I have the season preview done, but experience shows that if I spend 5
hours trying to make it format correctly in WordPress, I’ll blow my chance
to preview game two. so…
This will be the fifth season since Baltimore won its Super Bowl against the 49ers. They haven’t been good years. The Ravens (who’d been taking on payroll to try to win it all) dumped a ton of it and slipped to 8-8 in 2013. They managed to go 10-6 the following year– but when several players got hurt, they finished 5-11. Last year they were 8-8, which makes them 31-33.
The Ravens have had slow periods before– they went 24-24 from 2005-07, with two losing seasons. But that could be traced to Brian Billick’s inability to identify a quarterback. Owner Steve Bisciotti and GM Ozzie Newsome got tired of trying to build a quarterback out of bungie cords and coathangers every year. They hired John Harbaugh, drafted Joe Flacco and went 54-26 over the next five years.
Five playoff trips, culminating in a Super Bowl.
But it’s been downhill ever since, and I can’t help thinking the problem lies elsewhere.
2000 Championship: The Ravens 2000 roster had regulars (which I define as players who started 10 or more games) at 19 of the 22 spots (not counting kicking or return men). 12 of the 19 were players drafted by Baltimore (or Cleveland) or signed as undrafted free agents.
The Ravens had seven veterans (TE Shannon Sharpe, WR Quadry Ismail, T Harry Swayne, DE Mike McCrary, DT Tony Siragusa and FS Rod Woodson were all over 30), but most were people they’d signed or traded as long-term solutions. McCrary was in his fourth season in Baltimore, and would go on to play two more years
2012 Championship: This roster was even more home-grown. Baltimore had 16 regulars– plus a veteran (Terrell Suggs) who missed eight games with an injury, and a rookie (Courtney Upshaw) who played all 16 games, but started only
11 were drafted by Baltimore (two others were undrafted signees). The five free agents were two veteran stars (WR Anquon Boldin and C Matt Birk) brought in for a ring, and three veterans who’d completed their rookie contracts with the team who drafted them and then joined the Ravens to do better.
Newsome entered the NFL in 1978– he played against the last Steeler team to win a Super Bowl as a rookie. Chuck Noll believed in growing your own players– as did Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs in the 1980’s and Jimmy Johnson with the Cowboys.
That’s the best way to do it. But to do it, you have to be able to get production out of your draft.
That isn’t happening any longer.
Here’s the roster of the 2016 team. They went 8-8. If you want to look on the bright side, you can say that they had 19 spots filled by regulars.
If you don’t, you can look at one of two things:
- Only 12 of the 19 were draftees or non-drafted signees
- 9 of the 19 regulars were over 30
- Only five of those 30+ players were developed by the Ravens,
It’s a good thing, intangibly speaking, to have players like QB Joe Flacco or TE Dennis Pitta there to provide stability. LB Albert McClellan can tell stories about Ray Lewis; FS Lardarius Webb can say “Ed Reed did it this way.” And, like Joe Thomas, Terrell Suggs is one of those players you value for what he can say– and what he still can do.
At 34, coming back from an injury where he missed 15 games in 2015, he still had 8 sacks. And he had two sacks in game one.
It’s not such a great thing to have Mike Wallace hanging around. He did catch 72 of his 116 balls, gain over 1,000 yards and score four times. But an 8-8 team doesn’t need a 30-year-old on his fourth team– still yapping about his role– taking opportunities that need to go to your former #1 pick Breshad Perriman (who came back from his knee issues to go 33-66 for 499 yards and 3 scores).
SS Eric Weddle (who’s 31) went to the Pro Bowl. So did C Jeremy Zuttah (30). They provide value and still have time left. An 8-8 team– which is coming off a 5-11 season– has no business playing 37-year-old Steve Smith.
I don’t see the young players, taken in rounds 3-5 (the time when great teams are made), developing. Yes, LB C.J Mosley went to his second Pro Bowl; rookie LT Ronnie Stanley looked very promising. But they were the 14th and sixth players taken in their respective drafts. You used to just assume those picks would become stars.
Something is wrong in Baltimore. Their current depth chart has eight starters– and 13 backups– obtained from other organizations.
This certainly could change. Harbaugh never just hands a high pick a starting spot. By game 14, #3 pick Chris Wormley and #5 pick Tim Williams might be starting on the defensive line, with #2 pick Tyus Bowser at LB and #1 pick Marlon Humphrey at corner.
But that’s always the case at the start of the season. The problem for Baltimore is that their draft choices are often still subs at the end of the season.
Dear lord do I hate listening to idiots screaming “Hoodley-ooooooooooo!!!!!!”
and “OOOOOOKIE-WAH!!!!!!” It’s a reason the game review stayed undone.
Without giving away the Game 1 review, Pittsburgh (thanks to holdouts and keeping its key players out of pre-season) wasn’t remotely ready to play. Their 13 penalties for 143 yards demonstrates just how sloppy they were
The Browns came out in a defense that nobody had ever seen before. It used a quarterback no one had seen– and it gave him a very rookie-friendly game plan (20 called runs, 30 passes– nine to backs).
The Steelers still gained 290 yards– 55 more than Cleveland– and led for 43:07 of the game. For the other 16:53, the score was tied.
The Browns handed the Steelers the lead– then let Pittsburgh retake on the last drive of the half. When Cleveland got within four points (in the middle of the third quarter), the defense set up the go-ahead touchdown with a 41-yard penalty.
The Steelers sat on the lead, allowing only a “Shurmur Time” score (a TD after the game is out of reach) to screw up bookies, and boost DeShone Kizer‘s passer rating from 65.5 (as of the start of the drive) to a respectable 85.7 mark.
The Steelers took the kickoff, gained 61 yards on three plays– and when they hit two minutes with the ball on the Cleveland 29, lost eight yards on three kneels to end the game.
“Hoodley-Dooooooooooo!!!!!!” Analytics rules! “OOOOOOKIE-WAH!!!!!!” The Browns are headed to the playoffs.
This is even being said on Lou Groza Boulevard. The mind reels.
I don’t have a clue what the Browns will do. If they use the same sort of game plan on offense– run nearly as much as they throw, concentrate on high-percentage plays– they stand a better chance than they do with anything else. The Ravens (who don’t have the talent to play man-to-man) played zone all day. If Jackson sends TE Seth Devalve and RBs Duke Johnson, Isaiah Crowell and
Matt Dayes into the seams, Kizer could roll up completions.
Those four guys caught 10 of the 14 balls thrown to them, for 104 yards (7.4 per pass).
If the bulk of the remaining plays go to Crowell and Dayes (who only got 17 and 3)– the Browns will be able to set up the Ravens for play-action passes deep. If Kizer throws only 2-3 long balls per quarter, he’ll probably complete 50% of them, and wind up with another 120-150.
If that going to happen? It didn’t happen at any point in 2016. If the Browns decide it’s time to unleash Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Ricardo Sammie Coates, Kasen Williams, et al, the Ravens (who had five sacks last week) might hit double-digits this week.
During the Steelers broadcast, Trent Green kept expressing disbelief at the defensive alignment the Browns were using (7-8 guys on the line, with two safeties 10-20 yards deep). Green, a former QB in the “Greatest Show On Turf” offense kept saying it should be easy to pick the defense apart– saying “A few weeks from now, either the Browns will quit doing this– or a lot of teams will start doing it.”
The notion that Williams might simply have used that scheme for that game never crossed Green’s mind. The Steelers had only one receiver anyone needs to fear– so why pull people out of the box to cover them?
Williams was right, by the way. The Steelers went elsewhere in the red zone, but Antonio Brown was 70% of the offense.
He could try to use the same defense– Danny Woodhead went on IR with an injury, so the #1 receivers are Wallace, Perriman and Jeremy Maclin (whose last good season was 2015). Or he could try a more traditional scheme– or bring not only the house, but the garage and tool shed. QB Joe Flacco has always relied on Dennis Pitta, who now isn’t there (Smith was also put out to pasture).
There is a possibility that RB Terrance West (744 yards last year, good game one) has put things together– that he and Javorus “Buck” Allen (who collected 157 yards on 42 carries against a much tougher defense) can chew the Browns up. There is an equally good chance they will not.
Flacco had a wretched game; I would come after him. But that might not work. Williams might try something different. That might not work.
I’m going to assume the probabilities– what has happened before– rule. Which means an erratic game from Flacco– with a few deep balls– and the Cleveland defense messing up some run plays.
If the Browns’ offense is its own worst enemy, it could get ugly. Crowell did get 133 yards on 18 carries 364 days ago, but that was in Cleveland, The Ravens normally had no trouble with him at home (26-78).
This definitely won’t be pretty. And, unlike Game #1, it isn’t likely to be fun.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Browns 13