THE GRAPEVINE: Ravens to get a visit from an old friend

Lombardi's Way THE GRAPEVINE: Ravens to get a visit from an old friend

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Quarterbacks are so overprotected in today’s NFL that the integrity of the game – the game that the founding fathers of the league envisioned, is now seriously being challenged. NFL analysts have suggested without a trace of sarcasm or tongue-in-cheek intent that quarterbacks should be considered down after a two-handed touch.

Overly inflated fines are being levied by the league for little love taps to the helmet. Just ask Haloti Ngata who made that mistake against league princess Tom Brady.

Now those roles have been reversed.

On Monday Night Football before a national audience (at least those who were enjoying some form of energy drink and were still awake), Brady Quinn took an unnecessary shot at Terrell Suggs knee after Quinn tossed a pass that ended up in the wrong hands – those of Ravens nickel back Chris Carr. The blow will put Suggs on the shelf for at the very minimum 2 weeks but more likely it will be 4+ weeks. The injury puts a serious dent in the Ravens’ playoff chances, a team already struggling to rush the passer.

Cheap, unnecessary, a foul born out of frustration and arguably malicious intent…

Is Suggs’ knee any less valuable than Quinn’s? If Suggs took that shot at Quinn while he was in the pocket and as defenseless as Suggs was on the interception return, wouldn’t he receive a major fine?

Quinn’s fine should be no less.

And he better keep his head on a swivel the next time he shows up at M&T Bank Stadium.

 
(Video: Suggs hit on knee by Quinn)

 
(Video: Dwan Edwards decks Joshua Cribbs)
 
The Ravens lost another valuable contributor to injury on Monday when special teams ace Haruki Nakamura went down on the opening kickoff after suffering a broken ankle. Although no official word has come down yet, Nakamura seems destined for injured reserve which would then free up a roster spot for the Ravens.

Will they promote a practice squad player or might they scour the waiver wire to fill the 53 man roster spot to be vacated by Nakamura?

Here’s a suggestion – Lorenzo Neal.

Cameron’s Crew has struggled to find an identity on offense and many have suggested that the team revert back to the three-headed monster approach with Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. The trouble with that approach is that McClain no longer has the lead blocker that he had in 2008 with Neal.

Granted it is difficult to justify taking carries away from Ray Rice at this point. But if the Ravens are successful at developing an offensive identity and that is one of balance, it may be wise to have the jumbo style backfield to grind it out late in games during the cold, inclement weather months while featuring McClain and Neal. Of course this is all predicated upon Neal being in decent shape.

Even if the Ravens don’t bring back Neal, Cam Cameron would be wise to get the ball in McClain’s hands more frequently. The 2009 Pro Bowl fullback has been very productive as a pass catcher and his efforts with the ball have often moved the chains and sustained drives. If the Ravens can feature McClain as a receiver more, opposing defenses will be forced to assign additional resources to defend him and that could free up slot receivers or tight ends over the middle.

Speaking of tight ends, it is borderline mind boggling how Cam Cameron can’t find a way to get Todd Heap more involved in the offense and producing more explosive plays. Cameron had a high degree of success with Antonio Gates in San Diego and Heap has often represented a mismatch when flanked outside of the tackle box. Equally surprising is Cameron’s inability to incorporate LJ Smith into the game plan. Smith is an athletic receiver and along with Heap they would pressure opposing safeties and linebackers and force defensive coordinators to account for the potentially dangerous duo. That could help free up space on the outside for Joe Flacco who very clearly prefers to throw the ball outside of the hash marks.

Early in the season the Ravens did an excellent job of spreading the ball around on offense. That keeps all players engage, alert and contributing with more enthusiasm. Lately players like Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington have disappeared.

Kelley Washington is a big target who possesses solid hands and athleticism. It’s time the Ravens handed him the No. 2 receiver position over struggling Mark Clayton. Washington’s size is more conducive to throws inside the hash marks and he increases the margin for error. Slightly errant throws like the somewhat high pass to Clayton on a slant against the Browns that should have gone for a touchdown (thank you very much ESPN for the lame replays) would be less challenging for Washington. His size also helps in tight coverage against smaller defenders. Clayton can’t enjoy that kind of advantage because of physical limitations.

Matt Birk seems to be struggling. Word surfaced during the game in Minnesota that his pre-snap movements were tipping pass plays and placing unwelcomed stress on the offensive line. Some have opined that he continues to tip plays. While that could be true, the Ravens offensive line has just played poorly as of late, particularly inside the tackles. Perhaps a line-up change is in order. Marshal Yanda could and should be the next man up.

And finally, the Colts visit Baltimore again on Sunday and the fan experience is almost always surreal. Those of us who were Baltimore Colts fans are still left somewhat breathless when the day’s enemy is wearing the colors we collectively loved. For my money, they are the league’s best uniforms.

Over time, the level of surreal has lessened but this week I expect it to perhaps reach unprecedented levels when Matt Stover takes the field wearing his traditional No. 3 and sporting a horseshoe on his helmet.

A Raven from the beginning, seeing Stover on the visitor’s bench could hurt like hell, particularly if his foot puts a dent in the Ravens’ playoff aspirations.

 

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

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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