed on both sides of the ball that this should not be much of an issue. Mike and his suit have been gone too long for any familiarity to make a difference.

The Ravens should win this game easily. However, we have been taught to know better this season. Look for the 49ers to hang around until the very end, due to the reluctance of the Ravens coaches to stick with the run, as well as continued miscommunications in the secondary.

Ravens 20 49ers 17

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Quarter Season Gut-Check

Birds Nest Prologue: Professional athletes should never really need "Gut Checks," or "Wake-up Calls." They are men being paid to play a boy's game, in front of adoring fans who give up their hard earned money to watch them, their tax dollars to finance the teams' stadium, and who live and die with each game. The least they could do is try as hard as they can, all of the time. Of course, in the era of the spoiled athlete, most do not.

That being said, several Ravens and pundits are labeling the loss in Cleveland a wake up call or a gut check. So then what were the 2 near-collapses against the Jets and Cardinals at home? One would hope that those would have "woken" this team up. As fans of the team, we can only hope that they have not been giving their best efforts, and that is the reason for the mediocre play so far this season. The only other option is that they are not a very good team. Some talking heads around the country that don't see this team play on a week-to-week basis have started labeling them as such. We at the Nest know better. There is simply too much collective talent on both sides of the football for this to be a problem of having a "bad" team.

As long ago as it may now seem, it was just last year that the Ravens were 13-3 and the #2 seed in the AFC. However, a quick look around the NFL is evidence that much can change in a year. The Chicago Bears are 1-3, but they have been decimated by injuries on defense and hurt by the regression of Rex Grossman and loss of Thomas Jones. The San Diego Chargers are 1-3, but they are under new head coach Norv Turner, and to say that everybody saw this coming from them would be an understatement. The New Orleans Saints? Well, they just ran out of Fairy Dust. The Ravens, while having sustained a few injuries, are still pretty much the same team, with the same coaching staff, and game philosophies as they had last year. While this may seem at first to be a positive, perhaps it is time to start thinking about how to change things up a bit.

The Ravens offense has been much more unpredictable this season when compared to years past, in terms of whether they will run or pass on any given down, which, along with the upgrade at running back, has led to them currently standing at 8th in the league in total offensive yards. But it hardly matters whether you are running for 3 yards on 1st down and throwing for 5 on 2nd OR throwing for 5 on 1st and running for 3 on 2nd. Its still 3rd and 2.

This offense is still predicated on SHORT passes and controlling the clock. Which works fine when you have a defense that is consistently ranking in the top 5 in the league, as it has been since Brian Billick and his West Coast Offense have been in B-More. But when your vaunted defense is giving up over 22 points per game, scoring 20 on a handful of long drives isn't going to cut it. You're going to need to put up some points. Which means a quick-strike touchdown here and there, exactly what has been missing for the past 8+ seasons.

The Ravens have as much talent on offense, at wide receiver and tight end, as most any team in the league. The difference is in the way they are utilized in the offensive schemes, which results in the discrepancy of being ranked 8th in the league in total yards, yet 18th in points per game. For comparisons sake, the top 4 teams in the league in total offense, 1 through 4, are: Dallas, New England, Indianapolis, Detroit. Top 4 in points per game? Again: Dallas, New England, Indianapolis, Detroit. The yards just aren't translating into points for the Ravens, because they are coming between the 20s. The lack of quick-strike big plays, combined with the abysmal red zone efficiency, lead to a lot of yards....and a lot of field goals.

So instead of (or in addition to) a gut-check to the players, this could serve as a "brain-check" to the Ravens coaches. Last season, Brian Billick made a job and season-saving decision by firing his good friend Jim Fassel as Offensive Coordinator when the Ravens were sitting at 4-2 atop the AFC Central. Perhaps this season he can make a similarly drastic move, by allowing his quarterbacks to throw down the field. We don't know if it really matters whether it is Kyle Boller or Steve McNair. Some would argue that McNair does not have the arm strength to throw the ball all over the field, but both quarterbacks are averaging ~6 yards per attempt this season. Even when he has been in, Boller has shown no signs that he is being encouraged to stretch the field. The change needs to come from the game plan, not from the guy throwing the ball.

Teams have 17 games of film from last season to look at just how the Ravens got their 13-4 record. The same formula may not prove as successful this time around. So will the Ravens coaches stand still, continue to put all the pressure on the defense, and hope it returns to its former self? Or will they take steps toward improving the point output of their offense, serving to take some pressure off of said defense, at least while they get their feet under them and recover from the barrage of punches they have taken over the first 4 games?

The suggestion is not so much for a complete offensive overhaul as it is just a plea for the realization that the team may NEED to score some points to win ballgames. A sense of urgency from the O, evidenced by some shots down the field, some big plays, and a bit of creativity in the red zone. Lets show off the offensive weapons we have here in B-More. The defensive ones just don't seem to be getting it done like they used to. The Ravens are not a bad team. They are a good team playing poorly. Time to get this ship headed in the right direction.

Browns 27 Ravens 13 (The ORIOLE-ESQUE EMBARASSMENT game)

Really? Really? Seriously? That just happened?

Yes, it did.

While we in B-More have come to expect much better from the Purple and Black, the Ravens reminded us that they too are capable of embarrassing us Charm City sports fans from time to time, stinking up Paul Brown stadium with a laugher of an effort against the Browns. Losing 27-13 in a game that wasn’t even as close as that awful final score seems, they were simply dominated in every facet of the game, whether it be offense, defense, special teams, or coaching. Pathetic. Absolutely terrible. The Ravens seem to THINK they are better than they actually are, and can play hard when they feel like it, while just going through the motions when they don’t.

The sky isn’t falling in B-More just yet, Ravens fans. However, make no mistake about it: a couple more showings like we saw last weekend, and there will be no Festivus talk this year. Go get better, boys, and don’t embarrass yourselves like that again.

For you eternal optimists out there:

The Ravens are undefeated this season:

A. Outside of Ohio
B. Against teams without orange in their uniforms

And so, based on solely these 2 trends, they will finish the season 11-5 (just 5 games behind the Patriots in the AFC) after losing only to the Browns and Bengals again, as well as to the Miami Dolphins.

Ravens fans rejoice!