THE GRAPEVINE: Ravens back in black!

Lombardi's Way THE GRAPEVINE: Ravens back in black!

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Many fans yearn for the Ravens so-called three headed monster that roamed M&T Bank Stadium in 2008. Yes the Ravens controlled the clock last season (33:10 average to lead NFL) and they posted the league’s fourth best rushing offense producing 148.5 yards per game while averaging 4 yards/carry. This season the club is eighth in rushing averaging 127.8 yard/game with a 4.6 yards/carry average.

Might the quality of the opponent have something to do with a greater dependency on passing this season? Might the decline of the defense contribute to playing catch up and therefore forcing the team to the air? This season the “monster” is averaging nearly 7 ½ fewer carries/game.

Would giving more carries to Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee at the expense of Ray Rice really make the rushing attack more productive? Keep in mind that McClain no longer has a luxury named Lorenzo Neal leading the way for him. A quick look at the stats comparing the ball distribution from 2008 v. 2009 clearly indicates a greater reliance upon a single back but the number of rushing touchdowns scored already surpasses the 2008 total and the averages per carry are markedly better.
2008 SEASON

 Player
Carries 
% of Overall 3-H Carries *
Yds. 
Avg. 
TD 
Rice
107 
21.0% 
454 
4.2 
McGahee 
170 
33.4% 
671
3.9
McClain 
232 
45.6% 
902 
3.9 
10 

2009 SEASON (through 13 games)
 Player
Carries 
% of Overall 3-H Carries *
Yds. 
Avg. 
TD 
Rice
 194
61.2% 
1,041 
5.4 
McGahee 
87 
27.4% 
351 
4.0 
McClain 
36 
11.4% 
152 
4.2 

* 3-H = Three headed monster
If Ray Rice is healthy, you give him the rock. When the Ravens play with a lead more often, they will run more and control the clock most of the time. But even then, don’t expect McClain or McGahee to take carries from Rice.

Do you think the Titans’ fans are fretting over fewer carries for LenDale White?

I’ve knocked Fabian Washington in the past for his frail nature and like LJ Smith he’s an All China Doll first-teamer in my book.  Perhaps the wear and tear of playing as a starting corner isn’t in the cards for Washington. That said he could be an excellent nickel back.

As such he wouldn’t have to support the run as much and that might make him more available during the season. Only once during his five seasons in the NFL has Washington played in all 16 games and that was as a rookie back in 2005 and even then he only start 11 of the 16 contests. Since that season he has played in a total of 51 out of a possible 64 games (80%). During his two seasons with the Ravens Washington took the field a total of 22 times out of a possible 32 regular season games (69%). Keep in mind Washington is now on IR.

If the Ravens can get Washington to accept a demotion to nickel, he could provide value to a team relatively thin at corner.

The topic of flip-flopping the Ravens starting offensive tackles has been kicked around a bit lately and recently Jon Ogden weighed in on the subject in a conversation with The Sun’s Mike Preston.

"I can see them switching because Oher is quicker and they might want to optimize Jared’s size and strength," said Ogden. "But for right now, this team is at its best when both are playing well at their current positions.

"And if they can get a pass-blocking tight end, they could really be on to something special."

More on the pass-blocking tight end in a moment…

As for the idea of moving the two tackles, monetarily it may be best to make the switch sooner than later. If Ogden is right and Oher is the better long term option at left tackle, the Ravens would have a better opportunity to manage the future salary of Gaither as a right tackle, a position that normally commands fewer dollars than left tackles. Plus they will still have Oher locked up for another 4 seasons under the terms of a reasonable rookie contract.

Next year Gaither becomes a restricted free agent. Some believe that the former Maryland Terrapin will receive the 1st and 3rd round tender offer from the club, i.e. $3.043M. That would essentially assure that Gaither remains a Raven in 2010 because it’s unlikely that another team will surrender such picks to the Ravens.

However, another club might cough up a No. 1 pick for Gaither should the Ravens extend only the first round tender to him. One source close to the team has hinted that the Ravens would welcome a No. 1 pick for Gaither. If you think about it, two seasons of above average left tackle play plus a No. 1 pick for a fifth round compensatory pick is outstanding value. And let’s not forget Gaither’s sketchy track record and his less than stellar commitment to football during his college days. Might a big pay day change the way he approaches the game or his willingness to play with injuries? It bears watching particularly if the coaching staff believes that Oniel Cousins can turn the corner in 2010.

Back to the idea of that blocking tight end, one largely forgotten Raven is a player who fits that description, Quinn Sypniewski. The 2006 5th round pick out of Colorado suffered a devastating knee injury during 2008 OTA’s and then experienced a set back during 2009 OTA’s. Today some within the organization are wondering if Sypniewski will ever see an NFL field again given the extent of his injury. That’s disappointing particularly for a player who began to develop as a pass catcher in 2007, posting 34 catches for 264 yards and 1 TD. His return would be a welcomed albeit a surprising boost to the team’s depth chart.

Adalius Thomas’ days in New England could be winding down particularly if 2010 goes down as an uncapped season. He has been a healthy scratch twice this season and failed to start in two other Patriots’ games. To make matters worse, Thomas appears to be at odds with head coach Bill Belichick.

Could Thomas become a Raven again if he is let go?

Anything is possible but I wouldn’t hold my breath for an AD homecoming in ’10. When he takes the field next season he will be 33 years old – not exactly a spring chicken for a player who counts on his once uncommon speed for a 270 pound athlete. The bet here is that AD does have a homecoming of sorts in ’10. The open arms of Rex Ryan could await him in the Big Apple.

OTHER GRAPE NOTES

Brian Billick is the analyst for FOX’ broadcast of the Ravens v. Bears. That should clearly liven up the TV broadcast. It is the first time that Billick gets to call a Ravens game. We’ll be paying close attention to the pacing, rhythm, dynamics and parameters of the broadcast…

While the Steelers’ fans have pretty much given up on “hell unleashing” in Pittsburgh, they haven’t given up hope on the return of Troy Polamalu this season. The All Pro safety has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Packers and that comes as no surprise.  Another Steelers’ loss will likely signal the end of No. 43 for the ’09 campaign…

That said if you listened to former Steeler Jerome Bettis on the Dan Patrick Show, "The Steelers are done.  It’s not official yet, but pretty much.  When you lose your spirit, then everything is pretty much gone." I’ll believe they’ve lost their spirit if they play uninspired football against the Ravens on December 27…

The Ravens will close out their 2009 home schedule with the Chicago Bears on Sunday and they will be styling when they do so – in their black jerseys. For those of you who hate the all black uniforms, relax…John Harbaugh ditched those upon his arrival in Baltimore. They will wear white pants to accompany their black tops. The ensemble was first presented when the Ravens hosted the Washington Redskins last season. If memory serves me correctly this is the very first time they will wear black for a 1 o’clock kickoff. That should look pretty interesting against the backdrop of forecasted snow.
 
 
Photo by Sabina Moran.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts "The Fanimal" also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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