Lombardi's Way LETTERS 2 TL ~ RAVENS 4-0 RECORD A HOUSE OF CARDS?

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TAKE THE LEAP!
 
Tony,
 
I read with interest your plea to Brian Billick to take a leap with some of the 2nd and 3rd rounders who never seem to make it onto the field.  I’ve noticed the same thing ? this crop of draft picks is having trouble cracking the line-up.  
 
But I’ve developed a different theory about what?s going on.
 
The first rounders, as you state, are relatively easy for the savvy Ravens staff to correctly identify.
 
Then, when they get to the second and third round I think what happens is this:  
 
They are selecting guys who have the high measurables of a first round player, but who have some other flaw or missing intangible they believe they can coach-up once they get to Owings Mills.  Guys like Chester and Pittman and Terry and Darling  even going back to a Patrick Johnson — all have an athletic ability that the Ravens scouts liked that was maybe even superior athleticism for their positions and so the Ravens evaluators figured they could harness that skill.  These guys show the potential to be great players.
 
On the other hand, when you get into the fourth, fifth, and sixth round, and even into the UDFA’s, it’s almost the flipside.  Now it seems like they are taking guys who are just football players.  But they fell into the late rounds because they don’t have the measurables that most scouts drool over. A guy like Bart Scott or Kelly Gregg or Dawan Landry.  Not the biggest, tallest, fastest, strongest, or best looking in shorts.  But they just play football and have great character and tenacity, or they are adept at one thing.  They get these uglies on the field, however, and you know what, it works.  Billick and his staff have no trouble giving these guys a chance.  
 
And it probably doesn’t hurt that these guys probably filled a special teams role for a couple years, serving a valued role.  Whereas the second and third rounders like Chester and Pittman and Terry and Darling may not be given that opportunity to stick around and contribute while they wait for a starting spot to open up on offense or defense.  
 
Musa Smith was the one first-day pick who did contribute on special teams.  And he’s the one guy who best fits your paradigm.  Perhaps Billick’s will to stick with a vet like Jamal will be most severely tested in the case of Musa as the season ticks on.
 
Anyway, i’ts been an observation that I’ve had, right or wrong, that maybe Eric DeCosta and crew as good as they are overall sometimes do get intoxicated by the workouts, and those are the guys who get picked in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.
 
Steve Hasler
 
Steve,
 
A very insightful email.  The picture you paint is certainly a possibility.  I have said for quite a while that the best teams in the salary cap era have a way of creating the proper blend of A, B and C type players.  The Ravens have done well with the A’s and the C’s but let’s admit it, they’ve failed with the B’s.  For those that don’t agree, let me remind you (as I pointed out in my most recent Lombardi’s Way) that combined Terry, Darling Edwards, Pittman, Chester and Cody have 1 start among them  1 start!  All of them are first day picks.
 
Take the leap coach,
 
TL
 
IS 31 DONE?
 
Tony,
 
I heard Stan White on WBAL saying something that I thought made a lot of sense, which goes in line with your comments in your column.  He made the point that sometimes you have to mold your strategy around your players, in reference to McNair, our receivers, and absence of a running game.  In other words, perhaps we should pass to set up the run, instead of the other way around.  I don’t think he was advocating that we attempt to become the Colts, but that we begin making fundamental shifts in our approach on offense.
 
I?m as happy as can be with the defense and McNair in the final 3 minutes of the game, but you and I both know that, as great as it is, it can’t continue.  We can’t be static!  We have to plan for down the road.  I don’t hear anyone attributing Jamal’s performance anymore to an injury or (primarily) to the line.  You said it perfectly the other day, he doesn’t have that burst.  I’d only add that he isn’t as nasty, in that he just doesn’t run people over anymore.  If you believe that, then you’d be a fool to think he will just come around; and be complacent in the current scheme.  Sure, he’ll have a good day from time to time, but the Jamal of old is gone.
 
I don’t know enough about football X’s and O’s to say specifically what they could do (e.g., spread formations..etc), but you don’t need to be Vince Lombardi to notice teams are still loading the box on us.
 
Regards,
 
Bill from Northeast
 
Bill,
 
I often wonder if it’s arrogance, stubbornness, laziness or some combination thereof for the Ravens lack of innovation on offense.  I say lazy because they continue to rely on their defense and to me that’s a cop out.  This 4-0 record is a house of cards.  I think even the players know that.  You can tell by their collective approach to the next game. 
 
On a good note, their attitude is healthy and they know they need to work on things if they want to get better.  They know they’ve proven nothing, Bart Scott said as much earlier this week.
 
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the coaching staff is about to change much, at least not yet.  My gut feel is that they won’t make the proper changes until they lose.  Ironically if they don’t make the needed changes they will lose and soon.
 
Against a good defense on the road on Monday night, the Ravens will fail miserably if they don’t improve on first down.  If they can only manage 1 to 2 yards on first down the way they have recently, I don’t see how the Ravens will be able to make the line calls and checks in a raucous stadium against a team that will blitz from several different angles.  It could get ugly.
 
Having said that, I think they will improve offensively this week.  It may not translate to many points but I think they will use the short passing game to set up the run.  Mark Clayton had a good game against Denver last year.  I can see his quickness on the perimeter creating some problems with quick 3 step drop passes.  The Ravens might even want to set those up with a deep ball here and there.  After all, McNair’s questionable arm strength will get assistance from the light Denver air.
 
As for Jamal, he’s certainly in the twilight of his career.  The wear and tear seems to be slowing him down.  And I agree, the Jamal we once knew is no only available on the highlight reels.
 
When it comes to running backs, they appear to hit the proverbial career wall much sooner than other positions.  The first one that comes to mind is Marshall Faulk.  When Faulk entered the 2002 season at the age of 29, he had just completed four successive seasons in which he rushed for over 1,300 yards.  During those 4 seasons he had averaged 273 carries for 1,360 yards and 5 yards per carry.  From 2002-2004, Faulk dropped to 202 carries, 848 yards and 4.1 yards per carry on average.  That’s a drop off of nearly 38%!
 
Jamal is now 27 and one would have to concede that Jamal’s style is more aggressive, rugged and more physically demanding than that of Faulk.  So it is reasonable to conclude that Jamal is at least as likely as Faulk to see a steep drop off in productivity given his style of running and the resulting wear and tear.
 
Jamal’s style is actually more comparable to Earl Campbell’s than Faulk’s.  In fact statistically, Jamal and the Tyler Rose are very similar through the first four seasons in which they played (keeping in mind Jamal missed the entire 2001 season).
 
In 1982 at the age of 27, Campbell’s then stellar career hit a major speed bump as injuries limited him to 9 games and 538 yards.  Campbell bounced back in 1983 to rush for 1,301 yards on 322 carries.  But after that, he hit the career wall.  At the age of 29, he began a three year tailspin that would ultimately end his career.  During those three years, Campbell totaled 304 carries for 1,111 yards and a pedestrian average of 3.66 yards per carry.
 
Last time I checked, Jamal is averaging 3.7 yards per carry.
 
Perhaps it’s time to move in a new direction or at least take a different approach. 
 
Here’s to think outside the box,
 
TL
 
24×7 ON MASN?
 
Tony,
 
Glad to see you on MASN last night, I enjoyed it.  I’ve been a Baltimore football fan since I was 5 or 6, so I am used to hearing the negativity from the fans.  It seems we can never be completely happy.  In 2000, we crushed the NY Giants 34-7, and we heard it should have been 50 something to 7.  Currently, we are 4-0, and the overriding sentiment is that our offense is not good enough to beat the good teams.  Well, we’ll see.  I think that there is a lot more upside to look forward to, then there is looming disaster. 
 
Let’s look at this week’s game.  Take away a blinding sun, a blinding hit, and a trip in the secondary, and the Ravens win by 17-21 points.  That is something I see as positive.  Because if you don’t get the breaks, and still come out with a victory, you are a force to be reckoned with.  That was against the number one defense in the NFL!  Now add that to keeping the best running back in the game to under 100 yards, and shutting down arguably one of the top 3 tight ends, the go to guy, and you have to ask yourself, who out there scares us? 
 
Besides the undefeated record, the Ravens should have convinced a lot of people that, one, their defense can shut anyone down and take the ball and score; and two, that if we get you down by 14, warm up the fat lady, because it’s over; and three, if you get us down, we can beat you on the last drive.  If given the choice of having what we have, versus what the Colts had last year into week 14, I’ll take what we have.  Because which make up is more likely to lay an egg in the post season?
 
Oh, and one more thing….   As much as I hate to see Mulitalo go down, I think we should be happy that we don’t have a Kip Vickers as our only choice.  Jason Brown looks as if he can come in and do the job, and since he is quicker than an older Mulitalo, maybe we can add some pulling runs to the left side now.   
 
Mark Considine
 
Mark,
 
You can look at any game and point to certain plays and then apply the woulda-shoulda-could-a? and contort the actual outcome of the game.  A NFL game is one of adjustments.  If Mason doesn’t lose that pass in the sun and takes it to the house, might Marty Ball have been kicked to the curb?  We?ll never know.  What we do know is the Ravens are 4-0 and things in my opinion can only get better if they do fix the obvious offensive problems.
 
Who scares us, you ask?  Cincinnati does for one.  They present match up problems for the Ravens secondary and the scenario of being down by 14 against the Bengals is a very real possibility if the Ravens don’t correct the offensive flaws and there are many.  The Ravens could very easily be 2-2 and fortunately they are not.
 
Will the Ravens get better offensively?  I believe they will and I believe they know that they have to.  When Steve McNair walked off the field after the game winning touchdown drive, Brian Billick congratulated him.  McNair’s responded by saying, We’ve got to get the first half fixed.
 
It’s a nice position to be in  first place knowing that your team can get much better.  They just need to get busy doing it and if they do, the Ravens will not be a team that opponents want to see on their schedule.
 
By the way, thanks for the props on the MASN gig.  I’ll be on every Monday from 6-7 PM to recap the Ravens with Anita Marks.  Give us a shout!
 
Please pass the KoolAid,
 
TL
 
RAVENS PUNCH LIST
 
Hi Tony,
 
Some random thoughts after watching a very entertaining game at the Vault on Sunday:
 
1. Jamal Lewis has lost it. Not only has he not come close to matching his production in the record-breaking 2003 season, he’s not even as good as he was last year! He’s still stutter-stepping, missing blocks, not hitting holes, and not breaking tackles he would have run through two years ago. It’s time Billick and Fassel look at other options – the underused Mike Anderson and the best back in preseason – Musa Smith. I give the Ravens props for signing Lewis to what is essentially a one year contract. I don’t see him back next year.
 
2. The loss of Edwin Mulitalo hurts, but it finally gives Jason Brown (and we fans) a chance to see what he can do. To be honest I would much rather see him at center or right guard, since that’s where most of our problems are. This exacerbates the loss of Brian Rimpf who showed some promise last year. But now, maybe, we’ll get to see what Chris Chester is made of too.
 
3. To my mind, the offensive game plan remains retarded. It’s all zone-blocking runs and safe passes. Where are the half back flare passes, traps, slant-ins, and fly patterns, we see other teams run? None of this is rocket science.
 
4. Having said that, I’m definitely sold on Steve McNair. It seems that when the chips are down, he can impose his will on the opposing defense as well as the offense. What a leader.
 
5. The defense remains impressive, in spite of being kept off balance for 3 quarters by the Charger play-calling. 13-7 at half time wasn’t all that bad, considering the lack of offensive production. But thankfully Schottenheimer reverted to his old "Marty Ball" tactics in the 4th quarter which allowed the Ravens to win the game. Just like Michigan State two weeks ago against Notre Dame, you should never take your foot off the pedal, Marty.
 
6. Frank Gansz needs to work on his kick-off and return schemes. The amount of yards the Ravens give up on kick offs is unacceptable. And B.J. Sams needs to relearn how to return punts. We do have another option: How would you like to see Mark Clayton in the open field returning punts?
 
How do you like this? Five paragraphs of griping and we’re still undefeated. Tony, I’m really very pleased with how the season is going and I look for the defense to feast on a little "Snake" next Monday.
 
Fran from Glen Burnie
 
Fran,
 
All valid points and concerns and I’ll address each briefly:
  1. Jamal is not the same.  Interestingly he did show a little burst in preseason that has mysteriously vanished in the regular season.  What happened?  I still think he offers value but he’s clearly just a shadow of the force he once was.
  2. I have a feeling Jason Brown will not leave the lineup again now that he’s in it.  One man’s loss is another’s gain and while no one wanted to see Edwin Mulitalo go down, this move has forced the hand of the coaching staff, a staff that sometimes needs some prodding (see Bart Scott and Casey Rabach).
  3. I have noticed more man blocking this year than in the past.  Chris Foerster emphasizes technique more than schemes.  I think productive plays on first down will help this unit significantly.  Jamal hasn’t helped.  His game doesn’t include that body lean and ability to get small in order to lean forward and pick up a cheap yard or three as the massive bodies fall to the ground.  Chester Taylor had that ability and I’ve seen it a bit with Musa Smith.  Musa is also a decent receiver out of the backfield.  It’s a mystery why they haven’t gone to that more.
  4. Agreed a quiet leader by example commander whose presence provides a higher level of confidence throughout the team.
  5. The Ravens defense will get better in my opinion as Ngata and Landry gain experience.
  6. The Kickoff coverage team has been weak and the Ravens are very aware of the problem.
Fran, I don’t see your concerns as griping.  I view them almost from the eyes of a coach and a coach is always looking for ways to improve his team.  Resting on your laurels or sitting on a lead is a recipe for failure.  Just ask Marty Schottenheimer.
 
To infinity and beyond,
 
TL

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Tony Lombardi

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Tony is 24×7 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.

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