Tuesday, December 28, 2004

After the Smoke Clears

For me, one of the ancillary benefits to the Steelers beating the Ravens is getting to read the Baltimore papers "the day after" to see their local media's take on the game. Well, I wasn't disappointed because there was plenty to read after Sunday's 20-7 drubbing. The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston sets the tone with his "Ravens Report Card."

And let me just state for the record, when post-game grades are handed out and QB Kyle Boller ranks higher (C-) than the linebackers (D), defensive lineman (F) and the running backs (D), it probably means that Baltimore didn't play well. Not surprisingly, the wide receivers also got their hard-earned F, but "failure" doesn't begin to describe this inept bunch. And in fact, if I'm on the defensive line, I'm offended that anyone might think that I'm as bad as any of the wideouts. Still, I particularly enjoyed this observation:
Defensive line: Sometimes Kelly Gregg and Maake Kemoeatu were getting pushed so far back they looked like linebackers. Between now and next season, the Ravens need to find a stud who can play the run and rush the passer. This wasn't fun to watch. It was a slow, brutal beating by Pittsburgh's offensive line.

Preston wasn't done however. In fact he was just starting. He also penned an article titled, "Time to put memories of 2000 defense to rest." Hey, that's exactly what I was thinking Sunday when watching the Bus drag Ray Lewis all over the field (insert any of the lame Bus jokes you've been inundated with since his resurgence here -- you know, "the bus has new tires...," "the bus has a full tank...," "the bus has retreads...," blah, blah, blah) -- maybe he should charge Lewis bus fare (I couldn't resist). Anyway, I think Preston does make a good point, and one that's been obscured this season -- at least by the Ravens -- if for no other reason than they repeat weekly (despite whether they're winning or not) how good they are. Well, finally we have this:
The Ravens should make it official and ban any comparisons between their current defense and the record-setting group of 2000.

If you mention the C-word, you should have to run extra sprints or pay a heavy fine. Worse yet, make the culprit sit through an instructional film five times on how to kill a quarterback's career (produced by Brian Billick and Matt Cavanaugh).
And Preston is actually supposed to be a Baltimore guy. Still, it's pretty funny that he's able to not only disparage the Ravens 2004 defense, but also make fun of the "genius in his own mind," Brian Billick in the same breath. Better yet, Preston quotes Dan Kreider -- the same Steelers fullback who can't even get quoted in the Pittsburgh papers:
Here's fullback Dan Kreider on Lewis' 13-tackle performance: "He was making a lot of tackles 4 and 5 yards down the field, and fortunately, that was good for us."

Here's Kreider on some of the Ravens' missed tackles against Bettis: "It's great being a fullback in this offense and watching guys miss him. There are times when guys miss him because they're trying not to tackle him."
Oh how the mighty have fallen. It seems like only last week that LB Terrell Suggs was calling Baltimore "Pittsburgh's kryptonite." And it was only a few months ago that Freon Sanders held a press conference (with requisite do-rag and hat askew -- covering his ears, no less) to announce his triumphant return. I never thought I'd say this, but I think Deion had a better year in 2003 as a CBS studio analyst than he did as a 37-year old nickel back. Ouch.

But it wouldn't be right to bust up the Ravens without actually citing some articles from the Pittsburgh papers. Specifically, Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette penned a story with the following headline: "No Ravens in playoffs? Sounds sensible." Gene, tell us what you really think.
Under any realistic examination, the Steelers' alleged AFC North Division rivals, who spent yesterday at Heinz Field getting slapped into next summer, had no business in even the most complex playoff equation.

January is no place for pretenders, and these Ravens have been only that for too long.

Dominating defense? Gimme a break.

Baltimore dragged an 8-6 record onto the North Side lawn yesterday, having allowed 851 yards in eight quarters to the Cincinnati Bengals, 398 to the Kansas City Chiefs, another 316 to the Indianapolis Colts, and, with their season on the line against the Steelers, reliably hacked up another 404 yards.

"They were pounding the ball, taking large portions of the clock away," marveled Baltimore corner Gary Baxter. "We couldn't match their intensity. As a defense, that just doesn't happen to us."

The hell it doesn't.
Ha. Now that's funny. Luckily Collier was just getting warmed up:
Baltimore has allowed 720 yards in its past two games and, in spite of the recurring excellence that is safety Ed Reed, exists essentially on the fearsome image of linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis, who himself exists more as a video game character than a force in this NFL, has been shown to perform marginally at best with Dan Kreider's helmet affixed to his breastbone or with the Steelers' resplendent offensive line rolling him like new asphalt.

Apparently, controlling the line of scrimmage is not a function of averaging 331 pounds across the offensive line, because the Ravens got nothing done in the running game, even if feature back Jamal Lewis thought it was only from a lack of trying.

"We should have just stuck it to 'em right up the middle, run between the tackles," Lewis said after nicking the Steelers' defense for 26 yards on 14 carries. "I just don't think we did that."

That might have had something to do with the various mismatches up front. When 5-foot-11 James Harrison is throwing 360-pound Orlando Brown around like an oversized Cabbage Patch Kid, it doesn't engender a lot of confidence in the offensive coordinator's booth.

The lone option then was Kyle Boller, who is not a quarterback, but he plays on one TV. Boller managed 18 completions on 32 throws and helped Baltimore convert an unsettling eight of 14 third-down situations. But he has no touch on the deep ball, and it's not hard to figure out why, after 15 games, the Ravens still haven't posted a 100-yard game by a wide receiver.

Baltimore's offensive bottom line on offense is nothing less than this: In nine of their 15 games, the Ravens have scored one offensive touchdown or none.

Quoth the Raven, neverscore.
What a mess ... if you're a Ravens fan. What's great is that James Harrison had arguably his best game of the season against the team that jerked him around the past few seasons (you can read the whole story here). I think Larry Foote summed it up best when describing Harrison preparing for the Ravens:
He talked about it all week," said inside linebacker Larry Foote, who plays next to him in the Steelers' 3-4 alignment. "He wasn't there that long, but those coaches, they're going to see it on film. [Coach Brian] Billick's going to say, 'That No. 92, didn't we have him?' He probably doesn't even know James' name. He wishes he did now."
The thing is, Billick being the offensive genius that he thinks he is, probably won't think twice about cutting Harrison. Which as a Steelers fan, is fine by me.

What's funny (well, it's funny now, I'll be crying if it actually happens) is that John Clayton reports that the Ravens' wideouts stink (that's news?). Specifically, he mentions that Billick will be very interested in what the Steelers do with Plaxico Burress given that his contract is up at the end of the season. I suspect that the Steelers would franchise Plax from here to Armageddon if it meant the Ravens couldn't sign him, but from Plax's perspective, I'd hope he'd take a page from the T.O. "ain't no way in hell I'm playing with Boller" handbook. Not only does Baltimore seem to be on the way down, they don't strike me as a very cohesive team. But like I've said before, Boller could have Jerry Rice, Art Monk and Harold Carmichael all in their prime and they'd still be the worst passing offense in professional football (including the CFL).

If there's any good news for the Ravens, it's that Cowher has made it clear that the Steelers are going to Buffalo next week to win the game. This still gives Baltimore a glimmer of hope to make the playoffs. And while I'd love nothing more than to see the Ravens come back to Heinz Field in the post-season, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a Dolphins donkey-punching in week 17.