Friday, November 2, 2007

Ravens @ Steelers - Part 2: Prediction

We hope you enjoyed digesting yesterday's preview, where the hate flew like Bill Cowher spittle. Today, its time to get down to it, and predict the score. First off, the Ravens are 9-point underdogs in this game. If betting were legal (which it is NOT), the Nest would bet the farm on this one. You have to go back to December 2004 to find a game in this series which Pittsburgh won convincingly, when they beat the Ravens 20-7. If the Ravens lose, it will certainly not be by 10 points.
We fully expect the Ravens to be able to shut down Willie Parker - perhaps not as convincingly as they did last season, but effectively nonetheless. If they can hold him to ~70 yards, we are not convinced that Ben can carry the team with his arm. While his passer rating is gaudy this year, he still makes mistakes - as evidenced by his red zone interception last week in Cincy. Look for the Ravens' secondary to capitalize on his stupidity, get some picks, and set the O up with good field position. The offense, in turn, will capitalize just enough to win this one. A late score by Pittsburgh will make the game appear closer than it really was.
Ravens 20 Steelers 17

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ravens @ Steelers

Another disclaimer: If you are looking for the usual even-handed, unbiased game preview you've come to expect from the Nest, you won't get it. The Squealers hold a special place in our farts, er...hearts, and as such get a column big on hate, little on analysis. Anyway, the mid-season review had enough stats for one week, right?

The Ravens (4-3) come off the bye with a bang this week, immediately being thrust into the national spotlight to clash with the division leading Shitsburg Squealers (5-2). In a game that is as close to a "must-win" as is possible at midseason, the Ravens are facing a potential 2 game swing in this one, as a win would tie them for the AFC North lead, while a loss would leave them looking up across a 2-game canyon at the hated Steelers. The Steelers have been playing out of their minds this season, outscoring their opponents in their 5 victories by a 142-39 margin. Rookie head coach Mike "Omar Epps" Tomlin has found time in his busy schedule of filming the hit show "House" to seemingly right the ship up in Pierogie-ville, after Bill Cowher's farewell tour fizzled out at 8-8 last year. As loathe as we are to admit it, as nauseous as it makes us at the Nest, the black-and-gold (aren't those colors better suited to a high school or college team, by the way? My high school and college both used pee and dung for colors. Bring your uniforms up to a professional level, losers) may just be a decent team. Again.

On offense, the Steelers have the number 1 rushing attack in the league, led by the NFL's second leading rusher, "Fast" Willie Parker. Back in our neighborhood growing up, there was a crazy old man that wandered the streets talking to himself and trying to find his marbles - we called him "Fast" Eddie. Probably Willie's uncle. Willie has been running with a chip on his shoulder all season, but hey - we would be bitter too if we spent four years in college ball playing end, guard, tackle (sit on the end of the bench, guard the water, and tackle anybody who tries to drink it) like Parker did. Moderate pace William has went over 100 yards in each of the Squealers' five wins this season, while going for just 37 in the week 4 loss to Arizona, and 93 in the week 7 loss to Denver. Following A to B - stop Willie, stop the Squealers. What better team to do that than the purple and black, the NFL's #2 ground defense, currently holding teams to a paltry 72 yards per game? In the two glorious beatdowns in '06, the Ravens held Slow Bill to 51 yards on 23 carries. We think we should point out that, yes, Slow Bill had fewer total yards in 2 games than the Ravens had points (58-51). Stop Willie? Don't mind if we do.

The next "weapon" the Ravens will have to contend with is the arm of one Baby Ben Toothlessburger, who was miraculously able to avoid the grilles of Chrysler New Yorkers this off-season. Actually, he avoided all grills with equal gusto, refusing his teammates' invites to their summer Bar-B-Qs, steering clear of the outdoor appliance section at Wal-Mart, and ignoring text messages from rapper Lil' John and Bengals WR Chad Johnson. Just a season removed from leading the NFL in interceptions, Baby Ben has thrown only 6 this year, to go along with 15 touchdowns. Although, he is probably just trying to avoid anything that sounds at all like "intersection." If Ben is able to quiet the constant ringing that we imagine goes on inside his noggin enough to run an effective no-huddle, he may be able to do some damage. Also, we expect the Steelers to try to move the pocket for him, and utilize his mobility better than in past meetings. Last year, sitting in the pocket, the Ravens absolutely battered him, sacking him 14 times and causing him to at one point say that Bart Scott hit him harder than he had ever been hit (this from a man who, a few months earlier, had been hit by a car! Rest assured Ben will search out #57 before every snap).

The Steelers also have a new secret weapon, mascot Steely McBeam. The love child of former coach Bill Cowher and homosexual adult film actor Phillup Seymour Buffmen, the chiseling of McBeam's chin is rivaled only by that of his abs. It seems the Steelers management knew a big hunk of burnin love man-meat would do a much better job of exciting the crowd than something as silly as scantily clad females with pom-poms. With McBeam to go along with all the snapping towels, Pittsburgh has succeeded in turning Heinz Field into the world's largest outdoor men's locker room. Way to go! Might as well just get it over with and rename it "Heiny Field."

Cheerleaders? Ew! We'll take this guy, thanks.

All joking aside - the Steelers....suck.

No, really.

Much like the Ravens, they've faced the dregs of the NFL, only they have taken advantage a little better. Their wins have come over teams with a combined record of 15-20. They beat the Browns when Cleveland was starting Seattle's current 3rd-string QB. We're not impressed. Billick's Bashers (aka The Guru Gang) are finally healthy again, are well rested, and are primed for the upset. The Ravens own a three game winning streak in the series, during which time they have outscored the Squeals 74-20. Ben is so afraid of the Ravens' D that he stopped hanging garlic in his room in the hopes that the vampires would keep Bart Scott away.

If there is one thing that worries us about this one, its the fact that it is a Monday nighter. The Ravens, for as much as they seemingly love the limelight, play atrociously in nationally televised games. They have lost their last 4 such contests, including playoffs (after winning two in a row in weeks 15-16 of 2005, over the Green Bay Packers 48-3, and Minnesota Vikings 30-23 - go figure). This is a bugaboo they need to get off their back this week, with 2 more primetime games on the schedule, against the Colts and Patriots, no less. Will they be able to do it?

Coming Tomorrow

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

Season at the Bye - The Good, Bad, and Ugly

disclaimer: this article heavy on the stats. If youre a stat-o-phobe, turn back now. You have been warned.

The Good

The Ravens currently sit at 4-3, tied with the Cleveland Browns (!?!) for second place in the AFC North, just a game behind the Squealers. Historically, the Ravens are a much better team in the 2nd half of the season under head coach Brian Billick. They have won 5 straight (regular season) games when coming off the bye week, and are 6-3 overall. In regular season games after Nov. 1, the Ravens are 46-23 under compu-coach. Last season, the team went into the bye at 4-2, and dominated the second half of their schedule to finish 13-3.

The Ravens are 2nd in overall defense, trailing only the Squealers, and 2nd in rush defense, looking up at the Tennessee Titans. Running back Willis McGahee is 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards, and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Backup QB Kyle Boller has played well in relief of the injured Steve McNair, and is finally showing some signs of progress that we have been waiting years to see. Wide receiver Derrick Mason has been a huge part of the offense, and leads the NFL with 56 receptions. Return man Yamon Figurs ranks 3rd in the NFL in kick return average and 4th in punt return average among players with at least 5 attempts. Kicker Matt Stover has been his usual consistent self, leading the league with 18 field goals on 21 attempts.

The Bad

Despite their success on the ground, the Ravens have been unable to put together a constant mid-range passing attack to compliment their running game, and are just 16th in the league in total offense. They have struggled mightily in the dead zone, and as a result are 25th in the league in points per game, averaging just 17.7. Going into week 8, only 3 teams were having less success scoring touchdowns inside the 20, and those teams had a combined record of 3-17. Overall, Ravens quarterbacks have turned the ball over 9 times while throwing for only 5 touchdowns.

Defensively, the Ravens have again been vulnerable to the big play, and have not shown the ability to shut teams down when leading in the second half. They have allowed 25 plays over 20 yards, and 6 over 40. They also have not pressured the quarterback as well as they did in 2006, and have only 15 sacks through 7 games, 16th in the NFL (last year, the team had 60 sacks, just one behind the league-leading Chargers.) No Raven is in the top 50 in the league in sacks, with Corey Ivy, Jarrett Johnson, Kelly Gregg, and Terrell Suggs sharing the team lead with 2.0 each.

The Ugly

Plenty of ugly to go around this season so far. After making it through the 2006 season incredibly healthy as a team, the injuries have caught up to the purple and black this year in a big way. Jonathan Ogden has not started a game since opening night, and just took his first snaps since then last week in Buffalo. Quarterback Steve McNair has made only 4 starts, and came out early in one of them. Even when playing, McNair has been bothered by a groin injury, which has made his throws inaccurate, wobbly, and all around, well…ugly. Tight end Todd Heap, left tackle Adam Terry, and center Mike Flynn have all missed games due to pain. Wide receiver Mark Clayton was slowed by injury early in the season, but seems to be getting over it.

On the other side, the D hasn’t escaped the bug either, as end Trevor Pryce has been out since week 2 with a broken wrist, and corner Chris McAlister may or may not return this week after injuring his knee in week 6. Samari Rolle also missed significant time due to “undisclosed illness.” The health of this aging core group of players will play a big role in how the rest of the season plays out here in B-More.

The teams the Ravens have beaten (Jets, Cardinals, 49ers, Rams) have a combined record of 6-24, while the teams they have lost to (Bengals, Browns, Bills) are 9-12. Looking ahead to the rest of the schedule, the remaining teams on the Ravens docket are a combined 34-24. Also, the quarterbacks the Ravens have beaten this season on their way to a #2 ranked defense have included names like Kellen Clemens, Kurt Warner, Trent Dilfer, and Gus Frerotte. A little shudder shakes the Nest when we think of how this team will fare against the Peyton Mannings, Tom Bradys, Ben Toothlessburgers, and Matt Hasselbecks of the world, at least if they continue to play the way they have, which is to say extremely loose in the secondary.

Another big double-branch on the ugly tree that has been the 2007 season is the play-calling of coach Billick, and now the outspokenness of Ray Lewis as pertains to it. Billick has been criticized heavily, here and elsewhere, for his refusal to run the ball in certain situations, particularly at the goal line in Cincinnati and at midfield in the final minute in Buffalo. We don’t know if he outsmarts himself, thinking “well, they expect us to run here, so let’s fool them and go with the pass,” or if he really does have more confidence in his passing game than running game to pick up 2 or 3 yards. Both scenarios are cause for great concern by fans hoping to see some wins pile up in the 2nd half. Equally disconcerting is the fact that Ray-Ray saw fit to call the coach out on his radio show. The last thing we need is to see the locker room divide as it did three years ago, which led to several sub-par purple and black seasons. Lewis should have kept his complaints private, in-house, and spoken to Billick one-on-one like a man. As upset as Ravens fans are about the play-calling, the court of public opinion has spoken, and their resounding response to Lewis is to just “SHUT UP!” As a matter of fact, it could be argued that many members of the team should shut their mouths a bit, as it seems just about every player has their own weekly radio show that they are hosting. Time that could be better spent preparing for the next opponent.

The fact of the matter is, at 4-3, the Ravens control their own destiny at this point. They have 4 division and 8 conference games remaining to put themselves in a position to make the playoffs. As good, bad, or ugly as anything has been so far, there is still a lot of football to be played, and plenty of time to either right the ship, or sail it right off the end of the earth.

special thanks to the Nick-a-What research team on this article.