Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Talking about Steelers - Ravens

Patrick emailed Chris and Jim the morning after the Ravens game. There ensued a conversation.

I was tempted to rib you guys, pulling items from the game thread [on a Ravens discussion board] on all the Raven fans turning on the team mid-game, but right now that feels cruel.

But that said, if 24x7 is representative (in the way that other message boards are representative) then I can’t imagine a more reactionary fanbase. Baltimore got beat last night, and for once there aren’t any excuses. Two major personal fouls went uncalled, including one that knocked a key player from the game, and the Ravens got beat. But they didn’t get beaten down, they didn’t get beat because they played poorly. It was a tough game between two rivals who nearly played to a standstill, very similar to the Jets game, and the majority of the posts in the game thread and elsewhere are fan-suicidal, angry at the coaching staff, ready to throw Flacco under the bus. I can’t imagine how bad things get in a couple years when the Ravens are no longer among the best teams in the league.

Pittsburgh was better last night, but not that much better. They were no more than a couple of plays better. Hardly a reason to pitch the season in the toilet.

I peeked at 24x7 overnight, saw the thread titles and decided I didn't have the strength. Haven't read anything there. I'm not ready to throw Flacco, Cameron & Harbaugh under any buses.


If you can't beat the Steelers last night, then you just can't beat them. You're at home, you knock out their punter and their RT, break the QB's nose early, get the better of the refereeing decisions, penetrate their O-line constantly, have the lead and the ball with 3 mins left – and lose.

You described the game as a tough one between two rivals playing each other to a standstill. You said Pittsburgh was better, but not by much, just a couple plays worth. I almost agree with you. I do agree that the two teams are very, very close to each other in terms of talent. But it seems to me that the Steelers have the edge in poise, composure, focus, playmaking in key situations – "clutchness", whatever that is. You don't see the Steelers jumping offside on 3rd-&-1 in a chaotic hurry-up situation. You don't see them fail to wrap up the tackle on a 3rd-&-goal pass well short of the end zone. You don't see Roethlisberger short-arming a pass on 4th-&-2, so it bounces before it gets to the receiver. Etc.

This is one of the most bitter losses I can remember as a Ravens fan. I was bitter about the AFC Championship loss a couple years ago, but there were so many silver linings that day, not least of which was just making it to that game with a rookie QB and a bad offense coming off a 5-11 season. This game, it's galling.

Chris B
I drove up for the game. Didn’t get back till 3 AM last night, had nothing but time to boil in the car on the 3+ hour drive. I’m glad not to take the ribbing – I’m getting it from friends who are Steeler fans and my brother who’s lived in Pittsburgh for the last 10 years and a Steeler fan – right now it’s just painful. I’m nowhere close to the “done with the team” crowd or anything stupid like that. But this was a really painful loss.

Here’s something I PMed to a couple of the fans on the Ravens board:

I just drove 3+ hours back to Richmond by myself where I pretty much had nothing but time to stew about this game. I'm gonna write a lot of thoughts on it (I haven't even seen the boards yet and I shudder to think what's on them) later. But right now, it boils down to a few things:

  1. I think the team is winning as much as they are cause there's some exceptional talent here.
  2. I think the team has a dramatic lack of talent at key positions which is killing them.
  3. I think the coaching staff is very strong in some areas, but has shown terrible weaknesses in others and has not shown any signs that they're learning from their mistakes.
  4. I think this team is showing an alarming trend of being incapable of putting away good teams. We now have three of our four losses where we had fourth quarter leads. Championship teams do not lose three games on a season where they gave up fourth quarter leads. I think the only loss I’ve taken as hard as this one was the AFC Divisional game loss to the Colts in the ’06 season. I’m not sure which of the two was worse.
I'm sick.

My original point wasn’t about how painful the loss should or shouldn’t be, or how you should feel. It was about how those guys at 24x7 turn so viciously on their own team so quickly. I made fun of them for doing it during the Bills game which they ultimately won. It isn’t like I typically lurk there during Raven games. I went there during the Bills game expecting comedy and getting more than I expected. I went there this morning because of what I read during the Bills game. I hate to say it’s a majority but I think it is a majority. Maybe only a handful are bitterly calling for the firing of Flacco and Cameron and Harbaugh but where is the silent majority saying ‘hey, hold on a second’. There is no reason at all, not even a little.

I would like to claim I know how you feel, but I don’t and it is a little hard to comment on it. I don’t think I could ever care so much about a game that I could feel so distraught by the outcome. Didn’t feel that way during the ’06 World Series, the ’87 playoffs, the ’91 NFC championship, any of the Wing’s failed runs. The fab four failing twice in championship games. Maybe the closest I came was with the Pistons losing to the Lakers in ’88, but even then we knew they were good and we knew they would be back. Greatly disappointed sure, but that bitterness – I just don’t get it.

And all this over a regular season game. The Ravens still control their own destiny. Nothing’s really changed.

Chris B
This loss is just devastating for me because of how much energy I put into the Ravens. I don’t know for certain how big of a fan of any of your teams you are Patrick, but my sense has always been that you’re much more objective about it than I am. I try to stay objective in how I evaluate the Ravens, but I’m not in any way anything other than extremely emotional about the results. If I weren’t married with kids, I’d be living in Baltimore and the Ravens would likely be the most important thing in my life. That may or may not be sad to say, but it’s a fact, so –

A loss like this is just horrible. I was telling my dad before the game that the only regular season game in Ravens history that may have come close to how big this one was is the first time the Colts came back to play. Losing to a rival. Losing when getting outplayed. In your own house. Ugh. It’s just awful.

I didn’t know Ngata broke Ben’s nose till this morning.

Not sure I would say nothing has changed. There's a big difference btw being one of the top 2 seeds in the playoffs, vs being a wildcard. In the one case, the road to the conf championship game is paved for you; in the other case, every playoff win is a rare gift.

I understand and agree, but my point is that this hardly ends the Ravens’ season. So it’s gotten tougher, they still control their destiny.

Chris B
I think the biggest difference in my mind is the confidence I believe about the Ravens ability to do it. The Ravens win last night, they completely control the #2 seed and have a decent shot at going to and even winning the Superbowl. After last night, I feel like there’s almost no shot. I don’t think the Ravens are good enough to do it, regardless of the fact they control their destiny. The only hope I really see is that the loss winds up sparking them to playing at a different level, cause the level they’re playing at right now – the same level as that which allowed the Falcons and Patriots to come back and win – is nowhere near good enough. And I frankly think it’s more likely the team winds up going the other road and just folds up and dies.

I think we may see how good a coach Harbaugh really is in these last four games. There is CONSTANT word right now that there’s a big rift building in that locker room between him and the players. I don’t know how true it is, but this loss is a definite test. The Ravens are teetering right now – I don’t know which way they fall.

I don’t know that I’m naturally objective, I’m just older and more used to being disappointed. You guys have been pretty spoiled with the Ravens, but that’s just one team. Where do they fit with the Orioles and Caps (or Penguins) and Wizards? Sooner or later the Ravens will go through a multiyear downspell where things just don’t work even though it looks like they should work. I’m not talking about a Millenesque period, just a prolonged period where they aren’t very competitive. I have a feeling that you will become less sanguine. Maybe it’s ego, but I like to think that I am good at reading the tea leaves, not from a fan perspective but from a broader one. My optimism and expectations are tempered by reality and mathematics. It wasn’t until the last few years that I really developed an appreciation for accumulated probabilities. This is also why I get so angry or sarcastic with arrogant fan classes like the Patriots (had) or like what I see at 24x7. Do you guys have any clue how special what you have is? There are 27 fanbases in the league who would trade your team’s last decade for theirs in a heartbeat. So yeah, it does get me a bit started when I see an ignorant fanbase turn so ugly with an organization that has given them so much and is still relevant this year!

You guys have had your 7 years of plenty. Will you still be as passionate a fan after your 7 years of famine?

I have rooted for losers before. For example, the 1988 Baltimore Orioles (of the 0-21 start). Maryland basketball from the death of Len Bias to year 3 or so of the Gary Williams regime. The 1978-83 Baltimore Colts, who in the end suffered the greatest sports loss possible: the whole team. (I was one of the pathetic ones, young enough to still feel an attachment to the team when it moved, and who still tried to root for the Colts from afar.) There are pleasures to be had. In some ways it makes your enjoyment of the sport purer – you find ways to appreciate single plays and individual players, without living or dying by changes to the playoff seeding picture.

I do need to have a sense that the organization is making positive moves to get better. The Orioles and baseball as a whole lost me thru a combination of factors in the 90s, some of which were "macro", having to do with the series of strikes and what I perceived as Major League Baseball's sense of entitlement with respect to their fans. But most of it was Peter Angelos' systematic dismantling of the franchise, his egomaniacal way of making sure that no one in that organization was bigger or better-loved than he. (It's also true that I did not have that deep love of baseball that some kids imbibe with their first sip of dad's beer.)

I think it could happen to me in football. If I had been a Lions fan, the Matt Millen era would certainly have driven me away from the team.

It's hard to imagine any such thing happening in Baltimore, as long as Bisciotti and Ozzie are in charge, or the succession plan for Ozzie is Eric Da Costa. I can see the Ravens having "7 years of famine" where they miss the playoffs and mix in some 7-9 records with 8-8 or 9-7, and field teams that don't quite jell. Maybe something like Bill Cowher 1998-2000. I can't see them having "7 years of famine" that are anything like the scorched earth of the Millen era. The Ravens scouting dept under Ozzie or Da Costa should keep bringing in decent players, though perhaps not Hall-of-Famers; and the organization as a whole should continue to value continuity and player development.

Patrick – when you ask if we Baltimore fans have any clue how special what we've had is, I wonder if some of the, uh, indignation on that 24x7 board is fans being angry almost on behalf of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed et al. A sense of, we've had something special for many years and we're wasting it.

But it is true that Baltimore fans habitually have a chip on their shoulder. Second best, or younger brother syndrome, or something.

Chris B
I stuck with the Orioles in down times until Angelos let Mussina go. That was the back-breaker for me. He was my favorite player on that team, even more than Ripken. They had him signed and Angelos ripped up the deal and I swore if they didn’t get him signed I would no longer monetarily support the O’s till Angelos was gone. I can’t support him as an owner, and I haven’t since then.

Yeah, I know what we have is great. I think that’s part of what makes it worse, is knowing we’re so close but just can’t get over that hump.

I am seriously starting to question what Cam’s doing. Part of it might just be paranoia. But I can’t figure out what’s going on with some of these play calls. There are so many things that I just don’t understand what they’re doing. The fumble play is the perfect example. 2nd and 5, game is close, the Steelers need a TD. Why in God’s name are they throwing the ball there? I just can’t see an offensive game plan that looks cohesive. I want to say he’s got a plan, and the things he’s doing make sense cause I’m just an armchair quarterback. But I just can’t see it.

Well, I don't necessarily agree with that criticism of Cameron. Other fans, including me, are criticizing the Ravens for not throwing on some other 2nd-downs in the 4h quarter. Why were they so unaggressive? Especially in the possessions near midfield. If we jump on Cameron for not throwing more earlier in the game, it's tough to criticize him for not attacking on a favorable down-&-distance.

I also disagree that there's no evident plan. We faced the toughest attacking defense in football, and gave up a reasonably low number of sacks and no INTs, and moved the ball decently. There was clearly a plan. Sometimes I feel the adherence to plans is a little robotic rather than responsive to the game situations. But it's not like there's no plan.

I also don't think play-calling is an OC's only job. There is also the growth & development of the offense. That has obviously been happening over the years Cameron has been here. So, I'm not as willing to stomp on Cameron as some fans seem to be.

Chris B
It’s far less about that play in a vacuum. A throw there isn’t bad on a one-play-only view. But the point of this is, if he’s running first and second down on previous drives in obvious running situations where we get positive yards but don’t necessarily pick up big yards, then why are you deciding to throw on THAT particular down, when you REALLY need to burn clock, and have a solid shot to either pick up a first down or at least make it third and short? It’s the decision to pass there after having decided that clock burn was more important. I wouldn’t mind a throw there nearly as much had the Ravens been passing more earlier in the quarter. As it stood going up to that point, the play call there just made absolutely no sense.

That’s what I’m talking about as to not really appearing to have a game plan. I mean, I watch a lot of different teams closely. Not as closely as I watch the Ravens of course, but I’ve charted 12 halves of games so far this year and not all of them were Ravens games; plus I’ve watched a lot of other games pretty closely. There’s a certain offensive cohesion with some teams. A game plan that goes out and specifically attacks some area against another team’s defense. Indi does it. New England does it. Philly does it. New Orleans does it with machine-like precision.

The Ravens just don’t do it. To me, it more looks like the Ravens are just out there calling plays, as opposed to attacking defenses. To me, it’s really reminiscent of the way Matt Cavanaugh used to call plays. He’s just out there calling plays, not trying to design an offensive game-plan that puts everything together like pieces of a puzzle. It’s nowhere near as bad as what Cavanaugh did. And there’s sometimes a game plan in place. But then you just get these calls that leave you scratching your head, saying “Hunh? WTF???”

Look at the Atlanta game as a great example. Offensively we’re not doing anything well. Then, Flacco leads a drive down the field in the second half that features 7 rushes and 4 passes – one of the passes a screen – where they just jammed it right down the Falcons’ throats. The rushes on that drive averaged 8.5 ypc, the passes 3.5 ypp. They were running the ball well all day, avg over 6 ypc to that point. The very next drive they come out with five straight passing plays. Seriously, how does that make ANY sense what-so-ever???

BTW, did you guys see what Mason said after the game? Wow. Really powerful stuff. And very concerning…

Yeah, I saw the Mason quote. I don't disagree.

But to say the Ravens weren't targeting a weakness in this game: Collinsworth kept harping during the TV coverage, about how the Ravens were picking on Bryant McFadden relentlessly. That certainly seemed to be a weakness the Ravens were attacking.

I have to wonder how different this season would look, if Gaither (last year's version) were starting at LT and Oher on the right, with Yanda back at RG. A strong, athletic (and healthy) O-line changes everything.

Chris B
There’s little doubt in my mind the Ravens OL is significantly better like that than it is now. Oher doesn’t look like even a mediocre LT to me (how he’s leading in Pro Bowl voting – if he actually is like someone on 24x7 claims – is beyond me), and Yanda is not a good RT. But we’ve seen Oher and Yanda play very well at RT and RG respectively. Chester is a backup at best at RG. Gaither and Grubbs aren’t world-beaters, but they are average or maybe slightly above average players at LT and LG. A line like that would help significantly.

I think Gaither’s gone after this year. I think it’s likely we go LT in the draft somewhere if not early. But this team is lacking a lot of talent in the defensive front seven as well.

Here’s another thing that really concerns me about our offensive coaching. They’ve got a TON of talent on this offense. But they don’t really look all that better than they have over the last decade. How are they still underperforming?

Um, doesn't the first half of your email, answer the question you ask at the end of the email? You spend your first paragraph stating that 3/5 of the Ravens O-line is below-average:
Oher doesn’t look like even a mediocre LT
Yanda is not a good RT
Chester is a backup at best at RG
How can the offense not be underperforming, if the O-line really is weak?

It's not like the "ton of talent" is invisible in the offense's showing. Flacco is having the best statistical season of any Ravens QB since Vinnie's Pro Bowl season: on pace for ~4000 yards, 25 TDs, passer rating over 90. (Actually, Flacco's INT% is so much better than Vinnie's that his passer rating is actually slightly higher than Vinnie's that season, even with so many fewer TDs.) That's a direct result of the new talent on offense, along with Flacco's growth as a QB. They definitely look better (more efficient) in the passing game than they have in a dozen years, when they can throw the ball (exclude sacks etc). But the O-line has problems, so the offensive consistency is way down and the ability to sustain drives (without sacks or holding penalties or false starts) is way down and the rushing numbers are way down, and the scoring is somewhat down as well.

It really makes total sense.

[And later]

The "5 things we learned" column is pretty good, as usual:

Chris B
This sentence from that piece really summed up perfectly my feelings about Cam:
“He seems to come up with great plays here and there, but he can't find anything that consistently works well.”


  1. It's interesting, the comments about Cam [perhaps] not having a coherent game plan and not seeing the forest for the trees and making inconsistent end-of-game decisions.

    Because in Philly we've made the complete opposite complaints about Reid/MM for many years -- they make no halftime adjustments, they continue to pass on obvious running downs, they don't [ever!] milk the clock with the lead, they expose #5/KK/Vick to too many hits by constantly passing, the agreed upon Friday Nite Game Plan simply trumps all that happens on the field, even when players get hurt and *obviously* inferior benchwarmers have to come in like Justice on MNF, famously giving up 6 sacks.

    I mean, I do think having a plan and sticking to it is preferable than calling a game one-play-at-a-time with no cohesion, but lemme tell you from experience, it also has siginificant downsides when you see it fail in January every year, esp when your team had superior defensive talent virtually all of those years, and the Offense completely falls asleep when the playoff coaches gameplan specifically to take away the PHL deep [previously short] passing game. You're a tenured NFL coach, pls make ONE friggin' adjustment so the Defense isn't pinning their ears back and ignoring the run all day!!

    anyway. Fans are crazy sometimes, that's all there is to it.


  2. Steelers fans make the exact same complaints about Bruce Arians. They used to complain about other things -- he runs too much, he throws too much, he runs too much on first and second down, he doesn't run enough in short yardage -- lots of things that could actually be analyzed. All of them turned out to be false when the actual statistics were examined. Of course, the lack of a cohesive plan is impossible to argue. How would we know if there was or wasn't a cohesive plan? The obvious answer is success. If things work, then they had a plan. Chris's examples of teams that demonstrate a cohesive plan shows this: the Patriots, Colts, and Saints just happen to be some of the best offenses in the league. Does a cohesive plan lead to their success, or does success cause the appearance of a cohesive plan? Those teams are also led by the three best QBs in the game. I don't think that is a coincidence. However, I think a really good offensive line may be the key factor. When the offensive line is really good, your plays will all be better. Neither the Steelers nor the Ravens (I'm taking your word for it) have a really good offensive line. The Steelers actually have a terrible offensive line. That makes it nearly impossible to have a consistent offense.

    As for calling a pass on the strip-sack play -- I thought it was a good call. Getting that first down would have gone a long way to winning the game. I think a run was just as likely to lose yardage as gain yardage. There was a similar play earlier in the game when Polamalu blitzed, and he caught McGahee in the back field for a 4 yard loss. In the post game, the Steelers claimed that they were expecting a run, and the blitz was designed to stop it. Perhaps Cameron decided that running was not affective, so he made a change. As Naj said, making in game adjustments has value.



About This Blog

Twitter: oblong_spheroid

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP