Best Win -- All of the sudden the Chiefs aren't looking so unbeatable at home, but Houston gets the nod here for their impressive road win at Arrowhead. The Texans just might be legit. The Chiefs...might not be. Honorable Mention -- Not only did the 49'er's go to L.A. and beat the Rams to stay undefeated, they squashed that potent L.A. offense, holding Jared Goff to under 100 yards passing and sending the Rams down to the .500 mark at 3-3. This was a really big win for San Fran.
Worst loss -- LOL at the Cowboys, who faced a winless Jets team on Sunday and lost 24-22 when they failed to convert a 2-point conversion late in the game. Dallas has now lost three straight. Honorable Mention -- More LOL at the Chargers, who lost to some duck-caller guy, at home no less, on Sunday Night Football. Pittsburgh's 24-17 win puts L.A. (2-4) in nearly a must-win situation when they travel to Nashville to take on the Titans.
Best team performance -- Might as well throw Joe Flacco and the Broncos in here for their 16-0 win over the Titans. Denver won't enjoy many more high moments this season. Flacco threw for 177 yards in the win. Yes, 177 for the entire game. Honorable Mention -- The Saints scored a 13-6 win at Jacksonville, which on the surface doesn't look like much. But anytime the New Orleans defense comes up big, it's worth nothing. And New Orleans is now 4-0 with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm in place of the injured Drew Brees. Wally Pipp, anyone? (I'm kidding).
Most impressive in defeat -- They had the game won, but got Aaron Rodgers'd in the end, but the Lions hung tough on Monday night in that 23-22 loss at Green Bay. Detroit squandered a 13-0 lead in that one. Honorable Mention -- Jacksonville shoulda, coulda, woulda beat the Saints, holding New Orleans to just 13 points on Sunday.
Team on the hottest seat in week #7 -- The Chiefs simply must go to Denver on Thursday night and beat the Broncos. A loss to Joe Flacco and Company and suddenly K.C. is 3-4 and no longer in cruise control. It's not "must win" for K.C., but they have "m" and "u" at the very least. Honorable Mention -- The Rams are also 3-3 and in desperate need of a win. They go to Atlanta to take on a lousy Falcons team. If the Rams are any good at all, they'll go there and win. They are firmly on the hot seat next Sunday, especially with the 49'ers now at 5-0.
Best game next week -- Baltimore at Seattle seems like a really good one from this author's viewpoint. If the Ravens are any good, they'll go up there and steal a win somehow. But if they're just a "win at home, lose on the road" squad, the Seahawks will pound them. Honorable Mention -- Houston at Indianapolis sets up as an early season AFC South showdown, with the Colts coming off a bye and the Texans coming in after knocking off Kansas City on the road. This could be a really good one on Sunday in Indy.
Five best teams through week #6:
1. New England Patriots (Last week: #1)
2. Green Bay Packers (#2)
3. San Francisco 49'ers (unranked)
4. New Orleans Saints (#4)
5. Seattle Seahawks (#5)
Notes and Comments -- I know they were trying to troll the visiting Pittsburgh fans on Sunday night by starting and stopping the famous Styx song "Renegade", but what nitwit in the Chargers' game-day production crew decided to even play that song for 10 seconds knowing 18,000 of the 27,000 people there were waving gold towels. Melvin Gordon and others were very critical of that decision after the game, which was their rightful reaction. And speaking of dumb decisions, why would the NFL have both the Chargers and Rams at home on the same day? I get it, the Chargers play in Carson, which is a suburb of L.A., but you get the point. Neither team can get enough people to go see the games when they're the only team in town that Sunday. Why have them both play home games on the same day/night? Dummies. It's really hard to figure out if the Vikings are any good, but when Cousins and Diggs have their chakras lined up, they're as strong of a 1-2 combination as there is in the league. The problem, of course, is that Cousins could go three weeks in a row without having another game like he had on Sunday (333 yards, 4 TD's) in the Vikings win over Philadelphia. I assume there's a team somewhere that will give Teddy Bridgewater a starting job next season if he wants one. I also have to assume the Saints would let him go if he wants to leave. It would be the right thing to do. But where would he go? Most teams either have a legit #1 guy or their #2 guy is worth handing the job to (Jacksonville and Carolina come to mind first) if something happens to the #1 QB. Please don't get worked up about Devlin Hodges and Pittsburgh's 24-17 win on Sunday night. Did you see the game? Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense gave the game away in the first quarter. Hodges didn't do anything except watch it all unfold from the sideline. Trust me, Pittsburgh stinks. They're 2-4, still on their way to 6-10. They've been gifted 3 straight home games by the schedule makers (after this week's bye). They play the Dolphins (win), Colts (loss) and Rams (loss) in Pittsburgh. Then they're at Cleveland (loss) and at Cincinnati (loss). That puts them at 3-8. Bye bye...
I wrote here a few weeks ago that the Ravens have a quarterback who has "it". As is human nature, some people scoffed at that just for the sake of scoffing it. Others understood it.
I'm back, once again, to remind everyone that the Ravens have a lot of problems, but the quarterback position is not one of them.
Lamar Jackson is the biggest reason why the Ravens are 4-2. Go ahead and try and poo-poo that one, if you must. But you know all you're doing is arguing for the sake of arguing. Without Lamar Jackson, there's no chance -- none, zero, zilch -- that the Ravens are 4-2.
But here's the best thing about the 2nd year quarterback. I mentioned this a few weeks back but didn't really elaborate on it all that much.
The best thing about that kid is that he understands the only thing that matters is winning. Gaudy stats are good and all, and eventually a quarterback has to put up good numbers to get that big "second contract" so many NFL players crave. But Jackson wants to win first and put up big numbers second. It's rare you can find a selfless athlete these days, but the Ravens have one in Lamar Jackson.
Listen to any post-game presser he does or even a mid-week interview at The Castle. He self-scouts himself first ("I missed a few throws out there...") and is always quick to point out what he didn't do well. He gives credit to other team members. He's most certainly not a "me" guy, which quarterbacks typically tend to be.
The Ravens have a lot to prove over the next four weeks. They're at Seattle, home vs. New England, at Cincinnati and home vs. Houston. A 3-1 mark in those four games would go a long way towards clinching the AFC North for Jackson in his first full season as a NFL starter.
Jackson also has a lot to prove over the next four games. But the doubters are starting to dwindle with each passing week.
Minutes after the Ravens disposed of a pesky Bengals team on Sunday, a friend said to me, "Well, what do we know about the Ravens after this one?"
I could only think of one answer.
"They're 4-2 after six games..."
That was it.
"Nothing else?" he asked.
"Well, I mean, I could tell you that their quarterback is a special kind of talent," I said. "Or I could tell you their defense is suspect and their lack of a pass rush is hauntingly inadequate. I could tell you they have the best kicker in the game."
"But I don't know any of that matters more than the fact that they're 4-2," I continued.
"So...," my friend started. He made the word "so" linger in the air for a second or two.
"Do you think the Ravens are any good?" he asked.
"They are 4-2," I replied.
"Come on, man. Don't give me that. Do you think they're any good or not? It's either yes or no." My friend likes definitive answers mixed together with his late afternoon beer.
"Do I think the Ravens are any good?" I said...and asked...just to give myself another second or two to come up with the answer.
Pressured into that one-word-answer-thing and knowing, "I'm not sure" wasn't going to be acceptable, I just threw out the only one word answer I could.
I don't have much to go on, mind you. They've played six games. That's not a large sample size, even though, for example, we know for a fact the Dolphins and Bengals aren't any good because their 0-6 record tells us so.
With the Ravens, the sample size shows them beating four teams thus far. Miami, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Those teams have four wins between them.
If you're going to make me say "yes, the Ravens are good" or "no, the Ravens aren't good" after six games, the only thing I can go off of is who they beat in those four wins. I have yet to see the Ravens do anything this year that makes me know for sure they're a good team.
I get it. You play who they tell you to play. I completely understand that logic. I've been using it recently to try and tell folks not to give the Patriots the Super Bowl trophy just yet, even though they're 6-0 on the campaign. They've played a laughably soft schedule, the upstart Bills not withstanding.
But when you've played six games, the only thing you can look at are the teams you've faced. And the Ravens have faced a light schedule thus far. Oh, and we knew this going in, or at least I did, anyway. One of the reasons why I thought the Ravens could reach 10 or 11 wins was because of the soft nature of their 2019 schedule.
We're going to learn a lot more about them in the next five weeks. They head to Seattle next Sunday. Tough trip, tough place to play, tough team.
After a week off, New England comes to town. Nothing else to say there. That's not the automatic loss everyone thinks it is, by the way. We'll see just how good that much-talked-about New England defense is on November 3rd.
Then it's out to Cincinnati, where the Bengals should be all packed up and ready for vacation by that point. But you still have to go there and beat them in their building. And, well, just remember Dalton-to-Boyd any time you start feeling overconfident.
Houston comes to town the week after that. You might have heard of the Texans. They just went to Kansas City and beat up on that same Chiefs team that put the Ravens on blast back in week 3.
Then it's off to Los Angeles to face the Rams and their occasionally-high-powered-offense. By that time, the Rams might be in desperation mode. We'll see.
The point, of course, is that you're not going to play the Dolphins, Cardinals, Steelers and Bengals -- or someone of their ilk -- every Sunday. Eventually, you have to move up and play the varsity teams.
And my point with my answer..."Well, they are 4-2" is that you can really only judge them right now based on what they've done. I mean, who knows, maybe DeShaun Watson misses the game in Baltimore because of hamstring injury. Perhaps Jared Goff doesn't play in L.A. in late November because of an injury. Who knows?
What I know now, though, is that the Ravens are 4-2 and really haven't defeated a team of note yet. The only "real" team they played was roughing them up 23-6 at the half out in Kansas City before the second half got interesting.
Give yourself the same challenge I was presented with yesterday.
Answer these two questions: "After six games, what do we really know about the Ravens?"
And, the biggie: "Yes or no...are the Ravens any good?"
You know what my answers were.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts.
"The Keen Eye" of
|DAVID ROSENFELD is a former sports publicist who still keeps his eye on the game. Looking at the game, the news or the players on an in-depth level is what he likes to do. Follow his work here at #DMD every Monday & Thursday, brought to you by Glory Days Grill.|
Twice in the first six weeks of the season, Lamar Jackson has thrown for more than 230 yards and run for more than 120 yards in the same game. On Sunday against Cincinnati, he became the first NFL player to record 200 yards passing and 150 yards rushing in a regular-season game.
In another game, the season opener against the Dolphins, Jackson had a “perfect” quarterback rating, 158.3, completing 17 of 20 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns (and no interceptions).
So…Jackson has laced up the cleats six times this season, and in half of them he’s put on a performance that could easily qualify as historic.
A certain local sports columnist can give Jackson a “B+” rating for yesterday’s game. Others can say that these great games have come against three teams with a combined record of 2-13-1, and they’d be correct.
Still, there are really only two “historic” things to have happened so far in the NFL. One is the defensive dominance of the New England Patriots, allowing six points per game. The other is the dual threat posed by the Ravens’ quarterback.
In their last two games against Cincinnati, with Jackson starting in each game, the Ravens have rushed for a total of 536 yards on 93 carries, an average of 5.6 yards per carry. Yesterday, the Ravens held the ball for more than 39 minutes. In Week 11 last year, that number was more than 38 minutes.
Through six games, Baltimore is averaging exactly 205 yards rushing per game. In the last seven games of the 2018 regular season, that number was nearly 230 yards per game. In those 13 games, the team’s record is 10-3.
Should the Ravens continue to average around 200 yards on the ground per game, they’re going to win the AFC North, and probably going away, I would think. At the very least, that should get the team to ten wins; how many wins Cleveland gets is up to them, and I seriously doubt it’s going to be ten.
If the Ravens can’t run the ball that well? Then we’ll see what Lamar Jackson can do with a different kind of pressure. I’m willing to bet on him by now…
The Ravens are 2-1 in the AFC North after their three-week sojourn in the division. You’ll remember that John Harbaugh’s team won the division last year despite splitting with each division opponent. Not unheard of, but still a bit unusual.
Even with two of their remaining three division games on the road, I’d give the Ravens a good chance of winning at least two of them…especially since it’s likely (certain?) that the Steelers won’t have much to play for in Week 17.
While it’s possible the Ravens might fall to 4-4 in a few weeks, considering the trip to Seattle and the visit from the Patriots, something else is possible too.
After a bye this Sunday, Cleveland goes to New England and Denver, then hosts the Bills. Is it out of the realm of possibility the Browns might be 2-7 after that?
The Ravens have a two-game advantage in the division after six weeks of play. The Browns’ next game is against the Patriots, on the road. It’s worth asking whether the Baltimore advantage will go below two games the rest of the season.
There are two undefeated teams after six weeks of the NFL season. One isn’t really a surprise, and the other is the San Francisco 49ers.
Interestingly, San Francisco is taking a bit of a page from the Ravens’ book, though nobody can do that exactly without Lamar Jackson at quarterback. But they’re running the ball a lot with no stars and eating up the clock, then depending on a dominating defense.
Ok, maybe they’re channeling the Ravens of the past, not the present. But anyway…
The 49ers visited Los Angeles on Sunday and limited the Rams to 165 total yards. Los Angeles had one first down by passing for the entire game, with Jared Goff finishing with a mind-blowing stat line of 13-for-24 passing for 78 yards.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo continues to improve. On a side note, so does Jacoby Brissett, now starting in Indianapolis. Will the Patriots one day rue the fact that they traded both of those quarterbacks? Or will Tom Brady still be playing when both of them retire, even though their combined age is only 11 years older than Brady?
I guess it’s time to stop complaining about the rules in the NFL. Six weeks is enough time; the point has been made.
I still think that the league has gone too far with the roughing the passer rule, even though those new rules have been around for a while.
On third-and-24 in the final minutes on Sunday, Pernell McPhee was called for roughing the passer when he drove Andy Dalton to the ground. Dalton’s pass was well off the mark, and the Bengals were bailed out.
On the next play, Dalton ran for his life while rolling out to his right. He was being chased by the blitzing Marlon Humphrey, who got to Dalton just as the quarterback threw the ball away, and the hit by Humphrey drove Dalton to the ground.
Seriously, what is the difference between McPhee driving the quarterback to the ground immediately after he throws it and Humphrey pushing him to the ground immediately after he throws it?
The quarterback is a football player. If he can be hit outside the pocket like that, why not inside the pocket?
#DMD GAME DAY
|Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
1:00 PM EDT
M&T Bank Stadium
Spread: Ravens (-11.0)
By all accounts, this one today should be a lay-up.
The Bengals are 0-5 and are coming off a home loss to the dregs of the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals. And their best player won't be playing today. The season is pretty much already over in Cincinnati, if we're trying to not beat around the bush here.
"Here's Dalton, he's chased, steps up in the pocket...and hits Boyd. And, Tyler Boyd goes into the end zone!"
I'm sure you remember it. I know I do. With no reason at all to play hard and win on December 31, 2017, the Bengals did both in a shocking upset win in Baltimore that kept the Ravens out of the playoffs.
Granted, that team was much better offensively than the one coming to Baltimore today, but even still...they're the Bengals, they're 0-5, and there are better odds they get beat by 25 than it's a one score game in the 4th quarter.
If the Ravens still fancy themselves a team capable of a 10-6 or 11-5 season, this game against the Bengals today has to be won. Losing this one would be close to catostrophic for the Ravens. Not only would they suffer the indignity of allowing Cincy to get their first win, they'd have two division losses already as well.
In John Harbaugh's 12-year tenure in Baltimore, the Ravens have rarely lost one of these "lay up" type games, especially in Baltimore. Sure, they routinely lose a couple of home games each season, but when the visiting team is a significant underdog in Charm City, they almost always leave town a loser.
With Seattle and New England looming next, this one is even more important. A win would move the Ravens to 4-2 and guarantee nothing less than a 4-4 mark at the halfway point. A loss? We used the term "close to catastrophic" above. It still fits.
1st down defense -- The Baltimore defense needs to limit Dalton, Mixon, etc. to less than 3 yards on average on first down. That will be easier said than done with Mixon in the backfield, but where the Bengals tend to hurt you is when they can routinely play in 2nd and 5 type situations. Granted, having A.J. Green available for those big play opportunities would change things for Dalton, but, with Green out, he'll really need some success on first down in order to use the middle of the field.
8 carries, 30 throws for Lamar -- It's important for Greg Roman to continue to use Lamar's arm and legs in the offensive scheme. That sounds like elementary offensive coordinator stuff, but Roman has had an indifferent first five weeks of the 2019 campaign. He tends to overplay Jackson in one of the categories -- either too much running in one half or too much throwing. Keeping Jackson's production balanced is important today.
Keep your head on straight -- These are the kind of games where the referees can definitely get involved and impact things if the score is tight in the final 20 minutes of regulation. No dumb penalties. No late hits. No punching the QB in the face after he's thrown the ball. Play smart. The Ravens aren't great at this. We'd single out Matthew Judon, but there's no need to do that.
The Ravens jump out to a quick 7-0 lead on their first offensive series, as Jackson hits Hayden Hurst for a 14-yard touchdown.
It's 10-0 late in the first quarter after a Brandon Carr interception sets up Justin Tucker's 38 yard field goal.
This one looks like it's going to be a runaway.
But the Bengals scrape together a 67 yard drive late in the 2nd quarter and hit a field goal of their own to make it 10-3 at the half.
The Ravens go back up by ten on Tucker's 43 yard field goal on the first series of the 3rd quarter. But Cincinnati hangs tough and Mixon's 21 yard run for a touchdown makes it 13-9 in favor of the Ravens. The extra point is missed.
Jackson's arm and legs engineer a 75 yard drive on the ensuing series, with Mark Ingram plunging into the end zone from five yards out. The extra point makes it 20-9.
Cincinnati closes out the 3rd quarter with a 40 yard field goal. It's 20-12 heading to the final 15 minutes.
Jackson and the offense then chew up almost seven minutes to start the 4th quarter, but the drive stalls on the Cincy 10 yard line and Tucker's 3rd field goal of the day makes it 23-12.
Dalton immediately goes back down the field for the visitors and his four yard run into the end zone with 4:04 remaining makes it 23-18. Cincinnati goes for two and fails to get it.
The Ravens complete three straight 3rd and short situations, with Jackson hitting Miles Boykin for a 17 yard touchdown with 1:21 remaining in the game.
The Ravens improve to 4-2 with a 30-18 win over Cincinnati.
Well, it only took me five weeks to bring in a pinch hitter. Sometimes you have to do that. Most of the time, though, it happens by about week ten, not week five.
I'm seeing the ball about as well as Chris Davis these days, so rather than stand up there and embarrass myself for $23 million a year, I'm bringing in my ex Calvert Hall golf superstar Nick Smearman for today's picks. I value his insight. I told him this could be the start of his own 900 number or something.
That said, if he can't go at least 4-2 this week, I'll have him on a short leash.
So, here you go. The picks...of Nick Smearman.
FALCONS AT CARDINALS (+2.5) -- Smearman says "Atlanta". I said to him, "Really?" He said, "The Cardinals are a twinge better than the Dolphins." I'm not sure Nick has seen Atlanta play this season. He says the Falcons have played a tough schedule. He's taking the Falcons to win on the road, 30-23.
COWBOYS AT JETS (+7.5) -- "We're taking the Jets," Smears says with confidence. "We're betting the number, not the game," he explains. I have no idea what that means. I think Dallas is going to win by 20. Smearman says otherwise, so we're going with the Jets and the 7.5 points as the Cowboys win a tight one in N.J., 24-20.
TITANS AT BRONCOS (-1.5) -- "Titans," Smearman says like he already knows the result. "Bet the under there, too," he says with a smirk. Now he's getting cocky. Tennessee wins outright, 20-16. Poor Joe Flacco...
SEAHAWKS AT BROWNS (+1.0) -- "Look for Baker to exploit the Seattle secondary in his best game of the season so far," Smearman says. "Take the desperate team at home, getting a point." So, we will, as the Browns beat Seattle 26-24.
STEELERS AT CHARGERS (-6.0) -- "This line doesn't make sense to me, so I should go the other way," Smearman says. "But L.A. at home, playing against some quarterback we've never heard of...I'll go with the gunslinger Philip Rivers in his building." He says something about a desperate team again. I don't think he realizes that BOTH teams are desperate. But I don't tell him. Chargers win the game and cover, 26-17.
BEST BET OF THE DAY -- "I don't really like any of the games, honestly," Smearman says. That does well for the #DMD confidence meter. "But we're going with the Falcons to bounce back and win on the road at Arizona."
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 2-4
SEASON TO DATE: 11-19
RAVENS A.T.S.: 2-3
BEST BET OF THE DAY: 1-4
For those of you familiar with the Baltimore area, think of it like this.
You're starting out at Calvert Hall. You make your way over to Joppa Road, then to Loch Raven Blvd. From there, you hop on 695 towards Essex. You follow that to 95 South. Take the Fort McHenry Tunnel and then follow 295 South to BWI Airport.
That's 26.1 miles. From Calvert Hall to BWI Airport.
I'd say, on a good day with no traffic, you can make that drive in 25 minutes. Maybe a smidgen faster if you're pushing the pedal to the floor. But in reasonable driving time, it's 25 minutes at least.
Yesterday in Austria, for the first time ever, someone ran that distance in less than two hours.
Oh, sure, they came up with a couple of goofy ways to try and discredit the guy, but he ran 26.2 miles in 1:59:40.
No one has ever run a marathon in less than 2 hours. It's never happened. But yesterday, Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge smashed that effort by twenty seconds.
He had a pace car ahead of him. He also had several "pace runners", whatever those people do. Because of that, something called the IAFF will not officially recognize his 1:59:40 time, which seems pretty stupid to me. I don't care if you're listening to a replay of The Flintstones theme song as you make the run, and I certainly don't care if you have a "pace car" helping you run faster. If you run it 1:59:40, you ran it in 1:59:40.
Roger Bannister ran the first ever 4-minute mile back in 1954. People thought that was a big deal. It still is today, by the way. Runners all over the world go their entire lives trying to push their bodies to run one mile in less than four minutes.
Some guy yesterday ran 26 miles in less than 120 minutes. In case you don't have your calculator handy, that's one mile every 4.6 minutes. He ran EVERY mile of the 26 under five minutes each.
Kipchoge isn't a johnny-come-lately to running. He's the reigning Olympic marathon champion and set the marathon world record in Berlin in 2018 at 2:01:39. He blew that time out of the water yesterday in Austria.
Just doing that Calvert Hall-to-BWI route in my mind and translating that to running amazes me even more. I've driven that same path hundreds of times. Picturing someone running that distance in less than two hours is a staggering thought.
It's incredible what the human mind and body can do when someone has the desire to push both of them to their maximum capabilities.
There's no real reason why tomorrow's Ravens-Bengals game should be close. The Bengals are horrible, their season is pretty much already over, and the Ravens are in need of a win with the Seahawks and Patriots looming ahead on their schedule.
But it's the NFL. And the Bengals seem to always play well (in the Andy Dalton era, that is) against John Harbaugh's team. Oh, and you know, deep down, the league doesn't like have any winless teams running around at mid-season. It's not good for business.
The Ravens won't cough this one up tomorrow unless something wacky happens, but you just know there's a bad call or two in the offing and some part of the Cincinnati offense figures to give the Ravens fits, whether that's Joe Mixon running for 159 yards somehow or Dalton suddenly channeling his inner Peyton Manning again, even without the services of A.J. Green at his disposal.
Make no mistake about it, a loss tomorrow would be crushing for the Ravens. Even though the Browns aren't really all that good, Cleveland coming to Baltimore and winning a couple of weeks ago wasn't overly alarming. They have some quality players.
Cincinnati doesn't really have much of anything, as their 0-5 record tells you.
But, still, for some reason, concern lingers in Baltimore. We've seen our defense enough to know they could allow 25 points without breaking a sweat.
I don't know about you, but I find myself mysteriously almost pulling for the Nationals in the National League Championship Series. I mean, I don't really care who wins, but it's kind of cool to see them on the verge of a trip to the World Series one year after losing Bryce Harper to free agency.
Everyone presupposed that the Nationals would take a massive step back once Harper packed his bags and headed off to Philadelphia prior to the 2019 season.
Instead, the Nationals have now done something without him they never once did with him -- they've won a playoff series, and one game, at least in the NLCS, after last night's 2-0 win in St. Louis.
Weird how sports works like that, right?
In the American League, I have to admit I'd prefer not to see the Astros in the World Series again, but that means I'd be pulling for the Yankees. So...that's out.
Instead of hoping for either team to win, I'll do my best to watch with quiet indifference. I would say, though, that the Yankees getting to the Fall Classic would be a cool teaching moment for coaches everywhere. The Yankees were crushed with injuries all season long, yet somehow managed to cobble together a roster day-in and day-out that competed above expectations. If ever there was an example of "next man up" for coaches and their players to follow, it was the 2019 Yankees.
I know, I know. It sounds like I'm rooting for the Yankees, which our Maryland DNA suggests is not a good thing. I'm really not rooting for them. But if they win, I won't be mad.
The US destroyed Cuba 7-0 at Audi field in Washington DC on Friday night. There was not a whole lot to learn from this game since Cuba might struggle to beat my Sunday rec league team. The US took care of business against a thoroughly overmatched opponent and padded the goal differential which should help them win the group if they manage to split the home and home with Canada.
The lineup picked by Berhalter reflected the fact that Canada will be the greater challenge on Tuesday. Several expected starters such as Michael Bradley and Zach Steffen were given a rest tonight. The interesting note from the lineup was that Christian Pulisic was deployed as a winger despite being listed with the midfielders in the initial roster announcement.
While none of the US players were seriously tested, there were several that stood out above the rest. Weston McKennie got on the score sheet after 32 seconds and completed the quickest hat-trick in US Men’s history. He was the best player on the field before he was subbed off at halftime.
Reggie Cannon and Jordan Morris were both heavily involved in the early run of goals. Morris delivered several pinpoint crosses to set up goals before eventually getting a goal for himself. Cannon made several perfectly weighted passes into space to set up Morris for his crosses.
Jackson Yueill impressed again playing in the defensive midfield role usually occupied by Michael Bradley. Multiple times he demonstrated his ability to hit the long diagonal ball that Berhalter loves from that position. Josh Sargent also got himself a goal on a nice left footed finish and Christian Pulisic put away a penalty in the second half to complete the scoring.
The US can take some confidence from thrashing a greatly outmatched team. They will face a much stiffer test against Canada in Toronto on Tuesday. I expect to see Steffen and Bradley both starting in that one. It will be interesting to see if Sargent proved enough for Berhalter to start him again or if he goes back to Zardes.
Randy Morgan was born and raised in the Baltimore area, graduating from Dulaney HS and then University of Maryland. He is an avid sports watcher and recreational participant. A devoted Ravens, Orioles and US soccer supporter, he also follows many soccer leagues around the world as well as the NBA and college basketball. Randy played soccer, basketball, and baseball growing up and still plays soccer and basketball recreationally as well as the occasional round of golf. His commentary on mostly sports, but sometimes music and other miscellany can be found on twitter @jrmorgan16. Randy serves as #DMD's international soccer contributor.
I had to LOL at one of the comments from yesterday's edition of #DMD, where "AD" was critical of me for bringing up the subject of Clayton Kershaw "choking" in Wednesday night's Game 5 loss in Los Angeles.
Never mind that virtually every other major media outlet, talk show and national writer opined on Kershaw using that same "c word". Somehow it was wrong of me to do it, evidently.
Here's the deal, though. It's actually OK to discuss choking in sports and it's more than OK to even participate in the actual act of choking. Any athlete of any stature, amateur, professional, etc. has choked at some point in his or her career.
I'd go as far as saying this: If you're an athlete and you haven't bowed to the pressure of some moment, somewhere, you probably didn't get very far.
Choking is a nasty word in sports for one reason: People believe it has something to do with your character. As in, you're a bad guy or gal if you can't get the job done under pressure. You can't be counted on.
But the reality is Clayton Kershaw woke up on Thursday morning the same person he was on Wednesday morning. He was just hurting a little more inside after coughing up back-to-back home runs in Game 5 the night before. But he was the same person, same father, same son, same teammate and so on. His stats were just a little more tilted in an unfavorable direction, that's all.
That said, this perception -- granted, it was from one commenter here, who probably was trying to stir the pot more than make a sane, logical assessment -- that we as a society aren't allowed to call people "chokers" is way off base. It's the same old political correctness issue...you know, the one that's helped make everyone afraid of their own shadow in this country over the last 10 years or so.
"Don't call him a choker, that might really upset him..."
The only way to earn the label of a choker is to have the opportunity to perform in a situation where the outcome is on the line -- and fail to do it.
The only way to shed that label is to have that same sort of opportunity at another point and come through with a moment or performance that determines the outcome.
Big moments in sports happen all the time. Particularly in baseball, in October, big moments are everywhere. Kershaw's playoff numbers speak for themselves. I didn't make them up. He's a 2.44 ERA pitcher in the regular season and a 4.49 ERA in the playoffs. That's a dramatic difference. "Something" happens to him in the post-season.
Do you think Billy Cundiff choked in the playoff game in New England?
I think you know the answer.
Not every failed opportunity can be classified as choking, of course. The other team and the other player tries, too, as I always point out. Something that happens once is acceptable. When it happens twice, it might be a coincidence -- or not. When it happens a third time, it's a pattern.
Kershaw's playoff performances indicate that he's developed a pattern. Something happens to him in the playoffs. If it's not "choking", what, then, is it?
A friend asked me what I thought was the main contributor to the offensive downfall of Chris Davis over the last three years.
I gave him my answer. You can probably assume what it was. And, no, my answer wasn't "choking".
"If it's not that," I said. "What else could it possibly be?"
Davis has developed a pattern over the last three years that must be examined. It didn't happen once or twice. It's now happened three straight years.
I'm sure the Dodgers and Kershaw would like to figure out why his playoff performance changes so much. He's not making $31 million annually just to go 19-5 in the regular season with a 2.30 ERA. He's paid that kind of money to close out the exact kind of game he failed to close out on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
Greg Norman frittered away a 6-shot lead in the 1996 Masters. Go to any archived story and read about it. You're guaranteed to read the word "collapse" in there, somewhere. Because that's exactly what Norman did on that final round when he gift-wrapped the green jacket to Nick Faldo. Years later, Norman confronted it. "I couldn't stop choking on that back nine," he said. "The harder I tried, the worse it got."
Norman was sort-of famous for not being able to get the job done under the gun. In 1986, he led all four major championships heading into the final round (The "Saturday Slam" they later called it) but managed only to win one (British Open) of the four. There were lots of other examples throughout his career, although some would argue Norman was equally as much "snakebitten" by miraculous shots from others as he was doomed by his own poor play under pressure.
There have been great athletes who seem immune to the pressure, too. We look at folks like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams and just assume -- based on their incredibly successful careers -- they never choked. The reality, of course, is they probably did at some point, but their greatness minimized it. Just this year at Wimbledon, Roger Federer had two championship points in the Men's Final and couldn't get a serve into the box when he needed it. And that's Roger Federer...
Choking in sports is a fascinating topic, because if you play long enough, you're bound to do it. It's understanding how it happened, what it felt like, and how you minimize the chances that it happens again that are more important than anything else.
There's a great saying in golf that players use when they've put together a career round. "I stayed out of my own way..."
That, of course, simply means you didn't get in your own head. You didn't think about your score, didn't think about the result, didn't think about what you were going to say to the media afterwards, etc. You avoided all of that by just thinking about the next shot and the next shot only.
I'm guessing Clayton Kershaw doesn't stay out of his own way during the post-season. Whatever it is that he does in the regular season isn't clicking over to October. He's not the same pitcher.
Let's not be soft. If an athlete chokes under the gun, let's just call it like it is and move on to the next event. It's not the end of the world. Heck, if you gave me $31 million a year, you could call me whatever you want.
The United States Men's National Team returns to action this week in official matches for the CONCACAF Nations League. They play Cuba in Washington DC on Friday and then Canada in Toronto on Tuesday.
The game against Cuba may provide an opportunity to experiment with the lineup since the US will be a heavy favorite. The road game against an improving Canadian team, headlined by Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies, provides a tougher challenge that will likely be met with the strongest lineup available.
USMNT Nations League Roster notes:
- Match at home vs Cuba and in Toronto vs Canada
- Adams, Brooks, Altidore, and Weah missing due to injury. Dest considering playing for Netherlands
- Deandre Yedlin returns from injury after solid performance against Man U last weekend
- Berhalter’s core group called in again
- Missed opportunity to call in some promising younger players
- Josh Sargent should get a shot to grab striker spot
- Brandon Aaronson gets a chance after impressive season for Union
Gregg Berhalter has called in a roster that leans heavily on the core group of players he has relied on for most of the year. The team is still missing several stars due to injury as Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig, 39.40, 20), John Brooks (Wolfsburg, 42.48, 26), Jozy Altidore (Toronto, 31.53, 29) and Tim Weah (Lille, 33.17, 19) are all unavailable due to injuries.
In addition, the brightest young US player, Sergino Dest (Ajax, 35.88, 18), who has been regularly starting for Ajax, will not be in the squad as he is contemplating his decision to continue to play for the US or make a switch to play for the Netherlands where he was born and raised. Here’s a look at the roster with all players shown with their club team, Messi Index Rating and age in parentheses.
Zack Steffen (Fortuna Düsseldorf, 35.44, 24), Brad Guzan (Atlanta United, 34.24, 35), Sean Johnson (NYCFC, 31.76, 30)
Zack Steffen has continued his impressive start to the season with his new club and is the sure fire first choice. Berhalter may opt to give Guzan or Johnson a chance against the weaker Cuba.
Centerbacks: Miles Robinson (Atlanta United, 33.89, 22), Tim Ream (Fulham, 32.03, 32), Aaron Long (NY Red Bulls, 29.89, 26), Matt Miazga (Reading, 29.00, 24)
Fullbacks: Deandre Yedlin (Newcastle, 39.96, 26), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal, 30.43, 28), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas, 29.53, 21), Nick Lima (SJ Earthquakes, 27.45, 24)
Deandre Yedlin makes his return to the team for the first time since an injury at the end of the last Premier League season. He comes off a good showing for Newcastle in a win over Manchester United last weekend. Even with Dest not on this roster, the RB options are solid with Yedlin and Cannon in form. On the other side it is a different story as neither Daniel Lovitz nor Nick Lima are international level LBs. This was a perfect opportunity to give Ryan Hollingshead (FC Dallas, 33.40, 28) a chance, but apparently Berhalter does not rate him at all.
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea, 60.04, 21), Weston McKennie (Schalke, 46.97, 21), Michael Bradley (Toronto, 32.87, 32), Christian Roldan (Seattle, 32.78, 24), Wil Trapp (Columbus, 30.40, 26), Jackson Yueill (SJ Earthquakes, 31.25, 22), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy, 30.59, 27), Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union, 27.31, 18)
This group is mostly the familiar names. It will be interesting to see if Lletget and Yueill get an expanded opportunity in these games after performing well in the September friendlies. Its notable that Christian Pulisic has been listed as a midfielder instead of a forward in this roster. Its disappointing not to see either Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas, 29.00, 19) or Duane Holmes (Derby, 27.23, 24) in this roster to provide extra attacking spark. Brenden Aaronson has earned a call up after a strong rookie season for the Philadelphia Union at just 18 years old, but he will likely not see more than a short cameo in either of these games.
Gyasi Zardes (Columbus, 32.33, 28), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen, 19, 31.18), Paul Arriola (DC United, 30.86, 24), Jordan Morris (Seattle, 30.80, 24), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas, 29.52, 24), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake, 23, 28.37)
With Altidore injured it's likely the starting Striker spot will go to the uninspiring Gyasi Zardes, but we can all hope Berhalter will take this opportunity to give Josh Sargent as much time as possible. Jordan Morris has made a case to start on the wing after a strong season for Seattle, especially with Tyler Boyd struggling to make an impact at his new team in Turkey. Corey Baird is a frustrating choice since Berhalter could have taken this opportunity to get a look at one of the promising U20 players making strides for teams like Ajax and PSV in Europe.
Anytime someone throws "in the history of..." out there, it's usually laced with hyperbole.
"History", after all, is a long, long time.
But here it is: In the history of baseball, has any player with greater regular season accomplishments than Clayton Kershaw ever stunk it up as badly as he has in the post-season?
I think the answer is "no". You can certainly add a name to compete with him if you like. I'm interested to hear other options.
Kershaw was the semi-goat of last night's epic Dodgers collapse in L.A., as the 2-time defending National League Champions coughed up a 3-1 8th inning lead and lost in dramatic fashion, as Howie Kendrick's 10th inning grand slam sent the Nationals to their first ever NLCS.
Sure, it was Joe Kelly who gave up that city-shaking grand slam that sent the Dodgers home for the winter, but it was Kershaw's inability to get out of the 8th inning that everyone will remember. That, and manger Dave Roberts' decision to start him out in the 8th inning with Kenta Maeda rested and waiting in the bullpen.
After coming out of the bullpen and getting out of a jam in the top of the 7th, the left-hander gave up back-to-back home runs on back-to-back pitches to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. The 3-1 lead he inherited was suddenly 3-3.
It won't help Roberts that Maeda was eventually called in to replace Kershaw in the 8th and zipped right through the Nationals' lineup to keep the score deadlocked at 3-3.
But it will be all about Kershaw, who said after the game in an honest moment of reflection: "I might not get over this."
It would be one thing if the Dodgers had a 2017 or 2018 World Series to latch on to during a tough loss like the one they suffered on Wednesday night. If the Caps reach the Stanley Cup Finals again next spring and Alex Ovechkin misses a penalty shot in overtime of Game 7 and the Caps go on to lose, he can always say, "Hey, at least I have a ring already."
Kershaw's going to the Hall of Fame, for sure. First ballot, too. But he doesn't yet have a World Series ring, despite pitching for the best team for the last three years.
And worse than not having a ring is this alarming note: In the post-season throughout his career, Kershaw hasn't been very good. There was a Game 4 masterpiece against the Mets in New York a few years back, sure, but other than that, you'd be hard pressed to find a playoff series where Kershaw got the ball two or three times and was his usual regular-season-sensational self.
How does that happen?
The easy answer is: The teams in the playoffs are better than the raggedy lineups he faces 20 or so times in the regular season. Maybe that's part of it. But I think we all know there's something else in play here. Kershaw is locked in during the regular season. In the playoffs, hitters somehow get locked in on him.
His career numbers in the regular season are staggering. He has three Cy Young awards, a record of 169-74, and his career ERA is a remarkable 2.44. Sure, it's the National League and all, but 2.44 is still 2.44. It's unreal. His career WHIP is 1.008. That's more than staggering.
Kershaw is 9-11. His ERA is 4.43. And while his WHIP remains decent by most standards (1.105), it's still significantly higher than what he has produced in the regular season.
And then you sprinkle in moments like last night, where all he needed to do was give the Dodgers three outs in the 8th inning without any accompanying damage. Last night might have been career defining, in that he'll now have to help the Dodgers get back to the post-season and perform at or above his regular season level several times in order to start balancing out the fiasco from that shocking performance against the Nationals.
Peyton Manning was once a Hall of Famer in the regular season and a Case Keenum clone in the playoffs, but that all eventually ended when he won a pair of rings with the Colts and Broncos. For a while, though, Manning had to live with what Kershaw is living with now. That he was great in the regular season and then -- ahem -- "something happened" in the playoffs. That's a nice way of saying "he choked", of course.
It sure looks like Kershaw's choking in the post-season, for what it's worth. That "c-word" is the worst one you can use in sports, of course. No one likes that label on them. And in the case of someone like Kershaw, you have to mix in a lot of playoff "bad" to offset the regular season "good". But let's be honest here: He's been mostly "bad" throughout his post-season career.
Sports is crazy. He can get guys out with his eyes closed in June, July and August. There's an argument that he's a Top 10 pitcher of all-time, given his numbers and accomplishments.
But in the playoffs, he becomes just another pitcher.
How do you explain it?
"The Keen Eye" of
|DAVID ROSENFELD is a former sports publicist who still keeps his eye on the game. Looking at the game, the news or the players on an in-depth level is what he likes to do. Follow his work here at #DMD every Monday & Thursday, brought to you by Glory Days Grill.|
The Ravens have played five games and won three. They’ve been impressive — after five games, they lead the league in points and rank third in total yards. They’ve been disappointing — after five games, only the hapless Dolphins have allowed more yards per play.
The consensus was that the Ravens would run the ball differently than is typical in the NFL, and they have, with 20 more rushing attempts and nine more first downs than any other team. There was no opinion that the Ravens’ quarterback would be close to the lead the NFL in touchdown passes after five weeks, but he is.
There was a thought that the pass rush and linebacking corps were much depleted thanks to free agency, and that thought’s been mostly correct. There was a belief that the secondary was a big strength of the team, but injuries and communication issues have proved that to be mostly incorrect.
Let’s take all of that under advisement; it sure has lent some real excitement to the early season, not to mention John Harbaugh and his surprisingly modern attitude toward fourth downs and two-point conversions. Sometimes surprises are good, and sometimes they’re not.
The reality is that very little has changed after five weeks, at least for the Ravens. They’re still the team to beat in the division.
The Ravens are in first place in the AFC North, which I would have expected them to be. Cincinnati heads to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday as a big underdog, just like we would have expected them to be before the season began.
It made sense that the Ravens would get off to a good start considering their first two opponents, and they did. The trip to Kansas City looked like it would a difficult one, and it was. The Cleveland game sent some for a loop, but it’s only one game. Those same Browns have already been blown out twice.
No matter whether the Ravens are “better” or “worse” than you hoped, their situation is pretty stable right now.
I don’t think you can say the same about the Browns, who despite the performance in Baltimore have generally played below expectations this year, the quarterback included. For obvious QB-related reasons you certainly can’t say the same about the Steelers either.
There’s no doubt the trip to Seattle next weekend, and the Monday night game against the Patriots after the bye, will be seen as bellwether-type games. The Seahawks might be playing better than any team in the NFC, and the Patriots are fashioning an historic defensive season right now.
These are two difficult games, no doubt, especially with the Seattle game coming on the road. It’s quite possible that, for the fourth straight season, the Ravens will be a .500 team after the first half of the season.
Based on the first five games, though, it’s not out of the question that the Ravens can win one of those games, even though they won’t be favored in either. Will that be enough in itself to propel the team to the playoffs? Of course not. But it would likely leave the Ravens in about the position we would have expected.
Looking forward, I see two specific challenges that I didn’t see before the season started. They actually will come in consecutive weeks in early December, when the Ravens host the 49ers and then visit the Bills.
If you thought those two games (along with the ensuing Thursday night game against the Jets) were some kind of “break” between a Monday night visit to Los Angeles and the two division games to end the year, it looks like you were mistaken.
Of course, just because nothing’s really changed doesn’t mean I wouldn’t suggest a few things. Ahem…
If wide receiver Marquise Brown is injured and unable to play, or even if he’s very limited, it means that the Ravens aren’t any better than they were last year at that fateful position…and maybe even worse. Willie Snead is one of my favorite players, but he is who he is. The potential Seth Roberts had early in his career in Oakland didn’t pan out. I’m wondering whether Miles Boykin still plays on the team.
All that being said, maybe the Ravens might have to play offense a little more like they did last year when Jackson was forced into action. The Pittsburgh game could have been a nod to that, as Brown was mostly out of the game and the Ravens were clearly trying to run the ball as often as possible.
It’s worth noting that, outside of two games against the Bengals, the Ravens will play seven teams that have never played against Lamar Jackson before they return to divisional play the final two weeks of the year.
Defensively, the scuttlebutt has the Ravens being active in the trade market before the end-of-month deadline. That goes from a search for an underrated pass rusher to a move that seems entirely un-Raven-like—a trade for the Jaguars’ Jalen Ramsey. In desperation, the team has already been active in the free-agent market on defense.
I’m not sure the Ravens are “one player away” from the Super Bowl, as we tend to talk about when a baseball team makes a deadline move for a veteran player. And I’m not sure the NFL works that way anyway. What I do know is that the Ravens aren’t trying to win the Super Bowl right now. They’re trying to improve in areas that need real improvement, and if a trade can help then they’ll explore it. Since the fan base has spent a lot of time recently questioning recent drafts, especially on defense, I’d think they’d be happy about a more aggressive short-term strategy.
And in the short term…there are some real quarterback challenges on the upcoming schedule, like Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, DeShaun Watson and Jared Goff, whether the Ravens look to improve their defense from outside the team or not.
A final thought…the Ravens are different, mostly because of Lamar Jackson, and they should try to stay that way. They’re a group that’s difficult to defend, and they should continue to look for ways to make that even more true.
The Ravens have played one terrible game in 2019, and that game was enough to change the mentality of a lot of fans, and even cause for some change on the roster itself. Still, not a lot has changed as the leaves start to change in Baltimore. This is the Ravens’ division to lose, and a few improvements might make expectations even higher than that.
OK, I can now say that I've been to Pebble Beach.
As the saying goes, "I've been there, done that," and -- wait, I didn't get the tee shirt, actually. Shirts with the Pebble Beach logo were in the $100-$125 range. I passed. I didn't pass on the $6.00 Powerade or the $8.00 bagel and cream cheese or the $24.00 glass of cabernet. But for some weird reason, I didn't buy a golf shirt on my weekend trip to the Monterey Penisula.
"You should get yourself a shirt," my wife said over the phone when I told her the prices.
That wasn't exactly what I anticipated hearing from her. "$125 for a golf shirt? Are you insane?" was more along the lines of what I assumed was coming my way.
Instead, I got the breaking ball when I thought I'd be seeing a fast ball. "Get yourself a shirt," she said.
What finished me off was something so hilariously coincidental I couldn't help but bring a few guys over who were on the trip to show them. There was a shirt in the Spyglass Hill pro shop that was light orange with some gray and light blue striping in it. Three weeks ago at my friend's member-guest at Montgomery Country Club, that exact shirt was on sale in the tournament mini-shop for $30.00. My guess is that was the hard cost of the shirt and the manufacturer made them available to the member-guest participants as a gesture of goodwill. $30 for a really nice adidas golf shirt was a great deal, obviously. I picked up two of them.
That exact same orange and gray/blue shirt -- with the Spyglass Hill logo, of course -- was $100 in the Spyglass pro shop. I know what you're thinking: We have to get in the golf shirt business. Right?
Actually, we need to get in the logo business. That's where the additional $70 comes in, I suppose.
Anyway, I passed on buying a golf shirt, but I still had an incredible four days out at Pebble Beach. I'm by no means an expert on the trip or anything, but I learned enough to do it again sometime in the near future and feel comfortable that I can put together a great trip for any group of 7 or 11 that would like to go out there.
Golf wise, the three courses were spectacular. I describe them like this: The best "experience" was, by far, at Pebble Beach. The 8th, 9th and 10th holes are now the best three holes in succession I've ever played, both for scenery and difficulty. Jack Nicklaus says the second shot into the 8th hole is the best second shot in the world...and while I haven't seen nearly as many holes as the Golden Bear, I would agree with that assessment.
The best golf course, if you will, in terms of difficulty, was Spyglass Hill. My group of varying handicap levels played all three courses from the 6,500 yard distances. That was a perfect fit for us and all the golf we could handle. I'd occasionally sneak a peek at the back set of tees, which is typically where I would play from, and saw they were sometimes 30 yards "back". My guess after playing both of them is that Spyglass Hill, from the back tees, probably plays six shots harder than Pebble Beach. The 4th hole at Spyglass -- a winding 380 yard par-4 tucked into a small cave-like green complex that was 35 yards long and about 6 yards wide -- is now officially the best hole I've ever played.
Condition wise, the best of the three was definitely Spanish Bay Links. From start to finish, there wasn't a blade of grass out of place. Over a dozen of the holes offer some sort of view of the Pacific Ocean. The greens were perfect. It was also a terrific test of golf.
If you're planning on going out there, here's the general rule of thumb to follow. All in, including factoring in your airline ticket and all, you're looking at a minimum of $1,000 a day. Pricing may vary depending on the time of year you go. It could be more...not less.
You will get food and drink "sticker shock" and there's no easy way around it. No matter where you go, it's expensive. It just is what it is.
My group flew into San Jose and then made the 75 mile drive down the coast to Monterey Penisula. You can also fly into San Francisco, if it's cheaper somehow, but you're adding at least 30 more minutes of drive time to the trip. There's also an airport right in Monterey for those of you who have your own plane.
The coffee in the Spanish Bay lobby (where we stayed) was really good. And...yes...it was actually free. Every morning.
A bagpiper plays at Spanish Bay every night at 5:45 pm. It was a great way to start your evening. The $24.00 glasses of wine were, too.
Prior to our 12:30 pm round at Pebble Beach on Saturday, one hearty twosome in our group went for a double John Daly (some sort of mixed drink) and a Powerade (each). Their bill was $76.00. No, that didn't include the tip.
We didn't have enough time to venture into downtown Carmel for a bite to eat or a drink, but everyone says that's also a "must do". Next time...
It was the trip of a lifetime. I hope I make it again someday. But if not, it's all good. I can remember every single hole of all three courses.
Next time, though, I'm getting a shirt.
#DMD GAME DAY
|Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
1:00 PM EDT
Spread: Ravens (-3.5)
I still haven't had a chance to watch the Ravens-Steelers game on replay. I'm making every effort to do it tonight. But just from what I know by reading various accounts, it looks like it was one of those "a win is a win" kind of deals. In the standings, those count the same way a 33-14 thrashing would count. But I get it. It's the way you win that defines how impressive -- or not -- the performance was on any given Sunday.
After the third week of the season, I exchanged a series of texts with Tony Lombardi of the Russell Street Report website. "The Ravens defense is lousy," I wrote in one of them, as we discussed what he had seen in the wins over Miami and Arizona and the loss at Kansas City.
I'm not right all the time, but I nailed that one. The Ravens defense is most certainly lousy. No pass rush. Indifferent linebacker play. Capable but otherwise not spectacular secondary members, Marlon Humphrey excluded.
If the offense can score in the high 20's every game, the Ravens definitely have a chance of winning. Some games, though, they might have to score well into the 30's. That's a tough task week in and week out.
If you're a fan of win-or-go-home playoff baseball, you have quite a 24 hours ahead of you, starting later today when the Braves host the Cardinals in Game 5 and the Dodgers host the Nationals in their 5th and deciding game.
Tomorrow, the Rays visit Houston to decide who gets to play the Yankees in the ALCS.
I'm not a big fan of
#DMD GAME DAY
|Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
1:00 PM EDT
Spread: Ravens (-3.5)
The Nationals haven't ever won a playoff series, so this one tonight is especially important for them. And, no, their 4-3 win over the Brewers in the Wild Card game last week does not count as a series win. I mean, the record books might suggest that it does, but anyone with a brain realizes winning one game does not constitute a series. So, anyway...
I've seen about 15 total minutes of Capitals hockey thus far this season, but the early returns aren't anything surprising. The Caps appear to be a middle of the pack kind of team this year, perhaps challenging for another Metropolitan Division title but more likely playing closer to 3rd than 1st.
They're having trouble scoring goals (9 goals in regulation, 10 overall) and they've lost both home games thus far in overtime. Those aren't great signs. But now that Kuznetsov is back, their offense figures to get a spark of some kind. He scored a goal early in last night's 4-3 home loss to Dallas.
I noted on Twitter where Caps fans are already starting to get feisty about the team's play through four games.
Were those people around two seasons ago when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup? Aren't they allowed to slip back a notch or two?
#DMD GAME DAY
|Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
1:00 PM EDT
Spread: Ravens (-3.5)
Best win -- Indianapolis went to Kansas City and won. Enough said. That they did it by completely shutting down Patrick Mahomes is even more reason to honor them this week. What a great win that was. Honorable mention -- Green Bay lost at home to Philadelphia on a Thursday night. The Pack then turned around and smacked Dallas in their own building on Sunday to improve to 4-1.
Worst loss -- The Broncos went to L.A. at 0-4 and the Chargers were licking their chops. And...well...Denver posted the win and Philip Rivers and Company are officially now in deep doo-doo. You lost at home to Denver? Shame on you. Honorable mention -- I guess it has to be the Bengals, right? I mean, you couldn't beat Arizona at home. If you can't do that, what good are you? Cincinnati stinks. As we'll no doubt see in high def this Sunday in Baltimore.
Best team performance -- Holy cow. There's no way it was New England in Washington, right? I mean, it's the Redskins. They're horrible. But the Patriots produced yet another tidy, no-questions-asked 33-7 win that still keeps their defense on pace to set the all the record for least points allowed in a season. Honorable mention -- How about Minnesota winning easily in New Jersey and temporarily slowing down "Danny Dimes Fever"? Minnesota needed that one, too. They were beginning to show signs of struggling.
Most impressive in defeat -- I don't know how it's not Pittsburgh. So...it's Pittsburgh. The refs helped them, sure. But they lost their starting QB and then played some dude none of us have ever heard of and if not for a dopey coin toss decision by the coach to start overtime and a heroic play by Marlon Humphrey, they might have beat the Ravens. Honorable mention -- The Rams gave Seattle all they could handle last Thursday night and would have won the game if the kicker would have converted on a game-winning 44 yard attempt.
Team on the hottest seat in week 6 -- The Chargers are now 2-3 after losing at home to the winless Broncos on Sunday. Next? They host the equally lousy Steelers next Monday night. A loss and they fall to 2-4 and the playoffs start to loom as a real question mark. Honorable Mention -- Atlanta sits at 1-4 and goes to Arizona. The Falcons are in for a llllooonnnggg season if they can't win that one. They're probably in for a long season either way, but they're on the hot seat at 1-4 and...it will be scorching hot if they're 1-5 after next Sunday.
Best Game of Week 6 -- San Francisco takes their 4-0 mark to L.A. to take on the 3-2 Rams. If the 49'ers win there to go 5-0 and the Rams fall to 3-3...wowza. Honorable mention -- Houston at Kansas City. Texans are really an unknown at this point, but that 53 spot they hung up on Atlanta was impressive. The Chiefs don't lose at home much, so it will be interesting to see how they rebound next Sunday at home.
Five best teams through week #5:
1. New England Patriots (Last week: #1)
2. Green Bay Packers (unranked)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (#2)
4. New Orleans Saints (#3)
5. Seattle Seahawks (unranked)
Notes and Comments: Best quarterbacks? Did someone ask "Who are the best NFL quarterbacks?" Well, I'm glad you asked.
5. Tom Brady -- He's not what he once was, but he's "only" 42, remember. Oh, and he's on his way to a 7th Super Bowl ring, too, in case you haven't noticed.
4. Drew Brees -- Another guy who might not have the same amount of tread on his tires...but he can still fling it with the best of them.
3. Aaron Rodgers -- Hard to believe he only has one Super Bowl ring. Then again, he's never really had any receivers in Green Bay. He just sort of does it on his own.
2. Russell Wilson -- That was quite the performance last Thursday vs. the Rams. That kid is really special.
1. Patrick Mahomes -- He's fortunate we don't put a lot of stock in one performance or he'd be off the list after that stinker he produced on Sunday night against the Colts. But right now, he's the top dog.
Give me a day to gather myself and I'll be back with you all. I had quite the trip out west, returning to BWI this morning at 1:30 am. I'm on the tee today just after noon for the first round of the Maryland Senior Open. Yeah, I know, not exactly great scheduling on my part, but it is what it is.
I will watch a replay of the Ravens-Steelers game this evening so I'll have some commentary on that tomorrow.
I know there was some big news about the Preakness potentially staying in Baltimore for the long haul. I have to read up on that and make a call or two to some folks I know to see what they think about it. I'll get my head wrapped around that soon.
The baseball playoffs will have at least two 5th and deciding games tomorrow, both in the National League. Those are always fun.
If anyone's interested in a in-depth review of Pebble Beach, I can sure provide one. Here's tip number one: However much money you think you need to take out there with you for food and beverage - plus merchandise - double it. Then add 10% just to make sure you're covered.
I did hear Jay Gruden got fired from the Redskins. I assume was thrilled. No, really. He was probably thrilled. What a joke that place has become down in D.C., huh?
And please don't tell me "At least they're not the Orioles." The O's have made far more good decisions than the Redskins over the last decade and have had light years more success. And, yes, I realize the Birds haven't exactly become the '27 Yankees. But the Redskins are now the worst franchise in sports.
So, give me a day to get re-introduced to east coast life. I'm sorry about the issue with the comments section yesterday. Something happened during our change over to the new Royal Farms logo and colors and we needed all day Monday to figure it out and fix it.
There's no way to hide it, obviously.
We're making some changes here at #DMD. All for the better, we hope.
A lot of you have become "loyal readers" of #DMD. And we appreciate that. Starting today, we need you to become "Loyal, Royal Readers" of The Dish.
I have to confess I didn't see the Ravens game yesterday. Not one play. But I have a pretty solid excuse, I think. Back in February, eight golf nuts from Baltimore decided to do the bucket-list-trip-of-a-lifetime and go to Pebble Beach for three days of golf. The trip was October 4-7.
So, on Saturday I played Pebble Beach. Yesterday was Spyglass Hill. And the trip wraps up today at Spanish Bay.
No Ravens vs. Steelers for me, obviously.
But I'm sure you'll handle commentary and analysis below and David Rosenfeld's summary can be found below. You all will do just fine breaking down what happened in the game at Heinz Field.
Editor's Note: OK, I'll interject a smidgen of Ravens commentary here. I saw the replay of the Earl Thomas hit on Mason Rudolph. There's almost no chance Thomas was trying to hurt that kid. Vontaze Burfict...it was not.
My role here today is to just say, "We have a new look!" and to get the expanded relationship with Royal Farms off to a great start.
Some of you may or may not know this: Royal Farms was the very first marketing partner to sign on with #DMD back on August 25, 2014. They have been with us since day one!
And today I'm pleased to present them as our new "Signature Partner" here at #DMD. You'll see their ads every day at the top of the page, our color scheme here has changed to match theirs, and we'll be doing a lot of social media cross-promoting with them as well.
I'd be remiss if I didn't stop for a second and thank our great friends at Kelly Payroll for their support over the last three years. Kelly is still here, still with us, and still a marketing partner with #DMD. Frank Kelly III and Brian Hubbard have been ultra-supportive of our efforts here...and we're eternally grateful for that.
But Royal Farms is our new Signature Partner and we're super excited for what lies ahead with them.
I write occasionally here about the business model of #DMD and how we've pledged to remain a "free access" site...forever. And that's not to disparage pay models in any way. Some of them work. Some of them don't. But #DMD remains free. Every day.
We remain a free access site because of the marketing partners you see within the content and on the right side. They are the reason why you're here today, in fact. Without the marketing partners, there's no #DMD.
So...today would be a great day for you to help us get our Royal Farms partnership off to a successful start.
I'd like you to sign up for the Royal Farms Rewards Program. There's no charge. It's completely free -- like #DMD -- and you get some amazing benefits from any of the 220 Royal Farms stores in the mid-Atlantic.
Just signing up for the RF Rewards Program and App helps us here at #DMD. We'd love for you to visit your local store for some awesome Royal Farms coffee, breakfast sandwiches, fried chicken or subs. But first -- please sign up for the Rewards Program by clicking the link below.
To get this relationship off to a great start, below you'll see one of Royal Farms' TV commercials with the great Justin Tucker, who booted the Ravens to victory yesterday in Pittsburgh.
And directly below that is the link to the Royal Farms Rewards Program. This is a legit money saving opportunity for you. Sign up for the Rewards Program today and get 25 cents off of every gallon of gas you purchase in the first 30 days of your membership. After that, it's 10 cents off per-gallon. And there are plenty of other great benefits as well!
Please join us in thanking Royal Farms for their continued support of Drew's Morning Dish! If you've been wondering how you can "help" us, you have your opportunity. Just sign up for the Rewards Program today and start saving!
"The Keen Eye" of
|DAVID ROSENFELD is a former sports publicist who still keeps his eye on the game. Looking at the game, the news or the players on an in-depth level is what he likes to do. Follow his work here at #DMD every Monday & Thursday, brought to you by Glory Days Grill.|
I’m sure most Ravens’ fans who were unable to watch yesterday’s game against the Steelers, no matter what the reason, weren’t happy about that fact. Honestly, though, you lucked out. A player was actually knocked unconscious during the game.
Brandon Carr and then Earl Thomas sent Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph to an unfortunate place, one I haven’t seen before as a fan. I’m sure others have been knocked out in similar fashion, but they don’t stand ‘em up like that on the field with the helmet on and the chinstrap off and have them “walk” to the sideline in such a state.
I honestly wonder if Rudolph, who is 24 years old, will ever be the same. Maybe he’ll get lucky, though I can’t imagine he’ll back next week or anything like that. If he’s the answer as Pittsburgh’s next franchise QB, I hope he’s around for a while to match his stuff against the Ravens’ new franchise guy.
But enough of that, I’m sure you’re saying.
There were a lot of injuries in that game. They carted Tony Jefferson off the field in the fourth quarter, with insult added to that season-ending ACL injury when a Thomas interception was nullified after Jefferson was called for holding after collapsing to the field in a heap. Mark Andrews got banged up strangely toward the end of the game, though he came back soon after.
Marquise Brown hurt an ankle, which is a lousy injury for a guy who makes his living with world-class speed. James Washington, who played with Rudolph in college, hurt a shoulder and left the game. There were others.
The replay challenges were handled poorly, or rather wrongly. The Steelers’ Devin Bush was credited with an interception (a great play, surely), but by NFL rules it should have not been an interception. Gene Steratore back in New York said so. Diontae Johnson of the Steelers did not have possession of the ball on a third-quarter reception on third down, but once again the referee ruled wrongly. Instead of settling for a field goal attempt, Pittsburgh scored the go-ahead touchdown a few plays later.
But enough of that, I’m sure you’re saying.
The Ravens won the game, a game they probably “deserved” to win, and they did it on the road in a place where a win seems bigger than anywhere else. Not that it made watching the game any better until the very end.
The Steelers are not a good football team at the present moment, even if Rudolph is 100 percent. They are a proud team, and they’re actually trying to win for real for their fans, even if they won’t get as many this year as they’d like. Somehow Minkah Fitzpatrick magically played a lot better for the Steelers on October 6 than he did for the Dolphins on September 8.
That fact made the game a difficult watch, Rudolph’s injury aside. The general opinion of Ravens’ fans at around 3 p.m. Sunday was something to the effect of “the other team is not good, so what does that say about us?” When some guy named Devlin Hodges started slinging it around in the second half, that feeling intensified.
So, like I said, maybe you’d have been better off just seeing Justin Tucker’s game-winner take a fortunate right turn, rather than knowing that some dude from Samford was scanning the field like Brett Favre against a lousy pass rush for two quarters.
Also, Lamar Jackson played what I’d say was his worst regular-season game in his 12 NFL starts. That wasn’t so much the three interceptions, since the first ought to have been defensive pass interference (as Mark Andrews insisted to John Harbaugh) and the third wasn’t actually an interception.
He just wasn’t finding a way to get rid of the ball fast enough, and teams seem to have figured out that he likes to escape by pivoting and turning the opposite way that he’s facing, as opposed to the typical quarterback trying to find room in front of him.
Five sacks is too many, though I’m interested in someone’s evaluation of the All-22 later this week to see how many open receivers were available with Brown mostly out of the game. And in Jackson’s defense, 70 yards on 14 carries is plenty good, just not as spectacular as we’re used to seeing out of him.
The Ravens made some interesting changes heading into this game. Not only did they pick up Josh Bynes off the scrap heap, but they started him at weakside linebacker, and by some sort of fate Bynes happened to be there for a gift interception when the Steelers called an unfortunate early play out of the “Wildcat.”
Meanwhile, the player whom Bynes was replacing at that position, Kenny Young, was a completely healthy scratch. See this space from last Thursday for why, though even I was surprised he was one of the inactives.
Besides that fortunate signing (at least for this week), the Ravens made the right call with their game plan. They ran the ball 40 times, of which 35 were probably called runs. They held the ball for more than 35 minutes in regulation.
In doing so, the Ravens found themselves very much in control of the game midway through the second quarter. But, like in any other NFL game—questionable calls or not, bad luck or not—turnovers changed the game.
And speaking of turnovers, the most important one came thanks to Marlon Humphrey, who’s my choice for team MVP five weeks into the season. He made a similar play against the Chiefs two weeks ago, but that time the Ravens couldn’t recover. He also tried to do it earlier on Sunday, only to have JuJu Smith-Schuster shove him away and score a touchdown.
But when it mattered, Humphrey made an MVP play, including his presence of mind to jump back up off the ground and sprint ten yards to grab a football that was loose for a seemingly interminable amount of time.
The bounce of a football is luck, but a great defensive play isn’t, and neither is Justin Tucker when the game’s on the line. Like I said, the Ravens deserved to win. And go ahead and revel in the fact that the Steelers aren’t on their way to something great this year. As Ravens’ fans, you deserve that.
I would recommend that you kind of forget the game, though, just like the players will moving on to the Cincinnati game. It was a tough one, the kind that even makes you question so much about the game itself.
#DMD GAME DAY
|Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
1:00 PM EDT
Spread: Ravens (-3.5)
Last week, we titled the Sunday edition of #DMD, "It's Time They Proved Themselves".
That referenced the Browns, of course, who would later on that day go about proving themselves with a 40-25 trouncing of the Ravens in Baltimore.
Today...it's gut check time. For the Ravens.
Here's the deal. And it really is this simple. If the Ravens are any good at all, they'll go into Pittsburgh today and win the game. The score doesn't really matter. They can win 17-16 on a last minute field goal or 33-13 in a laugher. Either way is fine. But they simply need to win today.
It's gut check time.
The Steelers are 1-3. They got blasted in New England, lost at home to Seattle, and fell at San Francisco. Sure, they beat up on a lousy Cincinnati team last Monday night, but this Pittsburgh team is not very good. The Ravens should feast on them today.
This game is particularly important given the next two games on Baltimore's schedule. They'll host Cincinnati next Sunday and then travel to Seattle on October 20, which we preliminarily assume will be a loss. After a bye week, they host the Patriots on a Sunday night. Now you see why winning today and improving to 3-2 is crucial.
If the Ravens are any good, they'll win today. If they're just so-so, they'll lose.
As Charley Eckman used to say..."It's a very simple game."
Good teams (like Seattle in week 2) go into Heinz Field and beat this depleted black and gold bunch. Cincinnati didn't, but they stink. The Ravens should. The Ravens better. If they don't, there's trouble brewing at 1 Winning Drive.
Challenge that mediocre Pittsburgh secondary -- This is the game where Greg Roman should throw caution to the wind and let Lamar and the offense have a field day. Throw it deep 6-8 times, at least. Don't try and "chunk" yards away. Go for the big play. Go for it early and often. Turn Hollywood loose and let Lamar hunt him down. There's no reason to play safe or scared today. Think big. As in, "big play".
Put an eye on Conner at all times -- He's no Le'Veon Bell, of course, but running back James Conner can hurt you in a couple of different ways, including catching short passes and screens. There's little chance Pittsburgh can win if the Ravens hold Conner in check for most of the 60 minutes. He'll get his yards, of course, but if the Ravens can hold him to under 110 yards of TOTAL offense, they're well on their way to winning. There's really no one else to beat them if Conner doesn't. Keep that kid in check and you'll leave Pittsburgh with a "W".
No dumb penalties -- It always seems like the Ravens pick up an asinine penalty or two when they visit Heinz Field, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers have enough trouble piling up yards -- it makes no sense to aid them by getting late hit penalties, hitting the quarterback below the knee, and so on. If the Ravens can avoid those kind of dumb penalties today, they stand a greater chance of winning. Yes, we're talking about you, Matt Judon.
The Ravens lose the toss but get the ball first when Pittsburgh defers. 7 plays and 75 yards later, Lamar Jackson finds Mark Andrews in the end zone for a TD and a quick 7-0 lead.
On Pittsburgh's first series, Mason Rudolph is picked off by Earl Thomas, who retuns the ball to the Steelers 38 yard line. Five plays later, Jackson scampers in from 8 yards and it's quickly 14-0 in favor of the visitors.
A Justin Tucker field goal right before the half makes it 17-0 at the intermission.
The Steelers get on the board midway through the 3rd quarter on a Rudoplph to James Washington TD pass from 14 yards out.
Another Tucker field goal late in the quarter extends the Baltimore lead to 20-7.
It stays that way until six minutes remain in the game when Mark Ingram breaks off a 33-yard TD run to put the Ravens up 27-7.
Pittsburgh tacks on a garbage time TD, but that's not nearly enough, as the Ravens win 27-14 at Heinz Field.
We're still trying to find our form early on in the 2019 season.
Today might just be the day we start turning things around.
JAGUARS AT PANTHERS (-3.0) -- This one has to swing to Jacksonville, right? Carolina has won two straight on the road with some dude at QB we've never heard of. It's the classic "reverse lock" deal. Everyone hops on Carolina now and they lay an egg at home. That's what we're going with, anyway, as Jacksonville covers and wins outright, 23-21.
FALCONS AT TEXANS (-4.0) -- There's no telling which Atlanta teams shows up. It's so hard to give the Falcons any kind of chance because they're routinely terrible on the road. But Houston isn't exactly setting the AFC South on fire, either. We think Houston wins this game, but we also believe this is one of those rare Sunday outings where Atlanta keeps it close on the road. We'll take the Falcons and the four points in a 30-28 win for the Texans.
BRONCOS AT CHARGERS (-5.5) -- Another team without a pulse. The Broncos, we mean. Then again, the Chargers haven't looked all that great through four games. Denver has to hang around and win one soon, right? They will win a game, just not today. But we like Denver to keep it close and cover the 5.5 points in a 26-23 win for Los Angeles.
PACKERS AT COWBOYS (-3.5) -- Dallas' offense didn't look all that great on Sunday night vs. New Orleans. Green Bay was cruising along just fine until the Eagles upset them 10 days ago. The rest and the loss both work in Green Bay's factor. We'll take the Packers plus the 3.5 points as they pull off the mild upset, 28-24.
COLTS AT CHIEFS (-11.0) -- This one's a blowout. Indianapolis has been OK in the early stages as they learn about life after Andrew Luck, but they're not doing anything to slow down Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs tonight. Kansas City wins in a semi-romp, 31-17.
BEST BET OF THE DAY: -- We'll go with the Packers +3.5 points in Dallas.
LAST WEEK'S RECORD: 2-4
SEASON TO DATE: 9-15
RAVENS A.T.S.: 2-2
BEST BET OF THE DAY: 0-4
A week five Ravens-Steelers game almost takes some of the starch out of the importance of the division clash. Couldn’t the first game come, say, in week 9 and the second fall on either the penultimate or final weekend of the regular season?
Alas, on the first Sunday in October, it will be Ravens-Steelers.
What happens if…the Ravens lose? -- There’s a lot of angst around town about this one. What a difference a week makes, huh? Had the Ravens taken care of business last Sunday to move to 3-1, most people’s moods would be a lot different as we sit here the day before the game.
But the Ravens didn’t beat the Browns – and the Steelers won their week 4 game, beating up on a lousy Bengals team on Monday night. But it wasn’t just about beating Cincinnati…the Steelers actually looked fairly decent while doing it.
Make no mistake about it, if the Ravens fall on Sunday at Heinz Field, they will be in full derail mode. Naturally, some of the aftermath will center on how the loss is earned. 24-21 on a last second field goal or 40-33? If the Ravens’ defense gets shelled again, particularly by a rookie quarterback, the visiting locker room might need a deep cleaning and some dent repair work.
It’s one thing to go up there and fight hard, lose 20-17 or 23-20, and get beat by a whisker.
It’s totally different if that rookie quarterback with no business beating you beats you by putting up a 40-spot on your defense.
If the Ravens don’t win on Sunday, the Bengals game the following week becomes perhaps the biggest week 6 game in John Harbaugh’s 12 seasons with the Ravens.
What happens if…the Ravens win? -- Nothing will make up for losing at home to Cleveland last week. Those division games can’t be replaced. Oddly, it would have been much better for the Ravens to lose to Arizona three weeks ago and then beat the Browns…but it didn’t work out that way.
A win on Sunday and a 3-2 record would be a massive shift in momentum for John Harbaugh’s team, particularly with the Bengals coming to town next Sunday. Trying our best not to get the cart fully in front of the horse, a win over Cincy and a 4-2 record heading to Seattle would be really nice.
Let’s also remember that a Ravens win on Sunday starts to shut the door on the Steelers’ campaign as well. At 1-4, they’d have to go 9-2 to finish at 10-6 and have a shot at the AFC North. News flash: I don’t know much, but I know this: The Steelers aren’t going 9-2 over their last 11 games if they lose to the Ravens tomorrow.
Here’s something else to ponder as it relates to our friends up the Turnpike. The Mike Tomlin era might be coming a close this season if the Steelers can’t make the playoffs.
Yes, I know the history in Pittsburgh. Three coaches: Noll, Cowher and Tomlin. They don’t fire people very often there.
But all good things come to an end. And at some point, particularly given that the Steelers are likely on the verge of handing their quarterback job to a new guy (Rudolph) within the next two seasons or so, Tomlin’s days will close in the Steel City.
They’ve had a lot of good offensive players up there over the last decade and don’t have all that much to show for it, really. True, most of those guys are now gone, but if Pittsburgh produces a 4-12 or 5-11 campaign, Tomlin might be looking for a new gig.
If the Ravens can help bring the Tomlin era to an end, more power to them.
This one might be fun to talk about over a beer or a glass of wine tonight.
What one Steelers player (current or former) would you have taken to play for the Ravens?
Here’s the deal, though. You would have had to insert him into the lineup during the time he was with Pittsburgh.
In other words, if you say, “Polamalu”, you would be playing him at the same time that Ed Reed was playing for Baltimore.
If you say “Roethlisberger”, you’d be playing him in Baltimore from 2004 until this season.
Despite our natural dislike for them, the reality is they’ve had some incredibly talented players in Pittsburgh since 1996.
I know I don’t have to go through the names, but I will anyway.
Burress, Ward, Roethlisberger, Miller, Bell, Brown, Holmes, Sanders, Polamalu, Bettis, Porter.
You might have one I didn’t list. If so, throw their name out there.
It’s a tough task, though, coming up with one.
My instinct from the start was to say Roethlisberger. I mean, it’s kind of hard to pass on a guy who is going to someday make the Hall of Fame, right?
But Flacco and Roethlisberger weren’t all that much different, really. Would I have taken Big Ben circa 2012 on my team? Of course. But would I have traded him for Joe, outright (which is what this exercise basically asks you to do)? I don’t think so.
Le’Veon Bell was awfully good. But he’s a running back. And the Ravens haven’t exactly been shorthanded there over the last six years.
Polamalu was awesome, but so was Reed. No sense in swapping those two.
Heath Miller was a really good tight end, but no different, really, than Heap or Pitta.
Antonio Brown is a moron, so no thanks there.
I guess you know where I’m going, particularly given the nature of the Ravens’ receiving corps over the last two decades.
I feel like I’m breaking out in hives…
But I’d take Hines Ward.
He would have been a great addition to the team’s offense, even in the Derrick Mason era. Sure, they were sorta-kinda the same player, although Ward might have been a smidgen more of a deep threat than #85 was in Baltimore.
Imagine those two guys together on the same team.
That would have been a dynamic duo for sure.
So……who is your guy?
One of our regular commenters chimed in on Thursday with some criticism of the collective community's lack of enthusiasm for this Sunday's Ravens game in Pittsburgh.
"Something is "off" this year", he wrote. "Things just aren't normal. It's going into Friday of Steelers week and there is no hype. No chatter. No enthusiasm."
He continued on with even more discourse.
"Pittsburgh week used to begin Monday with some derogatory comments by the Squealers, followed by T-Sizzle one-upping things, creating a mild frenzy mid-week that had people salivating by Sunday to see Hines Ward mauled or Big Ben partially decapitated. Hatred was in no short supply. Animosity reigned supreme, and by game time there was a palpable feeling that an MMA fight disguised as a football game was going to take place."
The commenter even went as far as directly criticizing this very website for its lack of initiative in pumping up the rivalry game.
"Here we are on Baltimore's predominant sports blog and the game has yet to be profiled."
Nothing he wrote was untrue, by the way. In fact, nearly everything was accurate.
But here's the other truth about the Ravens and Steelers in 2019: It's just another game on the schedule.
"That" rivalry is over, folks. At least the one we knew for nearly two decades.
And here's why. And here's the point our (mostly) friendly commenter missed.
The Ravens and Steelers was never really about the Ravens and Steelers. It was about players. And coaches.
It wasn't about the two teams. It was about Cowher. And Billick. And Burress. And McAlister. Those guys dominated the late 90's version of the rivalry. Neither team had a decent quarterback in those days, so it was mainly about which team's defense could punch the other team's offense in the mouth the hardest.
By the time the 2000's rolled around, the Ravens and Steelers was about Lewis. And Reed. And Polamalu. And Suggs. And Ward. And Roethlisberger. Yes, it was even about Flacco, who always seemed to have a little something extra for the Steelers, particularly in Pittsburgh.
It was always about a big game in December, either in Baltimore or Pittsburgh, with a lot riding on the outcome. It was about Polamalu knocking the ball out of Flacco's hands and Charlie-freakin'-Batch somehow beating the Ravens in Baltimore. It was about the "stretch" at the goalline by Antonio Brown that moved the Steelers into the post-season and eliminated the Ravens. It was about Torrey Smith hauling in a last-minute game-winning strike on a Sunday night game. It was about Joe and the offense slapping Pittsburgh around in the playoffs on a cold January night at Heinz Field.
Sure, Tomlin and Harbaugh are still around, but the players always made the rivalry. The coaches were just the roadies who set up the equipment. And neither Tomlin or Harbaugh are all that interested in spiking the rivalry with trash talk and finger pointing and silly stuff like that.
Let's be honest: The rivalry as we all knew it -- and loved it -- is over. It just is. With all of those players gone, there's no sauce left.
The game this Sunday has nothing to interest you, really, unless you're betting on it. Other than the mere fact that the Ravens are on the verge of derailing if they lose a third straight game, I don't know how you look at this one any differently than, say, last Sunday's game vs. the Browns.
As far as the Steelers go, this is Mason Rudolph's first taste of what used to be the NFL's best rivalry. Perhaps he and Lamar Jackson can drum up some enthusiasm in 2021 and beyond, but there's probably a better chance that the rivalry wanes even more over the next few years.
But the odds say Rudolph will never turn into a Hall of Famer like Roethlisberger will be sometime in the late 2020's. It's rare that a franchise gets one quarterback in Canton, let alone back-to-back guys. Big Ben made the rivalry. Ray Lewis made the rivalry. Terrell Suggs made the rivalry. Antonio Brown made the rivalry. I could be wrong on this, but I don't think Mason Rudolph and James Washington are going to keep us up at night twice a year for the next 10 years the way Ben and Ward did for a decade.
This is a big game this Sunday, don't get me wrong.
But it's big because the Ravens are 2-2 and the Steelers are 1-3 and the loser is going to be teetering on the brink of chaos.
It doesn't really have anything at all to do with the Steelers, per se. If the Ravens were in Buffalo this Sunday, it would still be an almost-must-win for Harbs and Company.
Is it sad to see the rivalry diminish to almost nothing? Sure...in the same way it's sad to see your kids go off to college.
You have memories, of course, but the times they are a changin'.
Something happened to me on the golf course recently that transitioned nicely into a discussion about the Ravens and John Harbaugh. Bear with me, it will take a minute.
I was faced with a 3 foot putt above the hole on a very undulated and slippery green. While there wasn't much break involved, the nuance of the green was such that if the par putt didn't go in the hole, it was almost certainly going to go past the hole by as much, or more, than the original 3 foot putt I faced.
There were two ways to putt the ball. I could just lightly tap it and hope it stayed on line long enough to find the hole. If, though, it didn't go in, by just lightly tapping the ball I was likely assured of the next putt being a 2-footer, at worst.
The other way to putt the ball would be to "ram it", which would mean to hit the ball much harder than required or needed, actually, but striking it with that kind of force would almost guarantee it wouldn't have enough time to bounce off line. The downside, obviously, is that if I somehow missed the putt by ramming it hard at the hole, the next putt would most certainly be at least eight or ten feet past the hole.
Just breathe on it and guarantee a two-putt at worst?
Hit it hard, give yourself a better chance of making it, but suffer the consequences if it didn't go in?
I hit it hard. And it went right in the middle of the hole.
One of the guys in the group said, "I can't believe you hit it that hard. What if it missed?"
I explained that the next putt most certainly would have been 10 feet past the hole, at a minimum, but I thought about the law of averages before I made my decision. "If I putted this ball at "ram speed" 10 times, I'd make 7 of them," I figured. That made it worth the gamble.
Now, obviously, I have no way of knowing if, in fact, I would make 7 of 10, but it just "felt" like that was a fair representation of the odds.
And that brings me to John Harbaugh and his "gambling ways" of recent weeks.
I'm wondering something. What if the Ravens went for EVERY 4th and 2 or less for the rest of the season?
No matter the position on the field, the score of the game, the momentum, the importance of the game, etc. What if they just decided they were going for every 4th and 2 or less for the rest of the season? What would that do to their season?
It's 2 yards. 6 feet. It's nothing, really.
Why not go for it every single time?
You might get so good at it that you'd almost never miss. Wouldn't that be something? You'd definitely change the way you called plays on 1st, 2nd and 3rd down, particularly on anything of the 3rd and 3 or 3rd and 2 variety, right?
How many times would the Ravens make a first down out of 20 chances on 4th and 2? I'm wondering. Would they make 10 of them? 12? 15?
And what would the number have to be in order for Harbaugh to say, "We'll just go for it every time."?
If the odds were 85% in his favor, he'd go for it every time, right?
He would just hope that the 15% they fail to make doesn't change or lose the game for them.
I don't know what the numbers would have to be in order for the Ravens to go for every 4th and 2 they face, but it's an interesting question to ponder and, potentially, research.
FACT: Tampa Bay beat Oakland 5-1 last night in the American League Wild Card game to reach the ALDS, where they will face the Astros. In the National League's one-game playoff, the Nationals eliminated the Brewers on Tuesday night.
OPINION: While I enjoy the "sudden victory" element of the one-game playoff in football, I think it's a lousy idea in baseball. The four wild card teams played 162 games. A six-month schedule. Grinding day in and day out. And pretty much separated themselves from the rest of the pack. And then, like that, it's over. I realize travel plays into it and all, but the Wild Card series really should be a best-of-3 so that each team gets at least one home game.
FACT: The Capitals opened their 2019-2020 season last night and beat the Blues in St. Louis, 3-2 in OT. Most national hockey writers and experts have the Caps winning the Metropolitan Division or finishing in second place, but you're starting to see less people on Washington's bandwagon these days. Some folks still think the Caps have the horses to make the Eastern Conference Finals. Tampa Bay and New Jersey are getting a lot of play in the pre-season polls, by the way.
OPINION: I think the Caps are suspect defensively. Holtby's still solid in goal, but the guys in front of him aren't top flight defensive players. Everyone's a year older (obviously), too, and while they're bringing in some new blood, the core of the team is starting to show some wear and tear. My guess? The Caps do NOT win the Metropolitan Division. I think they narrowly finish 3rd, coughing up 2nd place in the final couple weeks of the season. I don't see them reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. Win a playoff series? Maybe. Win two playoff series'? Nope. As for the NHL playoffs, I have Colorado beating Toronto in the Stanley Cup Finals.
FACT: Joe Maddon led the Cubs to the World Series title three years ago. He's now out of a job.
OPINION: Something went haywire in Chicago. Maddon must be a tough guy to play for or a difficult employee in some other way. Why else would you fire the guy who essentially helped rebirth your franchise? His dismissal must mean that management believes HE is the reason why the Cubs dropped off in 2019. They won the World Series in 2016. Won the Central Division title again the following season. Were a Wild Card team in 2018. And then fell off a bit in 2019. And the manager gets fired for that? Something's not adding up.
FACT: The Patriots are 4-0 and have allowed 27 points in four games. Here are their 12 remaining games: at Redskins, vs. Giants, at Jets, vs. Browns, at Ravens, at Eagles, vs. Cowboys, at Texans, vs. Chiefs, at Bengals, vs. Bills, vs. Dolphins. The NFL's all-time record for fewest points allowed is 165, held by the 2000 Ravens. New England would have to allow 137 points in their last 12 games to set a new record.
OPINION: I know they haven't played a murderer's row schedule through four games, but 27 points in four games is impressive. Heck, the Ravens allowed the Browns to score 30 points in 30 minutes last Sunday in the second half of the 40-25 loss. But I don't see New England allowing 164 points or less this season. That said, here's the deal. If they can somehow allow no more than 50 points against the Chiefs, Cowboys and Ravens combined, they have a real chance at the record.
FACT: Baseball attendance was down almost 2% in 2019, the sixth time in seven seasons that attendance dipped from the previous year's total. Attendance in the majors is down 14% since 2007. That's a lot of people no longer going to the games.
OPINION: I can't believe attendance was only down 1.7% this season. That seems like a moral victory if you ask me. You had four 100-loss teams, so naturally those cities (as we saw in Baltimore) are going to see a massive drop off in interest. Several of the other good teams in smaller markets (Tampa Bay and Oakland are the obvious two) have trouble drawing anyway, no matter if they're having a good season or bad season. The biggest reason for the drop off? We all know why. Every team's games are televised now. Every. Single. Game. Why buy the tickets, fight the traffic, pay to park, buy $30 of food and beer -- when you can stay home and do all of that for nothing?
FACT: Here are the top five best selling albums of all time. Yes, they used to be called "albums", kids. 5) Billy Joel, Greatest Hits 1 & 2 -- 4) The Beatles, self titled 3) Eagles, Hotel California -- 2) Michael Jackson, Thriller -- 1) Eagles, Greatest Hits 1971-75.
OPINION: This also falls under "Fact": I've never purchased, owned, rented, etc. a Beatles album. Opinion: That the Eagles have two of the top five selling albums of all time is really bizarre. They were that good? I mean, I thought Hotel California was a masterpiece. Don't get me wrong. But for one group to have 2 of the top 5 best sellers EVER is pretty crazy.
FACT: Joe Flacco's Broncos are 0-4. Here are their remaining 12 games: at Chargers, vs. Titans, vs. Chiefs, at Colts, vs. Browns, at Vikings, at Bills, vs. Chargers, at Texans, at Chiefs, vs. Lions, vs. Raiders.
OPINION: Yikes. That looks like a 4-12 campaign to me. 5-11 if things go well. 6-10 if their chakras get lined up perfectly over the last three months of the season and half the other teams lose their starting quarterback the week before they face the Broncos. Short story: Denver's in big trouble. I hope Joe didn't buy a place out there.
FACT: Gary Thorne just finished his 13th season as the O's main TV play-by-play man.
OPINION: I have no inside knowledge at all, but I think this was his last season with MASN. I hope not. He and Palmer are a terrific on-air duo, particularly by mid-July when the games no longer matter and the O's are losing 9-3 in the 6th inning and they start talking about various things that have no connection at all to the game they're calling. I'm guessing as the organization starts shifting in a different direction, they'll see the need to change the TV talking heads as well. I know nothing. Just a hunch.
FACT: The President's Cup is now two months away. The four captain's picks will be made in four weeks. Rumors are flying that Tiger Woods had his minor September knee surgery in order to prepare himself to play for the U.S. team in Australia in early December.
OPINION: Tiger would be nuts to pick himself for the team. Give those four spots to the guys who earned them, even if they didn't have as many points as the 15-time major champion. I still say the four add-ons should be Woodland, Reed, Wolff and Reavie. But I think the picks will wind up being: Woodland, Fowler, Reed and Woods.
FACT: Clemson and Alabama are both still undefeated in college football. They'll likely continue to jockey back and forth at 1 and 2 as long as one of the two (or both) doesn't lose.
OPINION: Both Clemson and Alabama are going to lose a regular season game. Alabama loses at home to LSU on November 9 and Clemson falls at NC State on the same day. I'm sure they'll still finagle their way into the playoff, but those two teams are not going in undefeated.
FACT: The San Diego Padres fired their manager, Andy Green, at the end of the 2019 season.
OPINION: Two ex-managers in particular would be interesting fits in San Diego. One would be a guy named Buck Showalter. You might have heard of him. He'd be reuniting with Manny, of course, which potentially might be an obstacle. Buck and Manny weren't quite the Gallagher brothers from Oasis, but they were close. If Showalter isn't the new skipper, how about the aforementioned Joe Maddon? I hear San Diego's a pretty nice place to live. And San Diego appears like they're ready to spend money on players and compete in the West within the next few years. Bruce Bochy will also be a popular candidate in San Diego, I'm sure.
"The Keen Eye" of
When I think about great NFL defensive plays, I think about Ray Lewis. Duh, right? But I’m not talking about Hall of Fame generalities. I’m speaking of one play, which happened 10 years ago in a stadium no longer used for NFL football.
Ray Lewis shot the gap on fourth down in San Diego, and the Ravens won. There was clearly no call for him to do so in the defensive huddle. The situation honestly screamed “pass,” despite the short yardage. After all, Philip Rivers had thrown for 436 yards, and the back that ended up being handed the ball, Darren Sproles, had run for only 26.
But Ray wasn’t having it. He knew. Was it possible that Rivers might have gone play-action in that scenario, thus making Lewis look like a fool as someone snuck into his vacated area to catch an easy touchdown pass? Surely. Lewis had that freedom to make decisions, of course, one he’d rightfully earned.
With the help of some slow-motion replays, it’s instructive to look at a Ravens’ defense in 2019 that keeps making bad decisions. We don’t necessarily know why these decisions are being made, and the answer could be different on every play. Sometimes, the offense simply calls a play that works against the defensive formation. That happens to every team in every game.
But it’s worth examining just five plays from the Browns’ first touchdown drive. The drive went 84 yards and took more than eight minutes. Sure, there was a questionable illegal contact call on Marlon Humphrey on a play that otherwise would have ended the drive near midfield. But there were so many plays that were worrisome.
On first-and-10, Baker Mayfield faked a handoff to Nick Chubb and then found Jarvis Landry over the middle for a 16-yard gain. Mayfield didn’t have to look anywhere else besides his first read, because both the weak-side linebacker, Kenny Young, and the strong-side linebacker, Patrick Onwuasor, sold out pretty hard on the run fake.
It seems clear from the replay that one of those two, most likely Onwuasor, shouldn’t have played it that way. The defensive back initially covering Landry, Brandon Carr, was playing a technique in which he was obviously “passing off” Landry to a linebacker, only to see that the linebacker stepped so far forward toward the line of scrimmage that the space was now vacated.
Two plays later, on third-and-7, the Ravens did an excellent job in coverage. Unfortunately, the Browns’ offensive line did an even better job in pass protection, helped by the running back Chubb staying home, thus making it a 6-on-5 advantage.
As Mayfield began to step up in the pocket, this time it was the free safety, Earl Thomas, who made a decision. He was 15 yards away from the QB, and instead of assisting Carr, the cornerback right next to him, he made a beeline toward the line of scrimmage, perhaps thinking that Mayfield was looking to run toward the open space in front of him.
It was the wrong decision. It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision, but the receiver Damion Ratley was smart, bolting toward the sideline into an open area. Thomas then made a desperation jump, one that went for naught, in an attempt to deflect a 10-yard pass play.
Unfortunately, thanks to that Humphrey penalty, the Browns still had the ball several minutes later, but were in pickle thanks to the aforementioned Ratley, who had been called for an illegal blindside block on a run play. It was first-and-25.
On the ensuing play, a simple motion from right to left by the tight end Pharaoh Brown confused the defense entirely. Both Young and Tyus Bowser engaged with Brown quickly before letting him go, and the result was an easy 18-yard pass.
Did Young go where he was initially supposed to go on the play without realizing he’d have to change with the tight end motion? Was that not communicated to him before the snap, or was it communicated but he simply didn’t get it for some reason? This stuff happens fast, of course, not in slow motion. That was Brown’s only catch in Cleveland’s first four games; perhaps the defense didn’t believe that the ball would go in the direction of a player who’s in the game to block, even in a long-yardage situation.
Moving on, two plays later on third-and-short, the Ravens clearly didn’t adjust well before the snap when it came to who was responsible for the running back Dontrell Hilliard, who simply sprinted to his right to catch a three-yard pass in the flat and turn it into a 19-yard gain.
There’s no way that the player clearly responsible for Hilliard, Kenny Young, would ever have been able to get to him 10 yards down the field, let alone two. Either the Ravens did not believe that Hilliard was going to get the ball in that situation, or the defensive players on that side of the field communicated very poorly.
And finally, on the touchdown play, it’s Young who saw the field poorly. The eventual receiver, Ricky Seals-Jones, crossed in front of Odell Beckham and Humphrey into wide open space, but Young decided to follow Beckham until it was way too late. For the third or fourth time on the drive, Mayfield and his receiver had more space to throw and catch than they’d ever dream about.
So, what does it all mean, besides getting in the film room as professional football players and learning from mistakes, and then executing strategies on the field the next game?
Well, as far as the Cleveland game goes specifically, I think there is something to the Beckham-Landry duo and what they can do to a defense, especially Beckham. On the 19-yard play to Hilliard, those two were decoys on the other side of the field, but can a defense ever truly believe that? On the TD play, as obvious as it looks in slow motion, it’s understandable why someone in Young’s spot would lean toward Beckham.
As far as the Ravens’ defense in general, it’s certainly easy to blame the secondary when the quarterback throws for 342 yards, and to blame the defensive line when a tailback blows through untouched for an 88-yard score. But the linebackers are truly the weakness of the group right now, even though they’ve shown they can be productive NFL players in more limited roles in the past.
And as far as communication and making decisions go? Like I said above, we don’t know why players aren’t getting the messages they should be getting. We can’t even be sure that a player doing what looks like the wrong thing on any given play isn’t doing exactly what the defensive coaches want him to do. That’s not something we’ll ever know.
After four games, however, the Ravens’ defense is at a crossroads. Which players can be depended upon to make good decisions? There are no obvious answers. Can defensive coordinator Wink Martindale play the way he’d like to play with his current group? Maybe not.
There is no Ray Lewis out there, of course. There isn’t really a Peter Boulware or Michael McCrary out there either. What’s out there is a lot of uncertainty, which is certainly cause for worry. The best part about the NFL, though, is that we get another chance on Sunday to see if it can be better.
There's a sexy term that's been around sports for a long time. It's something called "the it factor".
No one really knows where it started, no pun intended.
But it's been around for a long time. If you're an athlete, at any level, in any sport, it's probably the one phrase that can be attached to you that will take you places.
I used it, actually, a few months ago when talking with a college golf coach about one of my Calvert Hall players who had enjoyed a successful 2019 campaign, both at the high school level and the local and national junior golf level.
"He just has the "it factor"," I said. "It's hard to put your finger on until you watch him play. Then you see it and say, "Yep, now I get it."
Lamar Jackson has the "it factor".
If you can't see that for yourself after his 12-game NFL audition (8 last season, 4 this season), then I don't know what to say to convince you otherwise.
He is, to borrow another familiar phrase, a diamond in the rough.
The Ravens have themselves a quarterback.
But Jackson's role within the team goes much deeper than throwing the ball or running with it. It goes way past his ability to dart in and out of traffic, avoid a sack, or turn what might have been a 2-yard gain into a 16-yard scamper.
As one Ravens staffer said to me on Tuesday. "He just has "it"..."
I laughed on the other end of the phone.
"What so funny?" the staffer asked.
"I love that term. It's so innocuous, yet so perfectly understandable at the same time. I know exactly what you mean."
There will be, of course, the inevitable comparisons between Lamar and the guy whose job he stole, Joe Flacco. If we're telling the truth here, there's no comparison between the two. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean it to say, "Those two are so different from one another...there's no way to properly compare them."
Flacco was a "technical" quarterback.
Jackson is a "feel" quarterback.
Joe approached the line of scrimmage with one general thought in mind: Run the play that was called and keep possession of the ball.
Lamar approaches the line of scrimmage with one general thought in mind: Gain as many yards as possible by whatever manner possible.
Both approaches work for the quarterback who employed them. Flacco will make $150 million playing football, at a minimum. His "style" worked out very well, thank you.
But Jackson's 12-game stint thus far has exposed the Ravens to a new way of thinking about offense. It's the first time that the organization has had its own game-changing quarterback. For years, the Ravens have watched the likes of Brady, Manning and Roethlisberger torture them in the AFC. Now, they have one of "those guys".
Sure, they had guys like Jeff Blake and Kordell Stewart, who both hung around Baltimore for a cup of coffee and had the same general "style" as Jackson, but both were at the end of their respective careers when they wore the purple and black. Steve McNair fit the same bill, but again, his check-engine-light was on by the time he played in Baltimore.
This is the first time the Ravens have ever had a game changing kind of athlete at quarterback who was here with his tank full instead of mostly empty. Flacco, of course, was also here to start his career, but we're not comparing those two, remember? They can't really be compared, in terms of style and approach.
The Ravens have never had an athlete like Lamar Jackson. He's Ed Reed Redux, but he plays quarterback, which makes him infinitely more important than a roaming, free wheeling safety.
Listen to Jackson speak after a game once, if you haven't already. And I mean, really listen. A 2nd year "kid" shouldn't get it the way Jackson does. But he gets it.
"I missed on some throws early on that might have changed things," he said after Sunday's loss to the Browns. He not only took some of the blame, but he also had the uncanny ability to realize that the errant throws to Hollywood and Andrews could have extended drives, led to a touchdown later on in the series and, for the most part, "changed things".
Most quarterbacks don't see the field that way. They don't see how one benign incompleted pass in the first quarter could have altered the entire game. Jackson sniffs it out like a guy who has been playing for a decade.
"I have to say this, and I don't want this to come out as anything against Joe, because everyone had great respect for him here," the Ravens staffer said on Tuesday. "The players absolutely love Lamar."
Because it's Baltimore and we're finicky about criticisms or perceived slights against our own, the Flacco qualifer was important. Any promotion or public praise of Jackson by the team would almost be considered a slap at Flacco.
"These guys just love the way Lamar leads," the staffer said.
Even from afar, it's easy to see why. He's a complete, stand up guy. He wants to learn. He wants to get better. He wins, he speaks to the media. He loses, he speaks to the media. He has "it".
The Ravens have some issues, obviously, both short term and long term. In fairness to Eric DeCosta, it might take a few years for his vision to fully take shape. The next couple of drafts will be critical for both the team's new GM and the organization itself.
One thing for certain, though: The Ravens have zero issues at quarterback moving forward. They have, for the first time ever, a game-changer at that position.
The baseball regular season is in the books. Last night's National League Wild Card game was a thriller. The regular season? Not so much. Only one division went down to the final weekend and in that one, the Cardinals sorta-kinda always had control of it.
But there were still lots of good things about the regular season...and some bad, as well.
Here's a quick look at some various subjects and opinions.
Best Team -- They didn't win the most games, but the Dodgers were the best team from start to finish in 2019. They lost a little energy over the final three weeks, mostly because they had a 25-game lead on Labor Day. Will they make a 3rd straight World Series appearance and finally win the Fall Classic? They have to get past the Nationals first.
Worst Team -- The standings say the Tigers own this distinction, so we'll go with that. Having watched the Orioles over a 162-game schedule, it's hard to imagine anyone was worse than what we saw in Baltimore over the most recent six months. But the Tigers were, record wise, worse.
Most Impressive Team -- It has to be the Yankees. What they did, with the injuries they sustained, was almost a miracle. Their pitching staff wasn't all that good to start with, but they somehow cobbled together decent campaigns out of German, Paxton and Tanaka. Enough so that they were able to overcome the slew of injuries to Stanton, Judge, Sanchez, Bird, etc. Whether they have enough to win the A.L. Championship remains to be seen, but their regular season was absolutely remarkable.
Least Impressive Team -- How is it possible that the Angels have had the best baseball player in the world on their team for 9 seasons and have made the playoffs once during that span? They were a 72-win train wreck again in 2019, finishing 35 games behind the division-winning Astros. I get it. Houston has a stranglehold on the West these days. But the Angels can't even post an 85 win season and stay in the Wild Card hunt through the month of September. Their pitching is lousy. Their team is lousy. It's unthinkable that the club with Mike Trout on its roster can't compete.
Best Player Not Named Mike Trout -- I guess it's Mookie Betts, right? He didn't have the same MVP campaign in 2019 as he did in 2018 (when, by the way, he only played in 136 games), but the Red Sox were on cruise control by Labor Day, so Betts might have taken it out of high gear by then as well. Is there anything that kid can't do? We know this for sure. He KILLS the Orioles.
Best Player You Might Know Know -- Jeff McNeil of the Mets. Finished among the league leaders in average (.318), had 23 HR's, 75 RBI and helped the Mets stay in the playoff race until September 20th. By the way, he did all of that while only playing in 133 games.
Best Storyline -- Has to be the A's and Rays both making the post-season with meager payrolls. Oakland's opening day payroll was $84 million. Tampa Bay's was $50 million. Quick, name four players on each team. Right, you can't do it. But yet, they're facing off tonight in the Wild Card game. You hope the Orioles can pull off the same trick someday soon in Baltimore.
Worst Thing About Baseball -- It still is...those silly, idiotic unwritten rules. Guy hits a home run and stares at it too long...he has to be thrown at next time up. Pitcher doesn't think that was a ball...stares at the umpire for a second too long. Umpire takes off his mask, goes out to the mound, and yells at the pitcher like your grandfather used to yell at you when you used the newspaper to swat a fly and the blood got all over the sports section.
Best World Series match up -- For the sake of interest alone, it would have to be the Yankees and Nationals. Any World Series involving the Yankees is always amped up and there's nothing like fall baseball in New York. The Nationals, of course, haven't ever won a "real" post-season series (last night's one game Wild Card win over the Brewers doesn't count, no matter what they say), so if they can make it to the World Series, that would be one crazy storyline for our friends 45 miles to the south.
Two Teams To Watch in 2020 -- Want to plunk down $50 on a couple of different teams next week and see if they cash in for you in 2020? Put $50 on the Mets and put $50 on the Blue Jays. Both teams still need tweaking and better pitching, particularly in the bullpen, but they are up and comers for sure. If they can get mound help, both teams might compete for a playoff spot in 2020.
Best win -- Yikes. Can't even believe I'm writing this. But it has to be the Browns, right? Funny The Way It Is, but all the sudden it's the Browns' offense everyone's yapping about instead of Lamar and the Ravens. Give 'em credit. Cleveland went to Baltimore and played an outstanding all around game on Sunday. Honorable mention -- Tampa Bay's defense stunk, but their offense was wildly amazing in that big win over the Rams in Los Angeles. If not for their goofy kicker missing a chip shot game winning field goal two weeks ago that your Granny could have made, Tampa Bay would be 3-1. Bruce Arians can coach, friends.
Worst loss -- The Texans earn this honor for falling in their own building to Kyle Allen and the Panthers. Maybe Carolina is better than we think, but Houston losing at home to a team with an unknown quarterback? You Never Know what's going to happen in the NFL. Honorable mention -- At least the Rams lost to a veteran quarterback. But losing to Tampa Bay in your own barn still qualifies as a bad loss in anyone's book. I'm sure seeing the game film of Mike Evans torching their secondary will make the Rams Squirm all week. They either overlooked the Bucs or that L.A. defense isn't all that good after all. We're going with "overlooked".
Most impressive in defeat -- Buffalo shoulda, coulda, woulda beat the Patriots on Sunday, losing only 16-10 and holding the great Tom Brady to 150 yards in the air. Come Tomorrow, the Bills might just realize they have the makings of a pretty decent team up there. Either that or they'll be 4-6 in six weeks. Honorable mention -- The Lions are another team that nearly knocked off the king, but they lost a tight one to the Chiefs, 34-30. That said, they held Patrick Mahomes without a TD pass, which is akin to keeping a Pig out of the mud. It's really hard to do, in other words. Good for the Lions. They might be better than we thought.
Best team performance -- New Orleans manned up on Sunday night and knocked the Cowboys out of the unbeaten ranks with one of those "A win is a win" deals. Teddy Bridgewater is no Drew Brees, obviously, but he got the job done again as Cowboys fans screamed, "So Damn Lucky" at their TV sets on Sunday night. Honorable mention --Who knows what to make of Tennessee? But the Titans' two wins two date are both on the road -- Cleveland and Atlanta -- and in both games they were overly impressive. I get it, it's Atlanta and all, but when you go on the road in the NFL and Crush someone, it's a feather in your cap.
Team on the hottest seat in week 4: Look no further than our Ravens. A dreadful home loss to the Browns leads them into Pittsburgh, where the Steelers should be an easy mark for John Harbaugh's team. But if they lose up there...watch out. The coach will be begging for Mercy if he listens to Monday morning radio after losing to the woeful Steelers. It's almost a must-win for the Ravens. Honorable Mention -- Atlanta sits at 1-3 and heads to Houston for a Sunday afternoon showdown with the Texans. A loss by the Falcons would almost be Too Much for them to overcome in the NFC South. It's a virtual must win for Matt Ryan and Company.
Best Game of Week 3 -- Green Bay (3-1) at Dallas (3-1) should be a thriller. Both teams coming off of losses...so someone's going home on Sunday evening with a two game losing streak. You'd be A Fool To Think both teams aren't going to be keyed up for this showdown. I can't wait. Honorable mention -- Cleveland at San Francisco. Really? Those two teams? You bet. The showdown out west is the Monday Night game, too, so everyone gets to check it out. My guess? One week after a massive road win in Baltimore, the Browns will Let You Down and fail to beat Jimmy G and the 49'ers.
Five best teams through week #3:
1. New England Patriots (Last week: #1)
2. Kansas City Chiefs (#3)
3. New Orleans Saints (unranked)
4. Los Angeles Rams (#2)
5. Dallas Cowboys (#5)
Notes and Comments: It's time to rank NFL helmets. I'm a logo guy. Always have been. And, like a lot of you, I used to collect those 25 cent plastic helmets out of supermarket vending machines. Back then, I loved the old "Pat The Patriot" helmet. Alas, New England went from the best helmet in the history of the NFL (that "Pat" helmet) to the worst ("Flying Elvis") in one move. Anyway, here are the Top 5 helmets in the 2019 NFL season.
5) Panthers (Great color scheme and a mean looking cat)
4) Raiders (It's always been a great look. Lousy team. Great helmets)
3) Chargers (Simple, but elegant. Never looks bad on any uniform combination)
2) Colts (Still pains me to this day to see them. What a gorgeous helmet)
1) Texans (Just an incredible look. Mixes the state and the bull perfectly. Far and away the best helmet in the league)
Here we are, at the quarter poll.
The Ravens are 2-2, but I'd say, it's an "uncomfortable" 2-2. I guess we'd feel different if they would have started 0-2 and were now 2-2, but it is what it is.
We'll do our best to be fair and not overly weigh the fiasco we saw on Sunday vs. the Browns.
Quarterback -- It's been the Lamar Jackson show through four weeks. And he's been -- for the most part -- highly impressive. He definitely still needs some pocket awareness. That might be his biggest challenge still. And he's thrown several balls up for grabs that probably deserved to be picked off, truth be told. But the positives far, far outweigh those negatives. His arm is solid, he's vastly improved his delivery and accuracy, and there's no questioning his ability to run and make plays. On top of all of that -- he's a leader. Listen to him talk after the game. Always quick to point out a throw or two that he missed. Uses "we" a lot. Talks like a 10-year veteran. Grade through 4 games: A-
Running backs -- The fumble by Ingram last Sunday was the only huge black mark against this group. And Ingram's play in the first four games overshadowed that blemish vs. the Browns. It would be good to see more of Gus Edwards, too, but when called upon this year he's been up for the challenge. Justice Hill hasn't really been all that impressive, but he hasn't had a lot of touches, either. This has been an effective part of the team's offense to date. Grade through 4 games: B+
Offensive line -- If the running game and passing game are working, and the quarterback is relatively healthy, there's no doubt the offensive line is doing its job. And the Ravens, with the most yards per-game in the NFL thus far, are creating some offense. Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. are both having terrific seasons to date. Skura and Bozeman have been both good and bad, which isn't all that shocking. It's worth noting that Bozeman's ability to get to the second level and keep driving defensive players backwards has been impressive at times. At some point down the road, they'll need to upgrade over Skura at center. Grade through 4 games: B
Tight ends -- Another promising group here, with Mark Andrews serving as Lamar's most reliable target, a reminder of the Flacco-Pitta era. Hayden Hurst, while perhaps not looking all that much like a first round pick, is still getting better. And Nick Boyle mixes in effective blocking with the occasional big catch. With a little more big play production from Hurst, this would be a dynamic trio of tight ends. Grade through 4 games: B+
Wide receivers -- This is where it gets a bit dicey. If we're being honest here (and, we are), this group hasn't been all that hot over the four-game stretch. Sure, Hollywood Brown lit up the uninterested Miami secondary and made a huge late game catch against the Cardinals, but overall, they're still not dangerous enough to matter. Chris Moore? Nothing yet. Willie Snead? Decent, but nothing more than that, really. Won't ever be a game changer. Seth Roberts? One memorable catch, which might have actually been a penalty on him. Miles Boykin? It would be nice if he got more looks. Hollywood Brown? Really fast. Better hands than advertised. But his rumored fragility in practice might be one of the reasons why he's not playing more snaps in the games. The Ravens need him for all 16 games. Grade through 4 games: C+
Defensive line -- In 3 words: It's a problem. The Chiefs and Browns ran all over this group. And with Williams out on Sunday, they were frightenly bad vs. the Browns running attack. And even though the line typically doesn't generate much in the way of sack stats, this group isn't putting any pressure at all on opposing quarterbacks. Truth? The Ravens haven't drafted very well in this position over the last 5 years. They need to be better. Grade through 4 games: D
Linebackers -- We're including the rush ends in this group, so Judon props up their grade a bit. He's chasing the big money that he saw Za'Darius Smith snag from the Packers, but Judon is going to have perform significantly better over the last 12 games in order to grab that kind of loot. He'll get paid in the off-season, but his contract for 2020 and beyond depends mainly on the final three months of the regular season. Replacing Mosley was always going to be tough, and it has been. You have guys like Peanut playing the position now, and body wise he's not really a linebacker. Against fast, run and gun teams, he's capable. His athleticism gets it done. But against well schemed teams, like the Chiefs, he tends to get exposed. Overall, this group hasn't been very good. Too many tight ends catching balls across the middle and too many "second seam" throws getting over their heads. Grade through 4 games: C
Secondary -- Oh boy. Other than Marlon Humphrey, this group has struggled. Actually, it's fair to point out that Maurice Canady has played reasonably well in his time thus far. He's always remembered as one of the guy's involved in the Dalton-to-Boyd 4th and 12 throw, but in reality Canady's play has improved over the last year. Jimmy Smith's injury has certainly impacted this group. Brandon Carr tries hard but is often overmatched physically. And we all know that Earl Thomas has struggled thus far. Whether it's a scheme issue or the tread on his tires wearing thin remains to be seen, but Thomas has largely looked out of place thus far. When Smith returns, we'll get a better idea of this group's capabilities, but early on, the report isn't favorable. Grade through 4 games: C-
Special teams -- Nothing to see here. There never is, really. The Ravens are blessed with two of the best performers at their respective positions in Koch and Tucker. Grade through 4 games: A
Coaching -- This one's tough. The early returns on Greg Roman are mixed. It's as if he got a brand new car for his birthday and doesn't know whether he should take it out on the interstate and let it fly or just cruise through the old neighborhood at 10 mph and show off his style. And it's fair to admit that having Lamar Jackson at your disposal might alter your philosophy somewhat, too. But the Baltimore offense has been, by far, better than the Baltimore defense. That's for sure. Wink Martindale is definitely losing sleep over this group he has, particularly after the way K.C. and Cleveland used their run game to soften up the linebackers and open up big passing lanes. John Harbaugh became a riverboat gambler almost overnight, it seemed, turning everyone in Baltimore into an armchair coach after his decisions in Kansas City. He followed that up with some more puzzling stuff against the Browns. Here's a note that doesn't bode well for Harbs. The Ravens have lost 16 straight home games in which they trailed at the half. That seems almost impossible. And that speaks to a staff that doesn't make enough adjustments in the locker room. The biggest challenge moving forward will be keeping the locker room "sane" if, by some crazy chance, they lose in Pittsburgh and/or at home to Cincinnati. Grade through 4 games: C-
Overall team grade through 4 games: C-minus -- Average teams beat up on the Dolphins and Cardinals. Neither of those clubs have won a game yet. You make your mark in the NFL when you play the really good teams and the teams in your division. That's the way to make the post-season. Go 4-2 or better in your division and you have a good chance of reaching the post-season. Well, thus far, the Ravens have played one really good team (and lost) and one team in their division (and lost). That's a C-minus grade. Let's see what the 2nd quarter brings. They should go 2-2, with wins over Pittsburgh and the Bengals, a loss at Seattle, and a loss at home to New England. Therein lies the challenge. If the Ravens are, in fact, a really good team, they'll figure out a way to go 3-1 in the next four games. We shall see...