FRAN THE FAN: It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Street Talk FRAN THE FAN: It’s the most wonderful time of the year

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What time of the year, you ask?  It’s Opening Day and it’s Steelers’ Week, all wrapped into one!  Nothing brings the blood of a true blue – make that Purple – Ravens fan to a quicker boil that the thought of facing the hated rivals from Western PA.  Already the social media sites are full of Squealers and Stealers jokes, pictures and insults, many of them targeting the Squealer Fans.   This web site has also joined the fun (read the hilarious Hating the Steelers – Properly ).  I’m not that clever so I won’t try to match with these guys!

Suffice to say there will be taunting, there will be cussing, and there will be fighting.  And that’s in the stands!  Who knows? A football game might even break out on the field. So let’s talk some football, Fan Style.

The last time I wrote for this web site was after the big salary cap purge.  Was I upset?  You bet.  We lost our top possession receiver (Derrick Mason), the all-time leader in TDs (Todd Heap), a defensive line stalwart (Kelly Gregg) and a backup running back with a nose for the end zone (Willis McGahee).  And what did the Ravens do?  Only sign Marshall Yanda to big, fat, albeit richly deserved, long term contract.  All I could see at the time were the holes that needed to be filled.

So….How did the Ravens, and specifically Ozzie Newsome, do?

The Excellent: Two words. Vonta Leach.  The Ravens signed the best fullback in the league to a long term contract.  Le’Ron McClain did a good job, but his campaigning for more carries was wearing thin on the organization.  Now we have a fullback who only wants to hit people.  Beautiful.  Speaking of hitting, there’s the new Ravens defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano.  I never was a fan of Greg Mattison’s Read and React defense.  I look for Chuck to unleash the Hounds of War on opposing teams all year.

The Good:  Trading a 2012 4th round pick for wide receiver Lee Evans.  With this acquisition, my concern over the loss of Ubermensch Mason immediately evaporated.  Younger, taller, faster.  Finally free from that football purgatory on Lake Erie, he’s already connecting with Joe Flacco mentally and physically.

More Good:  The addition of Mark LeVoir, Bryant McKinney, and Andre Gurode solidified, at least temporarily, a very shaky offensive line.  With McKinney at left tackle, Michael Oher is back where he plays best – at right tackle next to fellow mauler Marshall Yanda.

Cause(s) for Concern: LeVoir, McKinney, and Gurode are short term investments at best.  If they were still at the top of their game, they would still be with their old teams.  True, Gurode was a salary cap victim but Jerry Jones has hinted that he was already being outplayed by his backup. 

I think the player that the Ravens will miss most is Todd Heap.  Yes he was injury-prone, courtesy of putting his body in Harm’s Way of too many errant passes from Kyle Boller, but he had returned to form in the past couple of years and he is the one Raven the Steelers had trouble game-planning for.  Right now I have no confidence that Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta can pick up the slack. 

Final Squad Cuts

No surprises here.  As expected, Ozzie Newsome managed to keep all the 2011 draft picks, just as he did last year.  Jimmy Smith will start and will be expected to product immediately and, with the exception of Jah Reid, the rest are long term projects.  We won’t miss Tavares Gooden or Prescott Burgess.

Around the League – a Fan’s Football Tweets

Fran’s Opening Day List of Coaches Most Likely to be Fired

1. Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville.  He’s done it again – cutting a starting quarterback just days before the season start.  A few years ago it was Byron Leftwich, now it’s David Garrard.  How many more seats can Wayne Weaver cover up at EverBank Field? 

2.  Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati.  How long can this misery continue?  No Carson Palmer, no Ocho, no Housh, no T.O., no future in the Queen City. 

3. Gary Kubiak, Houston.  With Peyton Manning of the Colts potentially lost for the entire year, the AFC South is wide open.  If Kubiak doesn’t win the division this year, he’s toast. 

4. Lovie Smith, Chicago.  The Lions’ star is ascendant; the Bears’ is not.  In fact, they will not make the playoffs this year with that offensive line.

Overrated: 

With Peyton Manning lost for a minimum of 2-3 months and, potentially, for the entire year, fans will get an answer to question long asked; just how good are the Colts without their future Hall of Famer?  Did Bill Polian really draft that well or just excel at fitting crafted pieces around # 18?  Just how good will they be?  My opinion – not very.  My prediction – 7 wins, max.

Dumb Comment of the Week: 

By whom else – Rex Ryan!  With the Cowboys coming to the newly-named MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands on Sunday to face the Jets, Ryan was asked by a New York Post sports writer if he expects to see Cowboys fans in the stands.

“I don’t know why they’d be here," the Rexinator said on Wednesday. "They’re coming into our stadium. It’s probably not recommended that you wear Cowboys stuff, I would think."

Being the smart-ass he is, Rex probably made that remark off the cuff.  But it’s not the most intelligent message to deliver in light of recent fan violence at stadiums in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Just this week, a soccer fan in England was attacked outside London’s Wembley Stadium – and died. 

It’s a Blow Out

With this being Ravens-Steelers week, the game is being hyped all over the media. Predictions are evenly matched between the teams, although all writers agree it will be a close game.  What a minute…there’s one who’s predicting a Steelers blowout!  Earlier this week, Pittsburgh Tribune beat writer Dejan Kovacevic (I didn’t make that up) laid out 7 reasons why the Steelers should be not just favorites, but prohibitive favorites.  

As In blowout favorites.

In brief order they are:  7. Big Ben, 6. The loss of Todd Heap, 5. Lack of Ravens defensive backfield experience, 4. Lack of Ravens wide-out depth, 3, The Steelers’ D, 2. lack of Ravens offensive line experience, and 1. Joe Flacco, who has never beat Ben Roethlisberger. 

He says it won’t be close.  31-13 Steelers. 

I say Good Luck with That.

I Also Say

The offensive line is a huge concern for me.  I like the pieces, but I’d like them a lot more if they had a few preseason games together under their belt.  I know they are experienced, but not cohesive.  I know that Harrison and Woodley will be licking their chops.  I know the defensive backfield, with the exception of Ed Reed is raw and untested.  I know we don’t have a proven backup at quarterback.  I know we’re thin at wide receiver. I know the Ravens have some growing pains to suffer, and will get better as the season progresses. 

 I know but I don’t care.

Home field advantage and the emotion of the 9/11 anniversary will be huge.  It will be close and it won’t be pretty.  Billy Cundiff and his leg will carry the day as the Ravens win…

Ravens 19, Steelers 13.

 

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Fran "The Fan" Vojik

About Fran "The Fan" Vojik

Fran Vojik has been a contributor to the Ravens24X7 site since 2005, first as a regular on the "Letters to T.L." page, then as the author of the Fran the Fan column. A huge Orioles and Ravens fan, he defines the term “homer.” A former season ticket holder of the Baltimore Colts, he now roots on the Ravens from his corner end zone seat in M&T Bank Stadium. His work makes him a regular traveler to various MLB and NFL cities and he’s watched both the Birds and Purple and Black in a variety of away stadiums. He brings a passionate and humorous perspective to the world of professional sports. Born in Highlandtown, and a graduate of Calvert Hall College and the University of Maryland, he lives on Furnace Creek in northern Anne Arundel County. He and his girlfriend, Sandy, have recently renovated his Man Cave, known as the “The Sports Palace," which contains many mementos from the Colts, Ravens, and Orioles. On days the Ravens play at home, Fran can usually be found tailgating at the Baltimore Fire Fighters Union Hall Local 734 , supporting the organization’s Widow’s and Orphan’s fund. More from Fran "The Fan" Vojik

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