Friday, October 31, 2008

And For Your Maryland Terrapins, The Starting Lineup...

Has not been announced yet. Nor will it be by any means set when the Terps Mens Basketball Team open up exhibition play next Saturday against Northwood. Certainly the tumult over last season's disappointment along with the departure of key players (James Gist, Bambale Osby) and the loss of promising young talent (Gus Gilchrist, Bobby Maze), has dimmed the hopes of the Terrapin fan base for this season. Certainly yes, this team is starved for front-court depth and is plagued with question marks. However, this is Maryland Basketball and a new season is always approached by hope and excitement (regardless of whether or not it is warranted).

Getting back to my point on the potential starting five, there are only three players who are essentially guaranteed: Eric Hayes, Greivis Vazquez, and Landon Milbourne. That leaves two spots open. Keep in mind that the only one of these three capable of playing in the front court is Milbourne, and he is more of a forward/guard combo rather than a pure forward or pure guard. So, of the remaining two Gary Williams will need at least one person to play the power-forward/center position. The last will be determined by whether or not he decides that he wants a traditional lineup with two inside players or go with (essentially) a four guard lineup with only one big man.

What do I see as this year's starting five? Funny you should ask...
1. Eric Hayes - PG - Hayes has already been given the starting point guard role by Gary Williams, and that is not in doubt at this point.
2. Greivis Vazquez - SG - Vazquez has been slowed badly by offseason ankle surgery, but he is a cornerstone of this team and is the best offensive weapon Gary Williams has. Assuming he gets healthy, Vazquez should benefit from being moved off of the point.
3. Sean Mosley - SG - This is where things are a little dicey, because if Mosley is inserted into the lineup then you're leaving yourself with a thinner bench at guard and taking away a spot from the front court.
4. Landon Milbourne - G/F - Milbourne was streaky last season, but he is a tremendous athlete with a work ethic that has been highly praised by Gary Williams. For the second year in a row, he has singled out Milbourne as the player who has put in the most offseason work; no way he doesn't crack the starting five.
5. Jerome Burney - PF/C - Jerome Burney is certainly not a significant offensive weapon, but is a tremendous defensive presence in the paint. Burney came on strong at the end of last season, and based on the alignment that I forsee, the Terps are going to want a big man to just contain the paint and play defense. The scoring should come from the other four.

That's where I see the starting five shaking out -- feel free to post your own projections.

(Photo Credit: Monica Lopossay/Baltimore Sun)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Should Brian Roberts be re-signed or traded?

One of the big questions for the Orioles this offseason is what to do with Brian Roberts. The face of the franchise and the longest serving Oriole can be a free agent by the end of the 2009 season if he isn't given a new contract.

Andy MacPhail has said to Jeff Zrebiec the Baltimore Sun that getting a contract extension to Roberts is a priority. But, should the Orioles do that, or trade him?

The Orioles leadoff hitter and second baseman has been the most consistent player for the O's in recent years, getting at least a .286 average and 36 steals each of the last three years. He hasn't gotten a severe injury in the last five years. On the con side, he is now 31 years old, makes $6.3 million a year, and has said that if he isn't re-signed before the end of the offseason, then he won't want to return to the Orioles after he leaves Baltimore.

So what are the Orioles to do? Roberts is the only person that the Orioles might be willing to trade that they can get good prospects for. Aubrey Huff has too big a price tag, Melvin Mora is too old, and they wouldn't get much for George Sherill's talent. With Roberts, you would get a guy who can play 150+ games and steal 35+ bases a year. Many teams need a solid leadoff hitter, and Roberts can do it.

While I don't want the Orioles to lose the face of the franchise, Baltimore isn't going to be good for a few more years, and the more good prospects in the farm system, the better, and trading Roberts is bound to get something decent. MacPhail may want to pull the trigger on Roberts, but it is easy to see how hard a decision like this is.

(Photo credit: Baltimore Sun)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Injuries Mounting for the Ravens

The inury bug is starting to hit the Ravens hard, as today it was announced that Demetrius Williams will be placed on injured reserve, ending his season. To add onto that, Chris McAlister's season might end soon due to the worsening of his knee injury. Ouch. (no pun intended)

This is a huge blow to the Ravens and their playoff hopes, as they have already lost several players. The injury list (just for the starters who are currently injured) has now piled up to:
-Marshal Yanda (out for the season)
-Adam Terry (missed several games, still out indefinitely)
-Demetrius Williams (out for the season)
-Samari Rolle (missed several games, may return soon)
-Chris McAlister (missed several games, possibly out for season)
-Dawan Landry (missed several games, still out indefinitely)
-Kelly Gregg (out for the season)
-Yamon Figurs (missed several games, may return soon)

This list does not include the loss of Kyle Boller for the season, Troy Smith's injury which forced Flacco into early duty, McGahee's knee issues, and Ed Reed's nagging neck problem. To the Ravens' credit, they have dealt admirably with the loss of so many of their key players. People talked about how the Raiders were without Darren McFadden and that was a key advantage; what about the injuries the Ravens have sustained? Justin Bannan has stepped up huge for Kelly Gregg, Frank Walker and Fabian Washington for McAlister and Rolle, Willie Anderson for Adam Terry, Chris Chester for Marshal Yanda, and Jim Leonhard for Yamon Figurs and Dawan Landry.

The front office needs to be commended for putting in place this much depth in the Ravens' roster. Their tireless pursuit of offensive and defensive line depth in the draft has payed immense dividends, and their offseason pickups of Fabian Washington, Jim Leonhard, Frank Walker, and Willie Anderson have made this team competitive despite the vast injury problems. The question remains: Can the Ravens continue to find effective replacements for these key players, and will these injuries unravel their promising season?

The current injury which frightens myself the most is Demetrius Williams. Not only had Demetrius finally taken a positive step in the offense, he was finally supposed to be healthy this season after battling earlier problems. Without Williams this receiving corps is nearly empty. The Ravens acquired Terrance Copper today (released earlier by the Saints) in response to the injury, but they are still left with very few options to replace Williams as the third receiver. The choices are now between Yamon Figurs (whose knee is improving according to the Baltimore Sun), Terrance Copper, and rookies Marcus Smith and Ernie Wheelwright. Of these I don't know which would be the best; I would like to say Marcus Smith because I was very high on him in the draft, but I feel like if the organization had confidence in him he would have been activated for a game by now. If Figurs is healthy, then he gets the nod. If not, don't be suprised if Ernie Wheelwright becomes the third wideout -- he is an undrafted rookie who had a good career at Minnesota (a run-dominated school) who has fought his way onto the roster. If a player with such little hype or draft status gets retained by the team and then promoted to the 52-man roster, then the coaching staff must like him and he must be showing alot in practice.

Ravens fans have to be pleased with how their team has battled despite injuries. They can only hope that the backups can continue their impressive performance.

(Photo credit: Elizabeth Malby, Baltimore Sun)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Around the Harbor Radio Show Tonight From 10-12 PM!

Returning to the WMUC airwaves in College Park is the official Around the Harbor Radio Show! You can listen in from 10-12 with Falco and Windsor!

The rundown tonight:
--Ravens with a thrilling 29-10 victory over Oakland, reason for hope this season or wait and see for the future?
--The Terps land in the AP and USA Today rankings with a win over NC State, what are their chances of holding in with their remaining schedule?
--Phillies lead the World Series 3-1, but game 5 postponed until Wednesday, will this change the Rays fortunes or are they still done? Plus, how bad is the umpiring?
--Navy smashes SMU, one game away from being bowl eligible
--Maryland Media Day for women's basketball, how will Maryland fare without Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper?
--Around the NFL: Daunte Culpepper chats with the Chiefs and Lions, plus the Titans win ibg with 4th quarter comeback against the Colts
--Around the NCAA, ATH style: Maryland soccer cracks top-5, Loyola still undefeated, plus #1 Maryland field hockey smashes #5 North Carolina
--This week's top-10: brings out their top-10 NFL chokes of all time

Are these NFL Teams Really That Good?

Okay, so welcome to part 2 of our review of “surprise” teams, both good and bad, in the NFL. Luckily for us there is still half a season left to play, with playoff races wide open and some unlikely leaders at the top of some key divisions in the AFC and NFC. The fan in us always loves to see these teams come out of nowhere and dominate, the same fan that roots for the Rays to win it all and that Oregon State beats USC. Sadly, the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers might not finish as strong as they started. Once again we are going to break these teams down to figure out whether they are as good as their record.

Why not Atlanta? Again, 3rd place in their division. Why not Arizona? Someone has to win that division. Why not Tennessee? Most people thought they were a playoff team. They might be overachieving, but they weren’t expected to be bad. Why not the Ravens? Good question...

Buffalo was a team that some people did think could make waves this season, but it was still considered to be the Patriots’ division to win and the Jets’ turn to battle for a wild card spot. Instead they sit at 5-2, tied with the Patriots for the division lead. However, they have yet to beat an opponent with a winning record! In fact, their 5 wins have come against teams that are a combined 12-24 this season. Their 2 losses, on the other hand, have come against 4-3 Arizona and 3-4 Miami. They have only played one game within the division, and games within the division are always tough. How will this team fare against elite competition like the Patriots? Luckily, they sport one of the easiest schedules down the stretch- facing off against the likes of San Francisco, Cleveland, and Kansas City in consecutive weeks. The numbers are tough to break down against such inferior competition, but this team has certainly improved since last season. But by how much is tough to determine. Even if this team is not as good as advertised their road the rest of the season is simply too easy for them not to make the playoffs. With an average schedule this is probably still an 8-8 team.

Given the schedule they DO have, this is a 10-6 team at the very worst.

Carolina was anyone’s guess. Jake Delhomme had been benched for injury reasons (and probably performance reasons) last season and prognosticators were talking more about the potential emergence of Matt Moore than the resurgence of the franchise passer. Aside from the three games Delhomme played last year, this season sports the highest passer rating of his career at 88.7- more importantly, his full recovery from Tommy Johns surgery has given the Panthers (finally) a healthy quarterback they can rely on and he has made defenses pay with a passer rating over 110 in 4 of his last 5 games, and in those 4 games thrown 8 touchdowns to only 1 interception. The defense however has performed even more admirably. They are allowing 6 fewer points per game than they did last season, and have jumped from 31st in the league in sacks to 22nd behind a motivated and healthy Julius Peppers. Without significant personnel changes, Carolina has found its rhythm this season.
As for their schedule, 3 of their 5 wins have come against opponents with winning records, and they have games against Oakland and Detroit after their bye week. Look for the Panthers to be 8-2 going before going back into the division against Atlanta. The only concern for Panthers fans is that they ate 5-0 on the road this season and only 1-2 away, with only 3 more home games left this season. However, this same team was 2-6 at home and 5-3 on the road last season, so go figure.

I see no reason why this team can’t win ball games, but they do have some tough games down the stretch. This is an 11-5 team this season if they keep playing like they have been.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo: Rick Havner)

Monday, October 27, 2008

The "Suggs Package" to be Employed More Often

John Harbaugh said today in the Baltimore Sun that the "Suggs Package" will be used more often in the Ravens offense.

This is referring back to when Terrell Suggs said that Troy Smith should be used once in a while at quarterback. Such comments got a lot of negative attention, as they were likely misconstrued to make people think he wanted Smith to start over Joe Flacco, but that he never thought that. And of course, the Ravens coaching staff are really good at playing up comments like that. To think, many Ravens fans were angry at such comments, including myself, but now the Ravens are calling in that for fun.

The "Suggs Package" mainly consists of putting Troy Smith at quarterback and using Joe Flacco as a receiver. On Sunday against the Raiders, Cam Cameron used this package to have Smith run the option as well as Smith throwing a ball to Flacco as a wide receiver. Ray Rice is often the running back of choice on the formation due to his speed and knowledge of the option.

The reason this works so well? All the important players are familiar with the option from recently leaving the college level. All the starting offensive linemen were drafted in 2005 or later. The two quarterbacks, Smith and Flacco, were drafted in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Rice is a rookie. Because of the familarity of the option plus the youth of the offense, it is effective to go against a defense, as long as it isn't used often.

But more to the fact, Cam Cameron is the first offensive coordinator to really put some variety and spark to this offense. We never saw this with Matt Cavanaugh, or Jim Fassel, or Rick Neuheisel. It is good to see someone finally putting all of the Ravens weapons to use.

But, one thing remains to be seen. This was first employed against Oakland; let's see how it works against stronger defenses. But for now, it is great to see.

(Photo credit: AP)

Maryland Football Ranked for First Time since 2006

Maryland football has returned to the rankings as the AP and USA Today poll put Maryland at #25 in the nation after the Terps 27-24 victory over NC State on Saturday. Maryland however, did not get ranked in the BCS.

Most people in Maryland probably thought the season was going to spiral out of control after the Terps barely beat Delaware and lost a miserable game against Middle Tennessee State. But low and behold, after a big time wins over California and Clemson plus a Wake Forest win to recover from a bad Virginia loss, everything seems back on track, for now. With a 6-2 record, Maryland is bowl eligible.

Because Maryland won't play this week, it is possible they will lose points in the human polling and fall out. But on November 6th, Virginia Tech and Maryland will duel in Blacksburg on national television. If the Terps could win that game, they would gain a lot of respect in the national media. If not, then they fall out of the rankings, possibly for good.

The pieces came together at a good time. Obi Egekeze started nailing field goals, only missing one since the Eastern Michigan game. Though Chris Turner still isn't consistent, he's done enough of late to put the offense in decent position, and when he hasn't, the defense has done the work. Every close game, Delaware, California, Clemson, and NC State, has gone Maryland's way. Three wins over then ranked teams.

I'm not saying Maryland is a great team, or the clear favorite in the ACC, cause they aren't either, but they have done a good job for most of the season, and for all the criticism of Ralph Friedgen and gang, they are 6-2 and tied for first place in the Altantic Division.

(Photo credit: Doug Kapustin, Baltimore Sun)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Postgame Report Card: Ravens 29, Raiders 10

The word of the game Overwhelming defense and some surprising offense combined for a solid all-around game for the Ravens. Ray Rice impressed his family in a big way, Rex Ryan shows his brother about defense, and Troy Smith shows some flare. This was a game the Ravens needed to win if only because they are a superior team to the Raiders, and that is exactly what they did.

The Ravens have gotten back a winning record, going to 4-3 as they go on the road for their next three games.

Offense - Overall Grade: B-
Quarterbacks: B-
Overall a decent day for Joe Flacco. Though he had potential for big mistakes with his passes, including a few nearly intercepted, as well as only completed half of his passes, he showed his strong arm with a 70-yard pass to Demetrius Williams and a 40-yarder to Derrick Mason (taken back by penalty). And welcome back Troy Smith. Smith got in on a few plays to run the option plus had a very cool pass to Flacco, who made an amazing catch for 43 yards.
Running Backs: B+
This was Ray Rice's day, getting eight rushes for 64 yards and showing tremendous speed, including converting a 3rd and 20 on a short pass from Flacco. LeRon McClain didn't have a bad day with 32 yards on seven rushes. Willis McGahee was not in his element, only getting 58 yards on 23 carries plus losing a fumble in the 4th quarter that gave the Raiders a big opportunity. He did have a touchdown though. But Ray Rice was the star today, and would have had a touchdown if not for a holding call.
Wide Receivers: B-
The WR corps had only two catches. The 70-yarder to Williams and a short catch to Mason. The gameplan mainly focused on running, and Flacco often found running backs in the flat or tight ends across the middle.
Tight Ends: B
Todd Heap had two catches and Daniel Wilcox did too. Nothing special, but they helped Flacco a great deal with passing up the middle.
Offensive Line: C-
The line was tested a number time with the constant running of the ball, plus Flacco wasn't sacked. But Chris Chester and Jared Gaither each received two holding calls, which nullified a 40-yard catch by Mason and a touchdown run by Rice. Plus a false start inside the five. The line has to be more disciplined than that.

Defense - Overall Grade: B+
Defensive Line: A
Without Darren McFadden, Oakland's running game was non-existent. Justin Fargas only got 24 yards on 12 catches plus Haloti Ngata got a sack. Solid game for the line, only outshined by the.........
Linebackers: A+
Terrell Suggs had two big tackles including a sack, but was leading the way on defense, clearing the way for other players like JaMeel McClain and Jarret Johnson. The corps sacked Jamarcus Russell three times including one for a safety, and had a big hand in stopping the running game. Ray Lewis had four tackles on the day and nearly an interception.
Secondary: C
They were fine for the first 30 minutes. In the second half, Russell was torching the secondary with long passes, and Fabian Washington was not covering well, including having bad coverage on a long pass to Zach Miller. Corey Ivy lead the Ravens with six tackles, which I and Windsor agree is not a good thing. They gave Oakland a chance when they seemed down and out.

Special Teams - Overall Game: A-
Kicker: A+
Matt Stover converted to sub-40 yard field goals and three extra points, nothing more needed.
Punter: A
Sam Koch had three punts inside the 20 plus a touchback.
Returners: B
Yamon Figurs may be out of a job, since Rice had 54 yards returned on kickoffs and had decent speed. Jim Leonhard had a decent return day on punts as well with a 46-yard return, though not much on the other three.
Coverage: B+
Johnnie Higgins wasn't anything special on kickoffs and got nowhere on punt returns.

Coaching - Overall Grade: B+
Offense: B
Cam Cameron got to pull out a few new toys today, including the Troy Smith option, running Flacco as a wide receiver, and running the ball with Ray Rice many times. Also, Flacco was throwing many more long passes than normal. However, the passing and running more becoming predictable towards the end of the game, but the solid offense in the first half did the job in the end.
Defense: A-
The Oakland running game was shut down and the blitzes were well called to make Russell real uncomfortable. The second half could have been better, but only 10 points scored by Oakland was real solid today. Rex Ryan outdueled his brother, but as Chris McAlister has said, Rob Ryan is allowed in the Ravens office anytime, except when they are playing the Raiders.

MVP: Terrell Suggs
The leader on defense as he cleared the way on many big defensive plays. He ended with two tackles and a sack, but the stats don't tell the story of his leadership. I guess he had a "bounty" on Jamarcus Russell......
LVP: Willis McGahee
Not very effective on offense and had a key turnover that almost let Oakland back into the game.

After the game, the Gatorade bath went to Rex Ryan. I love how well the Ravens players like the coaches, all of them. The Ravens (4-3) hit the road for their second game against Cleveland. Time to remember the Art Modell days.........

(Photo credits: AP (Team photo, Ryan brothers, Flacco catch))

Ravens-Raiders Preview: Beating the Teams You are Supposed to Beat

I know it’s the Raiders, but… no, it is still the Raiders. This football team has every reason to pack it in, but fought hard against the Jets and truly earned their second win of the season. Record-wise the Ravens aren’t much better, but they have beaten the teams they are supposed to beat. The Bengals, Browns, and Miami are inferior teams, and the Colts (I don’t care what the record is this year), Titans and Steelers are above-average teams at the very least. The Ravens will be looking to keep that streak alive and stay relevant in the AFC North. The Raiders will be looking to stay relevant at all.

What I’m Wondering:

Can Joe Flacco string together two strong performances in a row?

The Oakland Raiders are in the bottom half of the league in passing yards against, allowing 224.3 yards per contest. Joe Flacco is throwing roughly 180 yards per game- this would appear good for the Ravens. However, Flacco has yet to have a truly break-out game and as long as he is limited to dump off passes and the occasional wild shot downfield we shouldn’t expect much more from him. Last week he did appear to turn things around somewhat against a deplorable Miami secondary, completing almost 74% of his passes and not throwing a pick. It should be no surprise that this exemplary effort was matched by the Ravens first 100 yard rushing performance of the season. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the running game will determine whether Flacco can extend the field and take on a more ambitious offensive gameplan. Will Flacco make it two solid games in a row against awful defensive units?

Will the secondary continue to struggle against young signal-caller JaMarcus Russell?
Chad Pennington torched the Ravens for almost 300 yards. Peyton Manning returned to form against a dazed and confused secondary. Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, Ed Reed and Dawan Landry, the entire starting secondary, could be out for this game (if John Harbaugh decides what he wants to do with Chris that could change) and while Russell isn’t destroying opponents by any means he has not turned the ball over much through the air, throwing only 2 picks to 7 touchdown passes. I don’t trust any defensive unit with an entire secondary of replacements. It appears as though the Ravens D might be following the pattern predicted at the beginning of the season- great when healthy, but rarely healthy. Will the Raiders be able to take advantage of the battered Ravens secondary?

How dangerous is Darren McFadden to the Ravens?
One things the Ravens linebackers have been able to hang their hat on is sure tackling, which will be the key to preventing McFadden from breaking a run or return long for a score. The rookie running back out of Arkansas cannot be treated like any other back- he has the ability to suck linebackers into the middle and the break a run outside. Traditionally this has been effective against the Ravens in the past. Their aggressive (perhaps overly aggressive) style has led to big plays against them in the past, and it will be of top importance for Jarret Johnson and Terrell Suggs particularly to stay in their lanes and not crash in on an apparent run up the gut. Darren McFadden is a special talent. Will the Ravens be able to keep him contained by staying true to their assignments?

My Mildly Informed Analysis:

Forget the offensive and defensive analyses. There is no reason why the Ravens should not be able to defeat the Raiders by a fairly comfortable margin. This game is about whether the Ravens can set the offensive tempo from the very beginning of the game and not allow the Raiders to gain confidence enough to stay in the ballgame. This is a fragile football team, but one that can be dangerous if allowed to stay in the game. Last week against the Jets the Raiders were able to frazzle and harry Brett Favre into 2 interceptions and the forced a fumble from Leon Washington that kept them in the driver’s seat. If the Ravens offense does not turn the ball over and continues to pound the ball up the middle of the field, the game will be the Ravens’ by the fourth quarter. The Jets managed to wear down the Raiders, the Ravens should too.

Remember, Thomas Jones rushed for 159 yards last week on 24 carries; if he had had some semblance of a passing game to rely on then the Jets could have completely dominated the football game. The question here will be whether the same Raiders secondary shows up- I say no. They will not be facing the same type of quarterback this time. They will be getting a young quarterback with a coaching staff careful not to make any mistakes instead of a gunslinger known for high-risk high-reward play. The Raiders will not have as many wild passes to take advantage of, and this game should not be half as exciting, but much more efficient.

JaMarcus Russell has only been sacked 14 times this season, but he has fumbled the ball 6 times, with 4 being recovered by the opposing defense. The Raiders offensive line has improved in pass protection significantly from last season, but I don’t trust it jut yet. I hope Rex Ryan dials up a series of blitzes and forces the Raiders to make that one mistake that can break the game wide open. As far as coverage is concerned, even without the entire starting secondary I just cannot see the Raiders receivers being anything above average- Javon Walker will be a threat but has yet to come into his own and Zach Miller, well… I will accept the tight end getting some catches but he will not single handedly be able to dismantle the defense.

The Rundown

The Raiders have not backed down to any opponent, and have a fire they lacked at times in the last few seasons. The effect of the firing of Lane Kiffin has yet to be seen, but the coaching staff will not be winning any games for them this season. Likewise, Rex Ryan’s brother Rob Ryan does not have the personnel to do what he can do on defense. Believe it or not the Raiders and Ravens are similar in a lot of ways- strong armed young quarterbacks, a questionable offensive line, with new coaches and a defense that traditionally has been the stronger side of the ball in recent seasons (though not so much this year for the Raiders). In the end however… the Ravens do all of that just a bit better in every way than the Raiders.

The nod goes to the Ravens, 21-10.

(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)

Postgame Report Card: Maryland 27, North Carolina State 24

The word of the game is... downpour. Of excitement, drama, a whole lot of offense, and just a little bit of rain. In this monsoon the game alternated between a shootout between two crisp offenses and a messy slugfest of defense and special teams. Maryland ended up winning this affair with an impressive 90 yard drive, resulting in a 20-yard Egekeze field goal with six seconds left in the game. It can certainly be said that this game should not have been as close as it was. However, NC State came to play and they have shown in recent weeks that they have legitimate talent on offense and a potential budding star at quarterback. The reason this game was closer than many thought it should be was not that Maryland ‘slept’ on the opponent in typical fashion. Both teams came to play and it was an absolute classic (to those who saw it).

Offense - Overall Grade: A-
Quarterbacks: B

Turner didn’t have one of his better games, and given the success of the running game he didn’t have to. Although he completed fewer than half of his passes and missed a number of open throws, I don’t want to hammer him because he managed the game and didn’t make any egregious mistakes. Turner made the throws he had to make for the Terps to win the game, and for that he deserves credit.
Running Backs: A+
So that is where Da’Rel Scott has been hiding! Da’Rel returned to his early season form, gaining 164 yards on 23 carries (7.1 yard average) with a touchdown. For the first time since the Maryland-Cal game, Da’Rel showed the quickness and breakaway speed we saw early in the year. His running mate, Davin Meggett, had a sensational game relieving Scott; Davin Meggett was the key to Maryland’s 90-yard touchdown drive, providing a clutch 31-yard catch and run to set Maryland up for the game-winning field goal.
Wide Receivers: B
This group didn’t have many opportunities, but Heyward-Bey had a couple of nice catches and had a 17-yard reverse in Maryland’s first scoring drive. Danny Oquendo had a rare off-day, dropping one catch (although it was thrown behind him) and being neutralized throughout the game. Again, like Turner, not much was asked of this group given the success of the running game.
Tight Ends: B+
Dan Gronkowski led the Terps in receptions today, hauling in three catches for 37 yards and a touchdown. Gronkowski did have a drop, but given the difficulty of the catch, the impact from the defender and the slick conditions, he could not be expected to catch the ball. This unit was exceptional in run blocking, as both Gronkowski and Watson helped seal the edge for many of Da’Rell’s outside runs which became a go-to play for the Terps’ running game.
Offensive Line: A-
In the run game, this group was as dominant as it has been all year. NC State was manhandled in the running game, and the line showed a good deal of athleticism getting to the edge on the outside runs. The pass protection was average however, and the Terps are very fortunate that the number of late holding calls against this unit did not come back to haunt them.

Defense - Overall Grade: C+
Defensive Line: C

This group was terrorized all game by Russell Wilson, as they could not get any consistent pressure and had no containment on Wilson outside of the pocket. The running game was by and large shut down, but the overarching problem was that the Maryland defensive line could not get any consistent penetration in the Wolfpack backfield.
Linebackers: C+
Again, Russell Wilson gave this bunch nightmares today, and they seemed lost at times trying to figure out how to respond to him. To their credit, the Terp linebackers showed good discipline, particularly in sticking to their assignments when Wilson would roll out. The running game was also controlled nicely, and the tackling was crisp. In the end however, these Terps will need to learn how to handle dual threat quarterbacks or it could be a long night in Blacksburg on Thursday night.
Defensive Backs: B
Looking back, the secondary for Maryland did not play all that poorly considering the amount of time that Wilson was given in the pocket. There were a couple of good pass deflections, and only a couple distinct breakdowns in coverage. The tackling could have been significantly better, but considering the lack of depth this group played admirably.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: B-
Kicker: B+

Egekeze kicked an impressive 47-yard field goal and the game winning 20-yard field goal, and helped reestablish his reputation at the University of Maryland as a dependable kicker. His missed 39-yarder was close and not an easy field goal at all; the rain had suddenly come down exceptionally hard as he was lining up to kick, creating a near worst-case environment.
Punter: A
Travis Baltz wasn’t needed very often, but per usual he was one of the best players on the field for the Terps. He averaged a whopping 49 yards on two punts, with one downed at the ½ yard line. Travis also executed a superb squib kick after Egekeze’s go-ahead field goal.
Returners: B-
Torrey Smith was excellent on kick returns; he continues to look better each game as he gains confidence. Oquendo had an unusually shaky day on punt returns, committing a crucial muff in the second half.
Coverage: B+
Neither punt was returned, and NC State averaged fewer than 20 yards on their kick returns. The downing of Baltz’s punt at the ½ yard line was a key play in determining field position in the second half.

Coaching - Overall Grade: B+
Offensive: A

It’s easy to call plays when your team is running as well as the Terps were today. This offense, when not hindered by the harsh conditions, hummed similarly as it did against Wake Forest. Admittedly, in this game the offense found its rhythm running rather than passing, but that more than anything else gives hope for the future. If there’s one thing that James Franklin has shown, it’s that when he has an advantage; he pushes it.
Defensive: C
Chris Cosh failed to contain Russell Wilson, allowing him to run wild on the Terps. There were very few unique or effective blitz packages, and Wilson had plenty of time to pick Cosh’s secondary apart. This manic pass rush has to get straightened out for the Terps to reach their potential. To their credit, the sacks came when they were most needed in this game. And again, this defense better figure out dual-threat quarterbacks by Thursday or they’re in trouble against Virginia Tech.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Da’Rel Scott–
Da’Rel went off on the Wolfpack today, certainly helped by a dominant offensive line. Outstanding burst, outstanding vision; everything you would want from your star running back, especially after a string of disappointing performances.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Danny Oquendo– Don’t expect to see Danny here again, but unfortunately “Mr. Dependable” was anything but tonight. He was held without a catch, dropping one, and inexcusably muffed a punt in the third quarter.

Bonus grade:
Student Section: F

Maryland proved yet again that it has a very weak fan base, and I’m embarrassed. I stood out there, in the rain and wind, and I cheered hard for the Terps with the other loyal students. For the student section to be half empty, on Homecoming, in the hunt for an ACC title, in an epic matchup, in the second half is inexcusable. Word to my fellow UMD students; if you’re going to talk trash against your opponents, don’t ditch your team because of some rain. It makes you look pathetic.

(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Homecoming Pregame: Maryland vs. NC State

Welcome home all Terrapin alumni. For the second time in two years, Maryland's homecoming game will be against NC State. It worked two years ago under the Sam Hollenbach year; let's see if Chris Turner can do the same.

The Maryland Terrapins (5-2, 2-1 ACC) take on the NC State Wolfpack (2-5, 0-3 ACC) in a interesting ACC matchup. A Maryland win would make them bowl-eligible as well as keep them tied for first place in the Atlantic Division. Maryland is coming off a shutout victory over now-unranked Wake Forest while NC State has lost their last three contests.

After Maryland's victory over Wake, they have now won their last five games against ranked opponents. However, on the flip side Maryland is 1-2 against I-A non-ranked (and losing record) opponents this season, and NC State is unranked and has a losing record. Let's hope the trend doesn't continue.

Scouting the Competition: NC State
Don't let that 2-5 record fool you, this is not a bad team anymore. Under the second season of Tom O'Brien, the Wolfpack are trying to regain their Philip Rivers days. But they have a long way to go. NC State has lost their last two contests against Maryland, including getting shutout 37-0 at home last year.

Redshirt freshman Russell Wilson has started to gain his stride with his last two games getting 218 yards and three scores against Boston College 181 yards and two scores against Florida State, both of whom are ranked, even though NC State lost both contests. But Wilson has shown himself to be an up and coming quarterback in the ACC.

The Wolfpack run a balanced offense, with 214 passes and 211 rushing attempts, but the running game has not been as helpful as the air attack. On the ground most of the carries go to senior Andre Brown, who averages 4.3 yards a carry and has three touchdowns, and is a bruiser; his longest rush attempt was 16 yards. Wilson's primary target is sophomore Owen Spencer, who has 405 receiving yards this season.

The defense has not been very threatening, they have given up at least 24 points in every contest. Granted their schedule has been real difficult, but it is still 24 points a game. The redshirt junior DE Willie Young has been a force, with two fumbles recovered and six tackles for loss. Their tackles leader is another redshirt junior, LB Ray Michel.

Things to look out for in today's game:
1. Which Chris Turner will show up?
It seems like we say this every week, but frankly it is true. Some games Turner is terrific, some he is flat out bad. Last game, Turner was very solid and was able to deal with an aggressive Wake defense when the rushing attack was not performing. On paper, Turner should be fine against the Wolfpack, but we will see who shows up.

2. Repeat from last week: Can Da'Rel Scott get back on track?
He was not bad on the ground, but his two lost fumbles nearly allowed Wake Forest to fight back. Davin Meggett was seeing important time on the ground ahead of Scott last week, and it makes everyone wonder if Scott will get back to form. No doubt Scott is the better runner, but he has not performed well since the Cal game. NC State allows 165+ yards a game on the ground; Scott will not have a better chance to get back on track.

3. Will the Terps underestimate Russell Wilson?
We have seen what happens if the Terps defense does not respect an opposing quarterback; they roll over them. Wilson may only be a freshman, but he has shown some good talent and the capability to make the big play. Maryland's LB corps will again be tested, and they will need to keep the status quo to win. If they can shut down Riley Skinner's squad to zero points, they can shut down Russell Wilson, just do not overlook him.

4. Will the weather be a factor?
The predicted forecast in College Park tomorrow is a lot of rain plus possibly heavy winds. At the Breakfast With the Fridge event Friday morning, Coach Friedgen said that the Terps were practicing with a wet football, so the Terps are trying to get ready for incoming weather. They haven't played in a bad weather game yet. Bad weather will affect the kicking game and the air attack, so Scott and Brown will probably see a lot of carries if the rain is bad.

Prediction- Maryland 24, NC State 13
Maryland does not blow out opponents like NC State, but they will secure the victory and earn their bowl eligibility. As long as they are not looking ahead to Virginia Tech.

(Photo credits: Baltimore Sun (Heyward-Bey), Terrapin Sports Report (Wilson))

Friday, October 24, 2008

Adam Loewen signs Minor League deal with the Blue Jays

Former Orioles first round pick Adam Loewen has signed with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Loyalty. That is what the Orioles gave Adam Loewen. When they signed him in 2002 they handed him a $4.02 million contract and extended him an annointed place in the franchise. Injury after injury the team showed patience in his recovery, particularly this season. Every trip to the disabled list was joined with hopes for a recorvery again and a rise to the top of the O's rotation. He was the man of the future for the city of Baltimore. When his arm finally gave out for the last time, there was disappointment, but no complaints. The fan base understood, and rallied behind Adam once again wishing for a possible return to the majors some day, this time as a position player. I will spare you the rest of the mournful backstory, but the fact of the matter is that his history in Baltimore was long and marked with setbacks but constant patience and consideration.

The Orioles released Loewen earlier this week with full expectations of resigning him to a minor league deal. In fact, Adam even cleared waivers on his way to signing on to a minor league team in the O's system. As a free agent Loewen was allowed to sign with any team, but it appeared to be a formality that he would sign with Baltimore again. Instead his home country allegiance to Canada drew him north to sign with Toronto.

It is hard to be angry at Adam, but I am. I don't care what his childhood dream was. I don't care whether money was an issue or not. This is a unique case- Loewen as a starter gave this city nothing due to his injuries, but the organization gave him every ounce of consideration and care throughout his stay in Baltimore. They greeted his decision to give up pitching with a hopeful attitude, setting up meetings with hitting coach Terry Crowley and putting him in the instructional league to work on his hitting. The city of Baltimore and the Orioles fan base were optimistic that they would one day have their own Rick Ankiel...

...and after all that, at the first chance he gets, he bolts for north of the border without leaving so much as a thank you note.

You're welcome, Adam.

Free Kicks- Ravens Edition!

Well there has been just way too much Ravens news lately that it has required its very own Free Kicks segment. While rooting hard for the Phillies to start hitting (against one of the deepest rotations in the majors that could be wishful thinking), I couldn’t help to reflect on all the big issues making national news for our home football team (no, the Redskins don’t count over here). Let’s line up for the kick…

Money for Nothing

For anyone who bothered to listen to the audio of Suggs’ now infamous radio comments it should be apparent that not only was he goaded into the statement, it may not have even been accurate. He did not dwell on who made the “bounty” or who benefited, it is more likely that the defense simply built each other up and emphasized the importance of stopping these individuals from beating them. Just as Mendenhall gloated about how he would slice through the Ravens D, Suggs and others likely gloated equally about how they would shut him down. Likewise, they would get back at Hines Ward for his cheap shots by hitting him hard himself.

Something particularly illuminating was an interview of Brian Billick about the issue. He told Dan Patrick that even if this was a bounty, every team does this and every coach knows about it; but it rarely has an impact on the game itself. The Ravens have been painted as a particularly dirty team and now Suggs’ comments have simply added fuel to that myth. Hines Ward, as he sat with his plastic smile on Pardon the Interruption advertising the NFL’s regulation against “bounties” knew full well that the Steelers were legendary for this, and could attest to the two times he has been fined for cheap shots on the field. No, Suggs wasn’t smart. But he wasn’t a villain and he was not dirty.

Say Anything

Chris McAlister has been benched due to injury. Chris McAlister has been benched for poor play. Chris McAlister has been benched for violating a team rule. No, apparently it isn’t a disciplinary benching. When Coach Harbaugh took over he emphasized discipline and commanded that the Ravens run a tighter ship. However, he has horribly mismanaged the Chris McAlister situation. Why was McAlister benched? We have no idea. The media and fans don’t necessarily have to know. But Chris should. Instead, the coach has not informed the 3 time Pro Bowler as to why he was benched, but left him guessing based on Harbaugh’s statements to the media, which have changed as often as the Ravens playoff hopes.

The Head Coach has an obligation to ensure that a player knows why he is on the bench, particularly if it is for disciplinary reasons. “You know what you did” is not sufficient in the NFL. Whether his stubbornness is out of principle or simple mismanagement is unclear, but has left the locker room scratching their heads and left the media wondering when or if Harbaugh will tell the truth about the issue. Say nothing if you have to, but don’t lie to us, Coach. At least the player deserves the truth.

High Fidelity

Okay, so I understand why Suggs shouldn’t say it, but why is it so wrong for us to start talking about Troy Smith again? The biggest bonus for Flacco was supposedly his “big arm” to take shots down the field. However, this has not worked out for the Ravens. Flacco ranks 25th out of 34 eligible passers with a paltry 6.4 yards per completion, and more importantly ranks 27th in passes of more than 20 yards. Where is that big arm? Defenses have been able to take away the deep ball and kept everything close to the line of scrimmage, neutralizing the ability to throw down the field. So what is the bonus of having Flacco? Keep him in there as the Ravens are still at .500, but it might be something to consider down the road if he continues to struggle down the stretch.

I have always felt that Troy Smith was the better quarterback for a struggling team- a better than expected line protecting Flacco has been the only thing giving him even moderate success. Should the offensive line start to waver, Flacco will be a deer in headlights and fans will be calling for a quarterback who can improvise and keep drives alive any way possible.

P.S. Bonus points for anyone who can tell me the theme of the titles here…

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Terrell Suggs: Fun With Radio!

Terrell Suggs recently made the news, nationally and locally, with some of his 'ill-advised' comments made on the radio regarding Hines Ward and Joe Flacco/Troy Smith. I will start with the former, because his statements on Hines Ward were the big national story to come out of it.

In Suggs’ interview with an Atlanta radio station, he made reference to there being a ‘bounty’ on Hines Ward and referred to him as a dirty, cheap-shot player. Now, I will say this: I don’t doubt that everything he said about Hines Ward and the ‘bounty’ is true. Hines Ward has long been known as a ‘dirty’ player, and that reputation is growing. The NFL is looking into his other comments, and the public response to the ‘bounty’ has been one of shock and disgust. I’m sorry, but give me a break. No, it isn’t right, and no, he sure as heck shouldn’t say it to the media, but the practice of putting a bounty on someone in football is not new. If someone like Hines Ward lays out one of your players unnecessarily, it is and has been the natural response to seek him out and knock him to the turf. In football there are plenty of collisions, and plenty of ways to clock someone without breaking the rules. Hines Ward lives by that and other teams can, right or wrong, use those same tactics against him.

As for his other comments, in which he proposed Troy Smith be the starter over Joe Flacco, this is where I really get burned up. Why, Suggs. Why. Why do you come out and knock your team’s starting quarterback like that? I understand that you like Troy Smith, and that’s completely legit. But if you’re going to propose a quarterback change, don’t say it to the media! Go behind closed doors; speak your peace to the coaching staff. Tell me, what do you think your statements will accomplish? Please, tell me, because I’m begging to know. By making this statement you: (a) rattle the confidence of your starting quarterback, (b) get yourself in hot water with the coaching staff, (c) put Troy Smith in an awkward position, and (d) magnify any and all mistakes that Joe Flacco makes from here on out. Tearing down your starter just so someone else can play is a fool’s game.

Now don’t get me wrong, Terrell Suggs is a great player and, by and large, has been an excellent guy to have in the locker room. This is an instance, however, when he would be better off keeping his mouth shut. He’s absolutely right about Hines Ward, but he should not have said it to the media. He’s absolutely wrong about Joe Flacco, and he definitely should never have said it to the media.

Terrell, I don’t want to tell you to shut up but… Please, shut up.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

MLB World Series 2008- Phillies vs. Rays

The World Series 2008 has finally arrived. The Philadelphia Phillies look to get their first World Series title since 1980 and the Tampa Bay Rays looks to go from the worst team in 2007 to the best team in 2008. The Series begins tonight on FOX at 8:35 PM.

Let's breakdown the teams (Note: all stats provided by Yahoo Sports):

NL Champion: Philadelphia Phillies (NL East champion, 92-70)
--How they got here: Won NLDS against Brewers 3-1, won NLCS against Dodgers 4-1
--How they did it: Solid starting pitching plus a shutdown bullpen

The Phillies barely survived getting into the playoffs, but ever since then they have taken this league by storm. Most people didn't think the Phillies had a chance against the upstart Dodgers, but they put LA away very quickly on the back of Cole Hamels. Now, rested and ready, the Phillies are looking good heading into their first World Series appearance since 1993. And Phillies fans know all about that.

The pitching: The strength of the team and what has carried them through the playoffs with a 3.19 ERA. Cole Hamels (pictured) has won all three of his playoff starts in convincing fashion, with 22 Ks and only 3 ER in 22 innings pitched. Joe Blanton also has done his job, with a 3.27 ERA in his two starts. Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer haven't fared as well. But the bullpen for Philadelphia is very strong. Brad Lidge has been revitalized this year. He still has not blown a save all year and has five in the playoffs with a 1.23 ERA. Add Ryan Madson, who has allowed just one run in nine innings of relief.

The batting: As a team, the Phillies are batting .259 during the World Series with 10 home runs. Ryan Howard (pictured), whose hot streak helped carry the Phillies into the playoffs, has yet to hit a home run in the postseason. But Philadelphia has found a huge player in Shane Victorino. Victorino was the Dodgers #1 enemy, and during the postseason has .281 with two homers and 11 RBIs, plus three stolen bases. Pat Burrell has shown his power with three homers and a .300 average. Players like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins will need to increase their production if the Phillies want a dangerous lineup.

AL Champion: Tampa Bay Rays (AL East Champion, 97-65)
--How they got here: Won ALDS against White Sox 3-1, won ALCS against Red Sox 4-3
--How they did it: Power hitting and clutch pitching

Everyone had this team down and out for the count after they lost a 7-0 lead in the bottom of the 7th to Boston in Game 5. But like they always do, they just find a way to win thanks to using five pitchers in the top of the 8th in Game 7 to hold off a rally. Now Tampa Bay is gunning to complete the full circle, go from worst to first in their first ever World Series appearance.

The pitching: Though at times inconsistent, the Rays pitching has gotten the job done with a 3.52 ERA. The four main starters all have an ERA between 3.32 and 4.02. Ace Scott Kazmir (pictured) has the 4.02 ERA, but in his last start he had six shutout innings. Matt Garza has the 3.32 ERA but only allowed two runs in 13 innings against the Red Sox. The Rays bullpen is solid despite the letdown against the Red Sox in game 5. David Price might be unleashed after getting the key save in Game 7, plus Chad Bradford and J.P. Howell have been unhittable in the postseason. But, the bullpen will need to be more consistent if they want to win.

The batting: The Rays have seen a burst of power during the postseason, knocking 22 balls out of the park plus a .268 average. B.J. Upton has been inhuman, knocking out seven with a .304 average and 15 RBI. Evan Longoria (pictured) was a monster, hitting .262 with six dingers. On the basepaths, the veteran Carl Crawford has six stolen bases to compliment a .302 average. Other than Rocco Baldelli, the Rays lineup has been more effective than they have in the regular season, they just need to keep it up.

The prediction:
I don't buy the "rest is bad" thought process, but I do believe the Rays look great, and I see them with the slight edge. The Rays hitting overall is much more solid right now than the Phillies, who are still looking for Ryan Howard to wake up. If it comes to a close game, the Phillies bullpen will have the edge, but I do not see the Rays giving up too many leads with the overall starting pitching. Hamels wins his two games, but the Rays take the series.

Falco's prediction- Rays in 6, rooting for a good World Series
Windsor's prediction- Rays in 7, rooting for the Phillies
Expatriate's prediction- Rays in 6, rooting for the Phillies

Around the Harbor Predicted World Series Winner: Tampa Bay Rays

(Photo credits: (Rays, Phillies, World Series logo), SI (Hamels, Howard), NY Daily News (Kazmir), St. Petersburg Times (Longoria)

Are These NFL Teams Really That Bad?

Okay, I am back from vacation, many thanks to Windsor and Falco for holding down the fort!

As we approach Week 8 of the regular season, the “surprise” teams and the “disappointing” teams are still taking shape. Some of them will go on to turn things around and validate the summer-time hype, and others will fall back to Earth. I felt like this was a good time to look back and figure out whether the Saints and Chargers were as bad as their records. Why not Indianapolis? At 3-3, they still aren’t under .500 just yet. Why not Cleveland? I don’t know, it just sort of feels natural to have them at 2-4, nothing special about that. Next week we will look at two teams that are overachieving and figure out if they are really that good…

New Orleans was a hot team going into this season. In fact, they are my preseason pick to go to the Superbowl from the NFC (hey, last year I had Cowboys-Patriots so at least I was close). Any team is hot when they sport one of the best offenses in football and a defense that on paper got better. Well, one thing is certain- the defense has been like paper. Two years ago, when New Orleans finished a surprising 11-5 and went to the NFC Championship game, their defense ranked 13th in the NFL at 20.1 points allowed per game.* They currently rank 22nd. This team’s problem has never been offense. Sure, they will fall flat from time to time- either side of the ball will have several lousy games in a season. However, when those days come there is no way for this defense to step up. My mantra has been that when a team scores at least 24 points, they should win the game. Instead, having scored 24 points in all but one contest, they find themselves 3-4. Sean Payton might want to pay less attention to his shiny new playmakers and a little more attention to Steve Smith gashing the secondary for 122 yards.

If the defense doesn’t get a hold of themselves, they are an 8-8 team at best.

San Diego was also a Superbowl contender going into this season. Even after Shawn Merriman’s injury, the defense was a solid pass rushing group with Antonio Cromartie coming into his own in the secondary. However, LaDainian Tomlinson lost his faithful fullback Lorenzo Neal who had been his primary blocking back since 2003. In his absence, Tomlinson has sported a 3.6 yard per carry average, his worst since his rookie year. The scoring remains high at 27.4 points per game, but Neal’s absence has significantly affected Tomlinson’s ability to run. However, like the Saints troubles, it all comes back to the defense. The unit that ranked 5th last year in points, 5th in sacks, and 14th in pass defense now ranks 21st, 8th, and dead last in those categories. A defense can never rank 32nd in the NFL in any category and be successful. The loss of Shawn Merriman could impact the slight decline in sacks, but the points are being poured on as a result of a faulty pass defense that hasn’t changed much in the ways of personnel over the past year. In all but 2 of their games so far this season, they have allowed the opponent to score first. This likely has prevented their ability to run the football consistently, with Tomlinson on track to finish with the fewest carries of his career, 281. His previous low was 313, in 2003.

In this division, with two games against Kansas City yet to play, this is still a 10-6 team.

Oddly enough, these teams face each other this week at Wembley Stadium in London, England. I hope they improved the turf from last year, or we could be seeing another Mud Bowl across the pond.

Photo Credit: AP Photo

*Forget yards, I care about how many points they allow to the opponent. I don’t care if they let the opponent get to their 1 yard line every time if they don’t give up points.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Around the Harbor Radio Show Tonight from 10-12 PM!

The Around the Harbor Radio Show is back on the air tonight from 10-12 PM! Listen is as Falco and Windsor run down the topics!
Topics for tonight's show include:
--The Ravens with a solid win over the Dolphins, closure for Cam Cameron? Also, the cornerback situation, what's going on with McAllister?
--The Terps shutout Wake Forest, now tied with Florida State for the lead in the Atlantic Division in the ACC, possible chance at the ACC Championship?
--Navy loses to Pitt, now 4-3, takes on SMU this week
--The World Series is set, Phillies or Rays? Also, is this series good or bad for baseball?
--NCAA Soccer: Maryland stays at #6 while Loyola has risen to #7
--Around the NFL: Mike Nolan gets fired from the 49ers and the Patriots injuries continue to mount
--This week's top-10: Since firing coaches has been all the rage lately, we'll check out Coaches Hot Seat's top-10 college coaches on the hot seat.

Former Ravens Coach Fired, Former Ravens Coach Promoted

Yesterday it was reported that 49ers head coach Mike Nolan has been fired. San Francisco had lost its last four games after starting 2-1, and he leaves with an 18-37 record as a head coach. The rule in San Francisco is if you don't go far into the playoffs with whoever you have, you leave. See Steve Mariucci, a coach who reached the playoffs with a 10-6 record then was fired. What ultimately did Nolan in was the Alex Smith bust. He joins Steve Linehan and Lane Kiffin as the third head coach to be fired during this season.

Nolan was a part of the Billick coaching tree in Baltimore, employing a 3-4 formation and keeping the solid tradition of a strong Ravens defense. And of course, he convinced the NFL to allow him to wear suits on the sidelines during home games in honor of his father. The one year where Ray Lewis got hurt he helped Ed Hartwell to be a solid middle linebacker, who would flame out after he left the Ravens. Maybe he wasn't to be a head coach, but he was a good defensive mind, and I hope he finds a new job soon as someone's defensive coordinator.

In comes Mike Singletary to be the interim head coach, a former Ravens LB coach and "Samurai Mike" to the '85 Chicago Bears. In Baltimore he worked with linebackers Ray Lewis, Jamie Sharper, Peter Boulware, and Ed Hartwell. He is a good leader, and though I'm not sure he's ready to be coach, there is no doubt he has a great sense of the game. To quote Mike himself during the Super Bowl Shuffle, he'll "do what's right and set the style."

(Photo credits: San Francisco 49ers (Nolan), ESPN (Singletary))

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Maryland Marching Band Showing Respect

Missed in the fervor over Maryland's stunning performance on Saturday, was a subtle touch put on the game by the Mighty Sound of Maryland (marching band). When the band was lined up before the Terrapin players ran onto the field, it was announced that the band was to play the Wake Forest fight song. The student section booed (I'll get to that point in a minute), but the band played that fight song as Wake's team ran onto the sidelines.

Let me tell you something. As a longtime fan and follower of college football, I cannot tell you how proud and pleased I am that the Mighty Sound of Maryland has stepped up to do this pregame ritual. What this does is show respect for your opponent, and add a sense of dignity for your school. Maryland, throughout it's athletic history (at least as far as I can remember), has consistently failed at showing this class. And why is this important? Real programs, real elite programs, don't lower themselves to their opponent, and don't disrespect them and the game they are about to play. Look at any storied football program and you will find a similiar practice. The perpetuation of classlessness and disrespect in both Maryland basketball and football has consistently worsenecd this school's reputation and has been a distinct part of this university's identity as a second-tier power.

Don't think that this isn't tied into the performance on the field. People wonder why Maryland football and basketball can be so manic, inexplicably losing to horrendous teams (see Middle Tennessee State and Virginia). A good reason for this might just be that the atmosphere around our sports is one of disrespect to our opponents. If you don't respect your opponents you're going to get bitten, and you're going to look like a fool.

And speaking of looking like a fool, the student section was disgraceful in their booing in response to the playing of the Wake Forest fight song. Again, there is no class and no acknowledgement of the opponent. Top schools don't do that in a non-rivalry (Auburn-Alabama, Mich-OSU level rivalries). Clearly Terp fans are content to be perennial pretenders.

Yes, it's certainly true that the real battles are fought on the field, and playing a song won't make you a top-tier school. But playing that song adds something. It adds respectability, it adds the feeling that our teams don't have to spit on the opponent to win a game. If you want to win, act like you're going to win. Don't act like a child by simply booing your opponent and yelling taunts; it reeks of insecurity. Pay respect to your opponent, and most importantly pay respect to the game.

Adam Loewen is Gone from Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun reports that Adam Loewen has been released by the Orioles today. Loewen had been trying to come back to the majors as a position player after constant arm injuries ended his pitching career.

Most of us saw this coming. Loewen was a former 1st round pick and was expected to be a star in the making, but after all the injuries, he couldn't continue on the mound, and has been trying to go the hitting route. But the Orioles decided to release him. Most likely, barring a great comeback with another organization, Loewen will never return to the majors.

This is proof that nothing is certain from the Draft. Anything can happen to high picks, and you have to plan according with the farm system. Loewen had a promising future, but he never panned out.

But more, you have to feel bad for Loewen. He was a very good kid and made a hard but smart decision to stop pitching. I just hope he'll be all right in the future, I'd hate to see this kid's career end like this.

(Photo credit: MLB)

Bayhawks Moving North to Annapolis

Inside Lacrosse's John Jiloty is reporting that the Washington Bayhawks are moving to Annapolis. They will play at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, home of Navy football and lacrosse. This will mark the sixth stadium the Bayhawks will call home at one point. They had previously played at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, but they played one game in Annapolis this year, their highest attendance draw all year with 5,792. The average attendance at a game in Fairfax was just over four thousand.

Other home stadiums that the Bayhawks have played home games in the past include Homewood Field in Baltimore, M&T Bank Stadium, Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, the Multi-Sport Field in Georgetown, and George Mason according to Jiloty.

I was at the Bayhawks-Cannons game this past summer in Annapolis, and it was a great showing. The stadium's lots has plenty of room for tailgating and the stadium itself had plenty of places for activities for all ages, including fields for kids to run around and a beer tent on the upper level so people can go drink some beer and enjoy the game.

I admit I've never been to George Mason, so I don't know how they hosted Bayhawks games, but since the Annapolis game was the highest attended home game for the Bayhawks this past season, I can't imagine it is a better atmosphere. But mainly, it is a little odd that a team that calls itself Washington plays in Virginia. It is different with other professional teams, like the New York Giants being in New Jersey, because pro lacrosse doesn't have a lot of popularity and putting a Washington team in Virginia just seems a little odd.

But I like this move. By putting the team in Annapolis, you are able to put the team is reasonable proximity with the Washington and Baltimore markets plus Annapolis has a pro team they can call their own. It is a real shame that the Bayhawks franchise has had so much trouble staying in one place, especially because Baltimore is the capital of lacrosse, but maybe this will work out better for them.

(Photo credit: Major League Lacrosse)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Postgame Report Card: Ravens 27, Dolphins 13

The word of the game is... vindication. On several levels, that is. The Ravens got off the mat after three straight losses, Joe Flacco regained his early-season poise, Willis McGahee finally broke out in a big game, and Cam Cameron helped dissect the team which so harshly dismissed him after last season (by the way, I would like to personally thank Dolphins management for firing Cam Cameron such that he could become the Baltimore’s offensive coordinator). While the defense had some issues containing Chad Pennington (particularly in the second half), and the offense did not quite light it up, the Ravens put together an effectively balanced game. This game was a rare occasion in which both the offense and defense contributed in equal parts. When that happens in Baltimore, it’s not hard to guess the outcome.

Offense - Overall Grade: B+
Quarterbacks: A-

Joe Flacco returned to the form all Ravens fans were hoping for: steady. Flacco certainly did not light it up down the field (75 of his 232 yards were on a pair of screen passes), but he made sound decisions and moved the ball steadily. Flacco completed 74.9 percent of his passes, and while he missed a key touchdown opportunity to Todd Heap, he was by and large very accurate, particularly on timing routes with Derrick Mason. One of the most apparent flaws in Flacco’s game continues to be his inability to get more of his receivers involved, but it is hoped that that will improve with time.
Running Backs: A
Willis McGahee had a party on his birthday. *badam-ching!* Thank you I’ll be here all week! But seriously. Willis McGahee had by far his best game of the season, his fourth-quarter fumble not withstanding. Willis showed the burst that seemed to be lacking all season, but the enormous holes opened up by the offensive line in the second half certainly didn’t hurt. Ray Rice got a surprising amount of playing time, and had an excellent 40-yard screen pass despite doing little in the ground game.
Wide Receivers: B
Derrick Mason had another outstanding game, hauling in six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. Mason clearly has outstanding chemistry with Joe Flacco and still has superb run-after-the-catch ability. As mentioned previously, the lack of production outside of Mason is somewhat disconcerting.
Tight Ends: A
Todd Heap had a great game! How good does that sound to say? It feels like it has been far too long, but Todd seems to finally have some rhythm in this offense. Todd was missed wide open in the end-zone on the first possession of the third quarter; it seemed at first to be an error by Flacco, but Cam Cameron quickly went over to talk to Todd after the play on the sidelines, so there’s a chance that Todd ran the wrong route. Problems such as that should be relieved when Flacco and Heap have more time to refine their chemistry.
Offensive Line: A-
Although this unit gave up three sacks, generally Flacco was kept clean and Joey Porter was the only Dolphin who was able to attain any modicum of success rushing the quarterback. The greatest contribution from the line was in the running game, particularly early in the second half. The Ravens’ line pushed around that of the Dolphins and thus helped the Ravens take hold of the game in the second half. Chris Chester and Willie Anderson stepped up in a very big way for the injured Marshal Yanda and Adam Terry. Their admirable performance is certainly an encouraging sign for any future success for the Ravens’ offense this season.

Defense - Overall Grade: B+
Defensive Line: B+

This group did an admirable job controlling the line of scrimmage and shutting down the running game of the Dolphins. The ‘wildcat’ offense which has been so talked about was shut down, more than anything else, by the consistent penetration by the defensive line. While the unit got some pressure on Pennington, on several drives he had far too much time in the pocket. The line did a very good job this game, but not dominating in both the run and pass.
Linebackers: A-
The linebackers had another superb game, coming up with key pressures on Pennington and stifling any attempt at a running game. Suggs returned to his old form, not only sacking Pennington but picking him off for a touchdown to boot. It should be noted, however, that it was the excellent play of the line that facilitated the linebackers’ success in the running game. Ray Lewis had another strong game – apparently there just might be such a thing as the Fountain of Youth.
Defensive Backs: C+
The defensive backs did what they could, but at the end of the day they’re accountable for allowing as many passing yards as they did. It is important to note that Walker and Washington did not have terrible games. Both played decent coverage, however Pennington put the ball in spots where it would be impossible to make a play on as a defensive back. This was not the finest game for this group, but the corners and safeties certainly did not embarrass themselves. Jim Leonhard, again, played big and his blitz on Pennington was a key to Suggs’ interception.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: A
Kicker: A

Stover connected on both of his field goals, including a 47-yarder. There is a sigh of relief in Baltimore that maybe, just maybe, their franchise kicker is back to form.
Punter: A+
Koch had three punts, with a net average of 48.3 yards. Oh, and did I mention that each punt pinned the Dolphins within the 20-yard line?
Returners: B
Ray Rice averaged a little over 25 yards on kick returns, and showed good aggressiveness in his style. There was little hesitation and went primarily north-south, which is what you want to see from a solid kick returner. Jim Leonhard, again, showed he is surprisingly adept in the punt return game.
Coverage: C+
Ted Ginn was allowed far too much room for most of the game, and by and large the return men for the Ravens had little room to work with.

Coaching - Overall Grade: A
Offensive: A+

Cam Cameron put together a superb game plan. Flacco was not asked to do too much this game, and it seemed as if each button pushed was the right one. Certainly this was by no means a dominating offensive performance, but by Ravens standards it was pretty close. The running game, particularly in the second half, settled down the game and kept the pressure off of Flacco. Todd Heap was made a part of the offense for the first time, and hopefully more of that will be seen going forward. A very good job of not over-stretching Flacco after he tasted some success. There was no reason to shift to an overly aggressive gameplan, even if Miami has an awful pass defense. He let Flacco have his success and put together a winning offense; that’s how you win games and build a franchise quarterback.
Defensive: B+
Rex Ryan was clearly not phased by the ‘wildcat’ offense. Ryan knows better than anyone that if you get penetration into the backfield, no offense will work. Ryan put on the heat and got the desired results. A few questions do remain from this game, including why McAlister was not in the starting lineup while he was suited up to play and why he took the heat off of Pennington in key situations.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Terrell Suggs–
Suggs put together one of the most complete games possible for an NFL linebacker. Suggs accounted for six solo tackles along with one sack, and an interception for a touchdown. Even when he did not get the sack, Suggs did get consistent pressure on Pennington. Baltimore fans can only hope that this represents the return of Terrell Suggs to his pre-2007 form.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Antwan Barnes– Barnes did not have a terrible game, however he failed to make a significant contribution, only recording a single tackle for the game. The infraction that gives him this distinction is the 15-yard personal foul penalty at the end of the first half. His unsportsmanlike conduct put the Dolphins in a position to potentially score. They didn’t, but it did open up the opportunity. Take this as something of a statement to the fact that there really isn’t a single LVP in this game.

Bonus grade:
Cam Cameron: A+ -
Cam, you deserve this. You handled yourself with class and dignity amongst all of the negativity around your firing. You have done a superb job handing this offense during the year, effectively managing a rookie quarterback and the youngest starting offensive line in the league. You did not take any shots at your former team leading up to this game, but in the end you had the last laugh. After the final whistle sounded, I don’t know whether or not you were feeling this, but I can say what we as Ravens fans felt on your behalf. Vindication.

Not to mention vindication for a certain person's Report Cards.

(Photo Credit: Derrick Mason(Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun), Terrell Suggs(Elizabeth Malby/Baltimore Sun), Matt Stover(Elizabeth Malby/Baltimore Sun))

Ravens-Dolphins Preview: Cam Cameron returns to Miami

Many of us all remember last year's Ravens loss to the Miami Dolphins, which would turn out to be Miami's only win that season. Cam Cameron was head coach of the Dolphins and now as the Ravens offensive coordinator will return today. John Harbaugh has some interesting things to say in defense of Cameron's time in Miami:

"He was an effective coach last year. Even though the results weren't what people were hoping for, he did a great job there with what he had to work with." (from Yahoo Sports)

Now of course, the Miami players won't take kindly to this and probably will tack that comment right onto the board. But I like Harbaugh saying that. Stand up for your coach, who's been doing a great job helping your offense this year, especially Joe Flacco. After Cameron passed on Brady Quinn for Ted Ginn in the Draft, which in retrospect hasn't looked like a bad thing, Cameron was never treated with respect in Miami again. Here, Cameron is treated like who he is, a solid offensive mind who has trained quarterbacks to greatness.

On the NFL Today, Steve Beuerlein talked to John Harbaugh, and Coach Harbaugh told him that he and Cameron forgot to bring their helmets today, and they won't be on the field. I love this coach........

Now, to the game: the Ravens (2-3) have lost three straight and suffered their worst loss of the year last week when the Colts beat them down 31-3. Worse, the injuries are continuing to pile up. The Dolphins (2-3) are a wacky team that employs a pretty nuts offense, but has been effective at times. They have won two of their last three games; that one loss to Houston by one point.

Things We're Wondering:
-Joe Flacco has really started to look like a rookie the past two games, and the Ravens lack of success is reflecting that. Not that we didn't expect this from Flacco, since he is still adjusting to the NFL from I-AA play, but first two Ravens game all gave us a lot of hope. Teams are starting to blitz him more and force him out of the pocket more. Miami has a solid running defense, but they are 29th in the league in passing yardage allowed. Flacco needs to have a solid day in the air. No doubt Cameron will stick with the conservative play of primarily running the football, but Flacco will need to keep the defense honest.

-What Miami are we going to see? The Miami that can put up 28+ points, or less than 14? Chad Pennington has new life in Miami, though not flashy he has done a decent job through the air. Six players have double digit catches. The good thing for the Ravens is that Fabian Washington should be able to play, which will put him at the 2nd-CB position over Frank Walker. We saw last week when Corey Ivy was put at nickel back, the Cots threw the ball his direction all day. Miami's passing game vs. the Ravens secondary will be interesting to watch today.

The Analysis:
-Ravens offense vs. Miami defense: Even
Miami's defense matches up well against the Ravens offense. The Ravens like to run very often, and Miami has a solid run defense. The Ravens have had trouble throwing the ball, but Miami has a bad secondary. This might all land on Flacco's shoulders. If he has a good day, everything will be put into place. If he has a bad day, the entire offense will. Willis McGahee will have a lot of his shoulders as well for obvious reasons.

On the defensive side for Miami, former Steeler/cheapshot Joey Porter already has 6.5 sacks on the year, and Channing Crowder has 38 tackles from the corps. So far Miami has forced seven turnovers. Overall, an average defense with more prevalence on the running game.

-Miami offense vs. Ravens defense: Ravens
The Ravens continue to be first in the league in yards allowed per game in both rushing and passing, even though Miami's upstart offense is in many top-15 categories. Ronnie Brown finally has had his breakout year, averaging 4.7 yards a carry plus Ricky Williams can provide solid backup. Not any huge receivers to mention, but Pennington has had a decent season.

With the injury to Kelly Gregg, the line weakens some and will put more pressure on Trevor Price to do well. But after a game where the defense can hit hard by Peyton Manning, they'll be looking for some payback. Fabian Washington returning will get some much needed help to the secondary.

Intangibles- Miami
The Dolphins are at home, and probably upset about Harbaugh's comments. The Ravens are probably trying to recover after a bad loss to Indy, but Miami lost a heartbreaker to Houston. Both teams have first year head coaches, but I give the advantage to Miami.

This is going to be a very close game, period. Miami right now has the better offense, and the Ravens have the better defense. I'm giving the nod slightly to the Ravens today, just because the return of Fabian Washington frees up the secondary and I believe they'll come back after the loss to Indy and prevail.

--Ravens 20, Dolphins 17

(Photo credits: Gail Burton (Harbaugh & Cameron), Baltimore Ravens (Flacco))