THE GRAPEVINE: Ravens to get a “smack down” on MNF?

Lombardi's Way THE GRAPEVINE: Ravens to get a “smack down” on MNF?

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The NFL season is but 3 weeks old and about the only thing that you can predict with any degree of certainty is that the remainder of the season will be unpredictable, particularly in the AFC, which by the way and seemingly overnight, looks like the weaker conference of the two.


You aren’t as good as your best game and not as bad as your worst.  That must be music to the ears of Browns’ QB Derek Anderson whose QB rating over his last 8 games is hovering in the mid 60’s and skies above have thickening clouds.  Look for Phil Savage to create separation between himself and Romeo Crennel if the Browns lose to
Cincinnati with

at the controls. 


Here’s a staggering stat for Savage and Crennel to chew on…only two teams since 1993 have started a season 0-3 and made the playoffs. Of the 78 previous 0-3 teams, 68 ended with a losing record.  Crennel is struggling to get his arms around the Browns’ struggles.

"Why [the loss to the Ravens] turned out the way it did, I’m trying to figure out myself." 

I doubt that was the answer Phil Savage was looking for.

Terrell Suggs has certainly made a statement already in 2008 and it says that for veterans familiar with a system who stay in shape, training camp is overrated.  Suggs has shown improvement over the past few years in run support but slumped in ’07 getting after the quarterback.  With Trevor Pryce back, healthy and in great shape, Suggs should be a more menacing presence for opposing quarterbacks.


That said it will be interesting to see how the balance of ’08 unfolds for the potential 2009 free agent.  Suggs and his representatives want No. 55 to be the highest paid defender in football.  Don’t expect the Ravens to concede on that.


Bart Scott and Ray Lewis are not under contract for the 2009 season yet both are performing well under pressure.  Scott has been very effective attacking the line of scrimmage and Lewis continues to make game changing plays as evidence by his strip of Chris Perry against the Bengals and his de-cleating hit on Kellen Winslow this past Sunday against the Browns. The two inside linebackers are looking to cash in on their ’08 efforts next year at the bargaining table.  And while that may benefit the Ravens this season, it will hurt them next year when managing the cap.


Don’t be surprised to see the Ravens make a real push for a true No. 1 receiver in 2009.  Not only do they need one but it would improve their returns on investments they’ve made in Willis McGahee, Mark Clayton, Todd Heap and of course Joe Flacco.  Projected 2009 free agents Roy Williams and Lee Evans come to mind.


Another contract that the Ravens should no longer ignore is that of Jason Brown’s.  With Brown and their developing guards (Ben Grubbs, Marshal Yanda), the Ravens potentially have an interior line that could be among the league’s elite for a number of years. The longer Ozzie Newsome delays Brown’s re-signing the more it will cost and that’s less money available for them to obtain the coveted No. 1 receiver.

The Ravens have physically crushed both the Bengals and the Browns in the fourth quarter.  In the final quarter of both games the Ravens have controlled the ball a total of 26:35 out of a possible 30 minutes.  That is a beat down.  Paving the way for such clock dominance is the team’s ability to convert third downs, particularly on the ground.

So far in 2008 the Ravens are 7 for 7 on third and 1 conversions – all by running the football.  Looking back at 2007, the Ravens converted 13 of 22 third and 1’s (59%) but inside of that number is a rather staggering stat to tuck away and save for an appropriate day.  Of the 13 successful third and 1 conversions in ’07, 10 were by way of the run.  The Ravens failed only once on the ground in 2007 which by my math means they are 17 of 18 on the ground over the last two seasons in third and 1 situations.  For the record, Brian Billick’s offense was 3 of 11 (27%) on third and 1 when throwing the football.


No one expects the Ravens to dominate time of possession in a similar fashion at Heinz Field on Monday night.  That said, the Ravens will catch a break in

due to a few injuries that will sideline or limit a couple of key players and probably alter the way the Steelers play the game.


First there is the injury to Ben Roethlisberger who was battered by the Eagles last Sunday.  The Steelers’ QB is toughing out a sprained shoulder but adding to his physical woes is a sore throwing hand that was stepped on in

.  X-rays were negative but those injuries spell blood in the water for the sharks in white (aka the Ravens No.1 ranked defense) on Monday.  With a struggling offensive line and a rookie running back
Rashard Mendenhall who will be asked to pick up blitzing linebackers and DB’s flying in from all angles, Roethlisberger will look to get the ball off quickly.  Maybe Bart Scott will get a chance to even the score with Hines Ward by hitting him repeatedly within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.


And speaking of the line of scrimmage, the Steelers’ Casey Hampton has certainly presented a host of challenges for the Ravens in years past.  But the All-Pro nose guard will miss the Monday Night affair due to a groin pull.  That injury coupled with the loss of DE Brett Keisel can only mean good things for the Ravens’ rushing attack.


The stars look like they are aligning for the Ravens this Monday night.  But don’t tell that to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook.


According to Cook, “The Steelers are going to win the AFC North Division. Let’s get that straight right at the top. As badly as they played in
Philadelphia Sunday, they still are better than
Cleveland and

. They will prove that again Monday night when they smack down the Ravens at Heinz Field.

“I’m thinking something along the lines of 35-10.”

Just to prove that the statement wasn’t made in jest Cook added, “Seriously.”

Cook went on to opine that, “It’s not as if [the loss to

] was the first time the Steelers took a physical beating. It wasn’t even two years ago that they went to Baltimore and were spanked, 27-0, on a day when Roethlisberger was sacked nine times, once so hard by linebacker Bart Scott that Scott bragged afterward about feeling the air rush out of Big Ben’s body.”


Cook’s piece was intended to stir the pot and apparently it worked here in

, hence the attention it has received on local media outlets.  I’m of the opinion that Cook really doesn’t believe everything that he wrote and that’s why he has refused to join me on Saturday during The X Factor on Fox 1370 Sports Radio to defend his poorly thought out conclusion.


His argument is predicated almost solely upon Joe Flacco screwing up.  He gives zero credit to the Ravens ability to run the football and sweeps the loss of Casey Hampton under the cow pasture turf of Heinz Field as if the Steelers can drop in any old 350 pound behemoth and the results will be the same.

Sorry Cook, without Hampton Ravens’ center Jason Brown can now control back up Chris Hoke single handedly which frees up Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda to get a hat on the Steelers’ inside linebackers, Larry Foote and James Farrior.  That means their tackles will take place further down field.

And when that happens, the Ravens can give more attention to nemesis OLB James Harrison.  Those treads marks that you’ll see between the 9 and the 2 on Harrison’s jersey by the fourth quarter after the Ravens overload the left side with Jared Gaither and Adam Terry and pound Harrison and DE Nick Eason mercilessly will be the real beat down in this Monday night contest.

All things must pass and that includes the Steelers’ 13 game winning streak at home on Monday Night – a streak that nearly fell back in 2005 (Steelers won 20-19) when the great Anthony Wright led a challenged offense and the Ravens fielded a defense missing Ray Lewis.  

Here’s what the game comes down to – if Joe Flacco doesn’t gift wrap the game for the Steelers, the home team will be the recipient of Monday’s beat down, not the Ravens.

And then we’ll save Tuesday for Cook’s beat down.

Little Ronnie, come out come out wherever you are….
Photo by Sabina Moran


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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24×7 Networks, LLC’s founder (the parent of and 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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