Day: August 17, 2010

Gridiron Blitz: Baltimore Ravens Season Preview

The next team up on our Gridiron Blitz is the Baltimore Ravens

Music to listen to:  Life During Wartime by the Talking Heads

David Byrne, the epically awesome lead singer of the Talking Heads is from Baltimore so here’s some love for him and the band.

Current State:  Behind the running of Ray Rice, the development of quarterback Joe Flacco and a continually stingy defense, the Ravens posted a regular season record of 9-7.  However, after a solid thumping of the Patriots in the divisional round but dropping the next game to the eventual AFC champions the Indianapolis Colts, some experts have made them the slight favorite in the conference.  They have the tools to make that run if two things happen.  What are those things?  Well, you have to read the rest of the preview to find out.

Biggest Change:  The first thing that has to happen for Baltimore to make the Super Bowl is to develop a passing game that can compliment the excellent running game.  This is where the newly acquired receiver Anquan Boldin comes into play.  His physical play and ability to go down the middle will open up the offense for Rice and the rest of the running backs. 

Uniform Grade:  The Ravens have an excellent selection with their primary colors, purple and black.  I like the purple jerseys and when they wear the all-black during a primetime game, that look is tremendous.  Maybe not a top-five uniform in the league but definitely in the top-ten.  Grade: B+

Best Player:  This team isn’t lacking in star power.  The best defensive player in the entire league five to six years ago was Ray Lewis.  He’s lost a little of his fastball but still produces at an incredibly proficient rate for his age.  Up to three years ago, Lewis’ title could have gone to Ed Reed but unfortunately the All-Pro safety has suffered some injuries recently and even contemplated retirement before coming back for this season.  A case can even be made for linebacker Terrell Suggs.

However, I’m going to pick Ray Rice for this answer.  Not only does he have the straight ahead running style that suits the offense well, but his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes him an essential cog for the team.

Most Important Player:  This one is easier to answer.  The Ravens won’t make it to the Super Bowl if Flacco plays the same way he has the past two seasons.  He has been a solid pro but in year three of this career, this is the time where he needs to make major steps throwing the ball for the Ravens.  He has all of the physical tools to be a top-five quarterback in the league, seriously, but he is going to be asked to make more downfield throws this season and we all have to see if he is ready to do this.

Best Case:  The offense becomes more consistent and scores more points with the addition of Boldin.  The defense does the second thing that it takes for the Ravens to make the Super Bowl, stay healthy and keep playing at an advanced level despite gaining in age.  Wins the AFC North and makes the Super Bowl.

Worst Case:  The offense doesn’t improve from last season.  The defense is still good but regresses because of age and injuries.  Still wins the AFC North but loses in its first playoff game.

Coaching:  John Harbaugh was an interesting hire when the Ravens choose him to run the team.  His prior position, special teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t show his potential to run an NFL team.  However, Harbaugh’s disciplined style and ability to retain Greg Mattison and elevate him to defensive coordinator has been excellent for the Baltimore franchise.

You also have to give credit to general manager Ozzie Newsome for building this franchise and showing himself as one of the best team executives in all of professional sports, especially football.  All of the players mentioned in this post along with many others were brought in under his tenure.

First Memory of the Team:  My favorite team, the New York Giants, lost the Super Bowl to the Ravens in 2002 and I remember this for two reasons.  First, anytime your team loses a Super Bowl, you remember exactly where you were at that time, which brings me to reason two.

I was a junior in college and a resident advisor, the older student who runs the dorm room floor.  I had a freshman dorm, Dyer in the Kissam Quad at Vanderbilt.  Oh the memories.  Anyway, one of the freshman that lived on my floor was from Baltimore and a big Ravens fan.  The smack talk took place and it was fun until the actual game started and Kerry Collins decided to become, well, Kerry Collins and the Giants lost the game in an undistinguished fashion.  I was livid for about two weeks and swore that I would never refer to Ray Lewis by name and instead refer to him as that “stupid dancing @#$#” 

But it went deeper than that.  My second-favorite player ever is Lawrence Taylor.  When Lewis was making the run to leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl, people started comparing him to LT and it rubbed me the wrong way.  I was still too attached to the situation.

This is why I will never in my lifetime refer to that running back on the Jets as LT.  There was only one LT.

However over time, I’ve moved on because I don’t take sports too seriously anymore.  Plus, the Giants won the Super Bowl two years ago and all is well. 

Now I respect Lewis for the talent that he is and think he is one of the best linebackers ever.  Not as good as LT but close.

Schedule:  They have to deal with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland.

The home slate includes Denver, Buffalo, Miami, Tampa and New Orleans.  Four out of those five contests should be wins.  On the road the Ravens get the Jets, New England, Atlanta, Carolina and Houston.  They get four playoff contenders in that lot, so things are tougher in that slate.

City Nicknames:  Since I’ve become a huge fan of The Wire, I like Bulletmore or Bodymore, both of which are in Murderland.  Not optimistic but it has some bite to it.   Charm City is a nice selection for this portion of the Blog.

Fantasy Focus:  Rice should be a top-five pick in any league.  Boldin has some excellent value as your second receiver, maybe even your first if you’re in a major pinch.  Not so sure about Heap at tight end but it’s a position with shallow depth, making him more valuable.  The Ravens should also be one of the first five defenses taken in your league as well.  Flacco is a nice second quarterback but I can talk myself into making him my starter if the rest of my team is solid.

Overall Outlook:  This team has clearly made itself the class of its division but will have to contend with Indy, San Diego and maybe even New England for conference supremacy.  I haven’t made my Super Bowl picks yet but the Ravens are definitely on my short list.

Final Record:  11-5

Gridiron Blitz NFL Season Previews:

AFC East:

Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots

New York Jets

Miami Dolphins

AFC North:

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

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Triple Option Attack: #19 Georgia

Next up on the Triple Option Attack is #19 Georgia

Music to listen to: Inventions by Maserati

I’ve lived in the state of Georgia for several years at various points of my life. Athens, the city where the University of Georgia is located, produces some excellent music. Many people know about R.E.M and the B-52’s, and more recent groups like Of Montreal, but I’m a big fan of the instrumental group Maserati. Here’s a track from their last album. The new one comes out later this year, looking forward to it.

The Story: Back when current head coach Mark Richt took over the Georgia program from Jim Donnan several years ago, the hope was that the Bulldogs would not only continue to produce talent worthy of professional careers but was also able to compete for championships. Going into his ninth season in Athens, Richt has won 90 games, including a 7-2 bowl record, won two SEC championships and increased the national profile of the program. However, after a “disappointing” season by some standards, fans and analysts alike are wondering if last season was an aberration or a sign that Georgia is slipping within the pecking order of the SEC.

Last Season: Finished the season with a record of 8-5 but had an odd season. The losses included Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky, two of which are rivals that fans never want to lose to. The Bulldogs also barely got wins over South Carolina and Auburn. The saving grace was a victory on the road at eventual ACC champions Georgia Tech and a win in the Independence Bowl.

Offense: Many expected the offense to struggle last year after losing NFL first-round draft picks Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. However, the promotion of Joe Cox to quarterback proved to be a mistake as the same offense in 2009 became below average despite the presence of excellent talent.

With Cox gone, the quarterback position will now go to red shirt freshman Aaron Murray, who had a stellar high school career and has had a year to get adjusted to the Georgia system but he hasn’t even played a college game, let alone start, so caution must be exercised.

The good news is that Murray will throw to arguably the best receiver in the nation and unanimous All-America player, A.J. Green. This will most likely be Green’s last year in Georgia and may go down as the best receiver in school history. The offense also returns two running backs, Caleb King and Washaun Ealey, both of whom have the potential to rush for 1,000 yards this season. Also, the offensive line may be the best that Richt has had in years, maybe in his entire tenure at UGA. Three seniors and two juniors are expected to start but even the backups have seen action.

Defense: While the offense had its struggles last season, some may argue that the defense had an even worse year.

The defense only got 12 turnovers last season, which is embarrassing for the talent it uses on the field.

The numbers that UGA gave up on defense were some of the worst during Richt’s time at the school. 37 points to South Carolina. 41 points to Arkansas. 45 to Tennessee. 41 to Florida. These numbers prompted the Bulldogs to make a change at defensive coordinator and hired former Dallas Cowboy defensive line coach Todd Grantham to install the 3-4 defense to turn things around.

The good news for the Bulldogs is that the defensive unit does return some excellent players such as Justin Houston at linebacker and Brandon Boykin at cornerback but the transition to a new defensive scheme may take time so expect some initial struggles from the unit.

Georgia does also have arguably the top punter and kicker in the nation with Blair Walsh and Drew Butler respectively.

The Schedule

9-4-10 Lousiana-Lafayette
9-11-10 @ South Carolina
9-18-10 Arkansas
9-25-10 @ Mississippi State
10-2-10 @ Colorado
10-9-10 Tennessee
10-16-10 Vanderbilt
10-23-10 @ Kentucky
10-30-10 Florida (in Jacksonville)
11-6-10 Idaho State
11-13-10 @ Auburn
11-27-10 Georgia Tech

That Idaho State contest is going to be tough. Seriously, outside of the Florida contest and maybe Georgia Tech in a stretch, Georgia should be a favorite to win every other contest. The game at South Carolina has always served as a litmus test for Georgia on how its season was going to go and this year will be no different. Kentucky may give them a game on the road and Auburn may be in full swing by that game but this is a workable schedule for the Bulldogs.

Most Famous Sports Alum: Tougher call than you would think. If you’re looking at name value, some may say Dominique Wilkins. If you’re an older fan, an argument can be made for Fran Tarkenton. I’ll go with Herschel Walker, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back who may be on the short list of best college football players ever. Furthermore, he was an Olympian. Remember when he was a bobsledder? He now is a mixed martial arts fighter? He has to be the choice. Who’s with me? Am I right?

 

Celebrity Crush Alum: Another impressive list to go over. You have Deborah Norville, Amy Robach, Julie Moran if you like journalists. Kim Basinger gets some love as well. However, I’m going to take a reality show contestant, Parvati Shallow, of Survivor fame.

 

Prediction: 9-3

I’m marking a loss to Florida and South Carolina. However, if the Bulldogs pulled out those wins, it wouldn’t surprise. It also wouldn’t surprise me to see a loss to a team it shouldn’t like Mississippi State or Tennessee. Three losses seems about right.

Sports Inquirer Top-25 Preseason College Football Poll:

#25 West Virginia

#24 South Carolina

#23 Auburn

#22 Oregon State

#21 Arkansas

#20 Florida State

Gridiron Blitz: Cleveland Browns Preview

The next team up on our Gridiron Blitz is the Cleveland Browns

Music to listen to: Foe Tha Love of $ by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

This music choice was the easiest one to date. Bone Thugs are one of my favorite musical groups ever and one of the best things to ever come out of Cleveland.

Current State: Things have been better for the city overall for sports. The Indians are going through another losing season, the Cavs just lost Lebron James in such a tactless way that the entire sports world actually feels sympathy for them. Now the Browns come back calling with a new front office and hopes that things can improve.

Biggest Change: The Browns have made their new attempt at respectability with the hiring of new president Mike Holmgren. He’s won a Super Bowl championship with Green Bay and took Seattle to the title game as well, so Holmgren has won in two locations. He has rebuilt two franchises and takes on his biggest challenge yet.

On the field, the elimination of Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn from the quarterback position was a necessary step for the franchise to move forward. With the signing of Jake Delhomme and drafting of Colt McCoy, the Browns have made an increase in the leadership position on the field.

Uniform Grade: I respect the legacy of Paul Brown just as much as the next man but the uniforms are pathetic. The colors of brown and orange make them look unprofessional to the point that I don’t know if I’m looking at an NFL game or a junior high contest with two teams that picked up their unis at the local sporting goods store. Arguably the worst uniforms in the entire league. I mean, the frickin logo for the team IS the helmet. Amateur mentality for a professional team. Grade: D+

Best Player: There isn’t a lot to pick from but two players emerged, Joe Thomas and Joshua Cribbs. I’ll go with Thomas because combined with left guard Eric Steinbach and center Alex Mack, the Browns may have the best left-sided offensive line in the NFL, which is a good thing.

Also, some mention should also go to defensive tackle Shaun Rodgers but his injury-prone nature demotes him from this honor.

With Thomas, the Browns at least know that they can run the ball on that side if all else fails and protect the future quarterback of the future that they choose, most likely McCoy.

Most Important Player: Thomas is very important to the team as stated earlier but Cribbs not only gives the Browns an offensive weapon at receiver but also is an excellent return man for kicks and punts, giving the struggling offense better field position to work with.

Best Case: The team continues its growth from the depths. Delhomme at least provides the offense with stability and keeps the seat warm for McCoy for one season. Cribbs shows more consistency on offense. The defense plays well, similar to last season. Four or five wins overall.

Worst Case: Everything that went wrong last year continues, minus the four-game winning streak at the end of the season.

Coaching: The fact that Eric Mangini is still employed with the Browns is concerning as well. I don’t care if the Browns won their final four games but before that, they were one of the worst 1-11 teams in recent memory. His cold arrogance and treatment of players, management and the entire Browns franchise was embarrassing to view.

However, maybe the change in senior management will be good for him because I trust Holmgren wouldn’t be unwise enough to keep Mangini on staff when he can obviously get someone else to coach the team.

First Memory of team: I was a little too young to experience the brutal AFC playoff losses of the Browns in the 1980’s but I do remember when Bill Belichick became the head coach and started importing almost every former Giant possible. It cut your boy a little bit when I saw Pepper Johnson wearing the brown and orange, it did cut at your boy some.

My biggest memory is when the Browns moved to Baltimore. Even as a teenager, I knew that was messed up. I’ve fortunately never had my favorite team move to another city. What Art Modell did to that city was terrible, however as a sports manager who looks at the business operations side of a professional team, I understand why the move was made.

This may be a topic for another post because the focus is on the current edition of the Browns but if you were Modell and had the financial situation that you did between the loss of revenues, a bad stadium and other negatives and another city like Baltimore provided you with a better opportunity for your team and you make a profit, you have to make that move.

Schedule: They have to deal with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the division.

As far as home games, they get Kansas City, Atlanta, New England, New York, Carolina. They may be an underdog in each of those contest, at best even with the Chiefs and Panthers. The road slate includes Tampa, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Miami and Buffalo. Those games are more forgiving but still difficult for the Browns.

City Nicknames: The only official one that I could find was “The Forest City,” which is terrible because when I think of Cleveland, forests aren’t on the top of the list. Some call it “The Mistake by the Lake.” I’ve never been to Cleveland but that’s just cruel.

Fantasy Focus: If you have a Brown on your roster, your team will probably not do well in your league. If you have more than one Brown, just give up and focus on something else like reading a book or learning that foreign language you’ve been meaning to get to.

Overall Outlook: This season will be rough for the Browns and not just last place in the division, I’m talking about the potential to have the worst record in the entire league. Holmgren is a good start at the top but with the shaky quarterback situation and Mangini still coaching the team, I have no optimism for this team.

Final Record: 3-13

Gridiron Blitz NFL Season Previews:

AFC East:

Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots

New York Jets

Miami Dolphins

AFC North:

Cincinnati Bengals