Friday, February 27, 2009

Ravens reply

Patch posted a very thoughtful comment in reply to my superlong Ravens entry. Naturally his comments were interesting and provocative; naturally I couldn't keep my reply brief & concise. Here's my "comment" to Patch's comment.

>> I've changed my mind about Mason. He was a completely different
>> player from the soft stat accumulator of the prior year.

No, he really wasn't. Mason's play has been pretty exactly the same over each of his 4 seasons with the Ravens. He does the same stuff: run super-crisp in and out of routes, attack the ball in the air, and catch just about every damn thing that comes near him. You might be perceiving it differently, but his play has been about identical. Mason wasn't super-effective last year, with McNair & Boller throwing him 6-yd passes; but his play was the same.

I think I understand the distinction you're making about "great wide receivers", which I take to refer to game-breaking guys like Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson. Mason's not a home run hitter anymore, which maybe he was in 2001. I'd be happy to settle on a consensus that Mason's a great Football Player, but not the kind of game-dominating receiver that the very top guys in the league are.

But I have one caveat: Mason's certainly "great" as a wide receiver in the sense that if you were coaching and you wanted a guy to hold up as a model to your young receivers, for preparation and route-running and quickness and technique and hands and toughness, Mason would be the guy. He does absolutely everything right. If Darrius Heyward-Bey got Derrick Mason's central nervous system implanted in his body, that Frankenstein monster would break all of Jerry Rice's records. I can see a staff wanting to keep Mason around past his effective playing days, just in the hope that some of his play would rub off on more physically gifted receivers.

I agree with you about the cliff, Mason should stop being effective due to age pretty imminently.

>> Steelers thugs cheaters sour grapes

I hope I was clear about why the Steelers won the game and about the margin between the two teams. I hope I was also clear about the Ravens not exactly being choir boys over the years.

In this game the Steelers committed some helmet-to-helmet hits, and forearms to the helmet, and at least one incident of spearing (I think by Ward?? don't remember for sure). That's not normal clean hard-hitting, those plays are illegal. And they weren't called for them.

Contrast to for example the first game in Pittsburgh this season. That game was breathtaking for its brutality, but I don't remember thinking that anyone (with the permanent exception of Hines Ward) was dirty or head hunting. I definitely don't think the Steelers normally play like thugs or cheaters; tough as hell, strong, and very very physical, but not dirty. In this game they took more shots at the head than seemed usual. Possibly they were way, way amped up for the game and playing a little out of control. Y'know, one thing that happens in college basketball all the time is, early in the game the refs will call a foul on a player, and the foul will have the effect of establishing limits and settling the guys down. Something like that might have been useful here.

Look, Willis McGahee was carted off the field *ON A STRETCHER* after a helmet-to-helmet hit where no flag was thrown. How is it sour grapes for a Ravens fan to remark that it happened?

But it's also true that those things were not the margin of difference between the two teams. As I recall, the hit to McGahee happened after the game was decided, and the Ravens were just driving for a final make-the-score-respectable TD. The hit on Darren Stone was bad, but he's a spec teamer, not a major part of the Ravens D or O (though I will always wonder if concussion impairment was a factor on that huge 15-yd penalty he took late in the game). I don't remember the other ones clearly; I don't think any one was particularly game changing.

But I do think the Steelers did more head-hunting than is usual for them. And it wasn't called.

>> Roethlisberger Elite Top Three in the NFL. ... man that guy can make plays
>> like nobody's business.

Agree completely, he's a major force.

He's an ugly galoot, huge and ungainly, looks like a bumpkin with that ridiculous beard; and he doesn't run a high-octane passing attack; and he plays for a team with a dominating defense. I wonder if all these things conspire to help fans & media underrate him? Whatever, it's a mistake. He's as difficult a QB on third down or in the 2-min drill as anyone in the league. He's really murder on 3rd down, a monster.

I also consider it highly likely that he will be knocked out of the game prematurely, concussion or other injury due to all the hits he takes. If that happens too soon, he may never get his due from fans & media; might have this permanent image as a guy riding the coattails of a great organization. I remember my perception of Aikman really changed late in his career, when it was just him and an old Emmitt and Larry Allen left from the great Cowboy offenses, and the teams weren't very good. Aikman would still complete 60% of his passes; and if he got the ball back down 5 with 4 mins to play, he would cut you up – only to have some terrible rookie WR/TE drop the TD pass in the endzone.

>> Flacco started every game and took nearly every snap. He got plenty of
>> preseason work.

He did not get plenty of preseason work. He had to miss one minicamp entirely because I think his school hadn't graduated yet; and after a certain point in training camp he was #3 on the depth chart while Boller and Troy Smith were getting the vast majority of reps and fighting it out for the top job. You might remember that the plan was for one of the returning QBs to start this season, and groom Flacco for next year. If you look back over some Baltimore Sun articles around the end of preseason and the beginning of the reg season, you'll find some hand-wringing about Flacco having to start when he hadn't gotten the reps in camp.

Mostly I'm going off of this: as late as around week 8 or 10, I read an article where the Ravens coaches were kicking themselves for not getting Flacco more reps in camp. There was a strong flavor of them not knowing he'd be that good that soon; and as I recall this quote actually appeared in the piece: "Imagine how good he'd be now if he'd gotten the reps in camp." I believed the reporter who quoted the Ravens coaches as saying Flacco could've/should've gotten more preseason work.

I agree with you that a lot of it is just rookie stuff that Flacco's going to have to work his way out of. Seeing the field and deciding quickly where to go with the ball and using all your receivers, those are things at which an NFL QB learns proficiency as he goes along. My point was merely that Flacco has an opportunity to make greater strides this offseason and camp, than he did last offseason and camp.

I wouldn't request a do-over of last offseason anyway. Maybe a few weeks of running as the #3 guy was exactly what the rookie needed, to get focused on what he needed to do. The NFL landscape is littered with rookie QBs who were proclaimed the #1 guy after the draft and proceeded to stink up the joint. This was better. And as you say, more training camp snaps may not have made much of a difference.

>> I know you guys think Flacco had a great year but he didn't. He probably wasn't
>> even average overall. He really wasn't asked to do a whole lot. He was efficient
>> in his limited role, but when the burden was on him he had a pretty poor record.

I think everyone knows Flacco didn't have a year like, say, Steve Young's 1994 season. It was not a "great year" in the pantheon of quarterback seasons. He was protected by a somewhat limited role, though not quite as limited as Roethlisbugger's rookie season; and he was efficient in that role, though not as efficient as Roethlisbugger's rookie season.

But he certainly had a great season for a rookie QB. It's true he didn't do much of anything against the best D's in the AFC in the last two playoff games; but I don't really ding a rookie too much for that. He got a taste of the playoffs, and will do better next time he gets there. Roethlisbugger's exceptional rookie season is a great comparison: he threw 5 INTs in his two playoff games. It happens. Anyway, there's this:

Flacco's last 11 reg seasn gms

That would put him in the top 10 in passer rating in the league among qualified passers (qualified = 14 att/game). Barely: it would tie him for #9 with Jeff Garcia. But up there. The guys around him were Aaron Rodgers, Schaub, Romo & Garcia above; and Mattie Ice, Shaun Hill, Seneca Wallace, Eli, McNabb & Cutler below. Sure, those other QBs operated more fully-featured passing games. But that's still good company, for a rookie.

A fan would have to be blind not to be excited about that.

>> The Ravens are going to have a terrible time not all getting way too
>> old at once. This seems more like a rebuild on the fly ... Baltimore
>> will have the greatest challenge of all of the contenders

Yes, exactly. Plus ultimately Rex Ryan may prove to be the greatest loss of all.

One thing I do think is, the Ravens are on sounder footing now to build and maintain a good team, than they've been in the last 10 years. They have fine coaching on both sides of the ball now, which they just haven't had before. They may not have top-flight elite coaching on the D side as they've had, but it's at least solid and professional there; and the coaching on the O side is top-flight elite.

(I think it's likely we won't be able to retain Hue Jackson after next season. Someone is going to offer him an OC job; esp after Flacco throws 30 TDs and makes the Pro Bowl next season. But I think they have a couple guys who could move into that role, in Jim Hostler and Craig Ver Steeg; plus they can hire someone. And Cam Cameron can no doubt function partly as a QB coach anyway. Hue Jackson would be a big loss, but coverable.)

I expect the Ravens to be less pull-your-hair-out maddening in the coming years. More even-keeled, more consistent: not go from 6 wins to 13 wins, and back to 5 wins and then back to 11. Capable of playing normal football: if they hold a team like the Colts without a TD in a playoff game, to be able to win that game.

>> I don't know that the Ravens can replenish and retain their talent
>> quickly enough to get another shot before Lewis and Reed leave. I
>> know you think they can ... I look at the pattern of the rise and
>> fall of teams a lot and the Ravens are on the fall side.

It's not that I think the Ravens can get another shot at a SB before Lewis & Reed leave. Ray Lewis might leave today!

It's that I think the Ravens have made a nice start at building their *NEXT* championship contender.

They have a good young athletic core on the O-line, to go with their two great O-line coaches. (The core would be better if they can retain Jason Brown.) They have a couple of interesting young RBs who complement each other. And of course they have the very promising QB prospect. If he can become the QB I think & hope he can, that changes everything. Absolutely everything.

On the other side of the ball, Ozzie has quietly done a nice job of assembling some pieces to help reload the creakily aging D. Certainly not enough to make Ray Lewis irrelevent; but it's a nice start. Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed are still there & playing at a high level, for now. Haloti Ngata is their next obvious defensive Pro Bowler. That's a Pro Bowl -caliber player at each level, DL & LB & DB. For the rest of the D: Fabien Washington is solid, Brandon McKinney and Jameel McClain look like they can play. Dawan Landry is a good player, and is expected to come back from the injury. Tavares Gooden is supposed to be a good talent. They may make a move in free agency, and they're about to have another draft.

Maybe in the post- Ray Lewis era they won't be a perrenial top-3 D; but they can still be a good D, maybe top 10. And with a real offense, they can compete. Not your father's Ravens, but a different kind of good team.

The Ravens may well take a step back this season, as they adjust to different faces on defense and continue to grow the offense. Hopefully a small step back, staying aroung the 9-10 win ballpark. But I think the next 3-5 years look very bright. Brighter than they have in a long time.


  1. Did you really break down the entire NFL's last eleven games to see how Flacco compares with other passers? That seems like cherry picking, at the very least.

    No argument he had a good rookie year. But it was a rookie year, pretty indistinguishable from Charlie Batch's. I think Flacco will be a fine quarterback but my note that he really wasn't all that great yet was specific to your discussions. And yeah, by the Championship game Flacco had tons of reps. I really don't see how you can argue that time missed in May > time played in January.

    And still, the Steeler thing is just bitter and sour grapes. After your most recent comments I Googled up Pittsburgh dirty championship type combos. Crickets. Not even fanboards are very vocal on the issue. Even the Clark hit on McGahee ... the helmets contacting were secondary to the hit, which was shoulder to shoulder. Yes, it could have been flagged but it wasn't blatant like you infer. The lack of fines/suspensions should be a fairly subjective way to inform us of this.

    In fact:

    A league spokesman explained today why Clark won't be fined for the McGahee hit:

    "[McGahee] had completed the catch and was a runner. Helmet-to-helmet contact is legal in that situation as it is for any ball carrier (running back, quarterback, or receiver). Helmet-to-helmet contact is prohibited against defenseless players (defined as a receiver in the process of making a catch or a quarterback in the act of passing)."

    btw: I found the hugest thread ever on the game here:

    So helmet to helmet? Yes. Illegal? No. Dirty? No, he led with his shoulder.

    Throw "spearing" into the Google mix. Nada.

    Honestly, you are the first person I've seen write accusing the Steelers of dirty play in the Championship game. Given the lack of anything to corroborate the accusation how can I conclude anything other than sour grapes?

  2. >> Helmet-to-helmet contact is legal in that situation
    >> as it is for any ball carrier

    I was unaware of this, I thought it was always illegal.

    >> Did you really break down the entire NFL's last
    >> eleven games to see how Flacco compares with other passers?

    No, remember I had that Rating Watch thing going occasionally, I was keeping a spreadsheet with his games as the season progressed. I noticed a change in his performance as of the Indianapolis game, and the stats bore it out.

    The element of "cherry picking" is comparing Flacco's last-11-game stats with the other passers full-season stats. I thought I made that clear, with language like "that would have been good enough for the top ten had he done it over the full season," but re-reading the above I definitely didn't. It was in my head even if it didn't make it onto the page.

    >> pretty indistinguishable from Charlie Batch's

    Well that's a compliment. I was unaware until I started looking into rookie QB stats, late in the season, just how good Batch's rookie season was. I'd like to see Flacco do a better job of building on that season and improving.

    >> how can I conclude anything other than sour grapes?

    I would figure my history with you would be worth something. I saw what I saw. As it happens, I didn't know the rules; but I did see what I saw.

    I don't remember the spearing thing now; I hazily remember shouting at the TV "That was spearing!" but I don't remember the specs. I think the Steeler was a WR, one wants to assume Ward, but I dunno.

    Doesn't matter, we've discussed at length some of the ways the Steelers were better than the Ravens, for example at QB.

  3. Our history is what made that accusation so startling.

    The Championship was a great game. Great. Probably the hardest hitting game I've ever seen. The Ravens put everything out there but a week after a similar game against the Titans and they just didn't have enough left. The Ravens might have had the better defense - maybe - but the Steeler defense matched up very well with the Raven offense. They are outstanding at shutting down the run. Forcing Flacco to make plays against a very good secondary isn't a great recipe for success.

    Maybe next year or the year after. Roethlisberger talked about watching Flacco and his first championship as a rookie when he was awful, despite being undefeated in his first thirteen games.

  4. >> The Championship was a great game. Great.

    Agreed. Though disappointing. ;-)

    >> The Ravens put everything out there but ...
    >> they just didn't have enough left.

    Yeah; and that's part of what made the Steelers better, their depth and strength thru the middle/bottom of the roster.

    >> The Ravens might have had the better defense - maybe

    Nah, the Steelers proved it.


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