Dec 312012
 

Pat Shurmur and Tom HeckertFat Jesus is probably a happy man this morning… sort of.

The Cleveland Browns have announced the firing of Head Coach Pat Shurmer after the Cleveland Browns closed a 5-11 season with a 24-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday. Shurmer was 9-23 in his two seasons as Head Coach, and his sideline miscues are well known by Browns’ fans.

But new Browns’ CEO Joe Banner also fired GM Tom Heckert, who was responsible for the improvements to the Browns’ roster that give the team hope for the future. Instead of performance issues with Heckert, it has been widely reported that Heckert expected to maintain control over the roster, something the new team isn’t in the mood to negotiate. By clearing out Heckert, the Browns get a clean slate moving forward and get to bring in their own staff. Banner issued the expected “this wasn’t an easy decision” statement, even though it was an easy decision. “This decision was not an easy one because of my relationship with Tom and Pat and the fact that they are both quality people,” Banner said. “Ultimately our objective is to put together an organization that will be the best at everything we do. On the field, our only goal is trying to win championships. I have a great deal of respect Tom and Pat, and I want to wish them and their families nothing but the best.”

While the Browns have an improved roster, and some youthful talent in Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, and Joe Haden (yes, I’m still hedging on Brandon Weeden), no one will be able to make the claim that the next group coming in won with “Heckert’s team” because the fact of the matter is that the Browns are still several players away from being able to contend in the brutal AFC North.

Nov 192012
 
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I did not want to see a complete reboot of the Cleveland Browns after this year, but after another loss, I can not stand it anymore. The Cleveland Browns need to fire Pat Shurmur today. Let Brad Childress or Dick Jauron coach the team. Shurmur is completely clueless. His play calling, lack of control over game management, and inability to play to the strengths of his football team should cost him his job. The Browns have lost 12 straight on the road, are sitting at 2-8, which puts Shurmur’s overall record at 6-20. While I will concede that the Browns are a better football team, I do not believe that is because of Pat Shurmur. Tom Heckert has drafted extremely well for this team and I believe he should be retained. I recognize with a new owner in Jimmy Haslam, that most likely will not occur, but I would think long and hard about Heckert. He knows talent, now he just needs a person to coach it.

This is the most disheartened I have ever been as a Browns fan. I am disgusted by the apparent lack of coaching ability of our head coach. Here is an example. On fourth and 1 with about 1:50 left in the game at the Dallas one yard line, Sherman called a fade to Jordan Cameron. He is the third tight end on the Browns, who has caught seven passes in the last seven games. He has no touchdown receptions on the year. Instead of running the ball with the 3rd overall pick, Trent Richardson, or play action, he called this play. An incomplete pass out of the end zone. This is just one of 15 examples I can give from this season. The most frustrating aspect about Shurmur is that he gives no explanation or appearance of being bothered by mistakes. Instead, his line is “we need to correct them.” That works with a coach of great respect like a Bill Belicheck or Tom Coughlin, not Pat Shurmur. It is time to cut ties with Shurmur and begin looking for a coach that will use the talent appropriately and change the losing atmosphere found in Cleveland. Please, Jimmy Haslam, just end the nightmare now and rid us Browns fans of Shurmur.

Sep 242012
 

Lucy, you got some ‘splaining to do….

In the end, the Ne England Patriots cannot blame this loss on utterly horrific officiating. Not when their run defense got lit up by Ray Rice and their secondary got torched by Joe Flacco, the result of an inability to apply meaningful quarterback pressure throughout the game. And not when, instead of running the ball at the end of the game, the Patriots went to the air and provided the Ravens with additional timeouts, nor when Josh McDaniels outguessed himself instead of placing his trust in the game plan that placed the Patriots comfortably in front of the Ravens midway through the fourth quarter. No, these things were on the Patriots, not on the officials.

But the officials sure didn’t help.

There were no fewer than four phantom calls*** on the Patriots, all of which led to Ravens points; the worst of which was a defensive holding call on linebacker Brandon Spikes when it was clear that Spikes was the one being held. That call led not only to Ravens points, but also to the best line of the night, when Spikes let the officials know after the game (in most unflattering terms) that Foot Locker was calling and it was time to get back to work.

(*** Update: Here is a great analysis of all the penalties called in the game. This doesn’t get into the ones not called, much to the relief of Michael Oher.)

Other than Ed Reed’s two vicious head shots (as noted by a reader… since when does Reed turn dirty?), the worst behavior of the night however belonged to Patriots Head Coach, who physically grabbed one of the officials after the game, seemingly to get an explanation as to why the winning field goal (which clearly went over the crossbar and was good)*** was not reviewed. In truth it was not a reviewable play. Of course, Belichick could have been grabbing the official to demand an explanation about a thousand different things, but he made the mistake of making physical contact. While Belichick stated after the game that he didn’t expect to be fined, the fact is that he should be, and he should be fined heavily.

(*** Update: According to former NFL Vice President for Officiating Mike Pereira,”The entire ball must pass inside the outside edge of the upright… A FG that goes over the top of an upright is not reviewable because you cannot determine when exactly the ball is directly over the pole” Judging by that interpretation, and this photo (or the video here), the Patriots may well be right that the field goal was in fact wide right. Pereira guessed that it was good, and I would say that replay would not have been able to establish otherwise. In any event, the announcers got the rule wrong.)

While I can appreciate Belichick’s frustration, he acted no better than John Fox on Monday night, or than the Ravens did in their post-game interviews after they fell to the Eagles last week. It’s not the officials fault that they suck; they just do. It is the fault of the NFL that the replacement officials are on the field to begin with, and the fault goes specifically to Commissioner Roger Goodell. But in his post-game interview, Belicjhick got far more conciliatory and wouldn’t go there, at least not as strongly as he did on the field.

“It’s our job to just go out there and control what we can control,” said Belichick following the game. That’s what we’re going to try to work on. You can’t control anything else. You’d have to talk to those guys. Go talk to the officials about the way they called the game. Go talk to the league about the way they called it. I don’t know, but we’ve got to go out and control it the best we can.”

That’s a wise statement from a head coach following a loss (are you listening, John Harbaugh?), but a coach who can keep that cool under media scrutiny, and who is as accomplished as Belichick, should have kept his head on the field as well. Frankly, I will be shocked if he isn’t fined at least $50,000 for the incident.

Back to the game… yes, there was a game last night… the Patriots will look back on this as a wasted opportunity. They dominated the first quarter to get out to an early 13-0 lead. The Ravens struck back in the second quarter to grab a 14-13 lead, only to have the Patriots drive to field right before the half to take a 20-14 lead into the half. And the third quarter and the first half of the fourth belonged to the Patriots, who struck back after an early Ravens touchdown to stake a 9 point lead, possess the ball, and seemed to be driving home the final nail in the coffin after John Harbaugh got called for Unsportsmanlike Conduct when he went on the field to intimidate an official. No John… no one (not even you) believes that you were calling a time out. The Patriots had the game locked up, and then could not convert first downs to put the game on ice. Coupled with red zone opportunities in which the Patriots were forced by the Ravens defense to settle for field goals, and you had a recipe for Joe Flacco to carve up the Patriots secondary and score 10 points in the closing minutes and pull out the one point win.

And it never should have happened. Josh McDaniels devised a game plan that took advantage of the Patriots strengths, and had an aging Ravens defense looking every bit of old and tired. And then McDaniels, for the second straight week, got in his own way and infused unneeded trickery, too much Woodhead instead of Ridley, and too many tight formations without Aaron Hernandez***. Maybe McDaniels thought he was back in Denver with the likes of Kyle Orton. Whatever it was, McDaniels’ play-calling helped the Patriots miss opportunities, and the Ravens were more than capable of taking advantage. Joe Flacco may not be the best quarterback in football, but he was good enough on this night to out-duel Brady and win the game when the Patriots failed to cash in.

(*** Update: A great raised on Patriots Life: why did the Patriots never go for two? They were up by “two scores”, meaning nine points. A two-point conversion would have given the Patriots a 10 point lead and the field goal would have only tied the game. Had the conversion failed, it would have made no difference in the outcome. Bad coaching call?)

With respect to the defense, elder statesman Vince Wilfork summed it up:”We really couldn’t get off the field,” Wilfork said after the game. “Offense played their tails off and we just left them out to dry. We can’t do that.”

How the game broke down:

When the Patriots ran:

The Patriots did not run the ball effectively, as Ridley and Danny Woodhead combined for just 71 yards on 28 carries.  Edelman had a huge loss on an ill-conceived end-around. Advantage: Ravens

When the Patriots passed:

This is where the game was “won” by the Patriots, as Brady went 28 – 41 for 338 yards, but only one touchdown. Wes Welker had 8 catches for 142 yards, while the acrobatic Brandon Lloyd caught 9 passes for 108 yards. Julian Edelman was effective until he was injured just before halftime, catching four passes, including a touchdown strike. Rob Gronkowski only caught two passes on the night. Advantage: Patriots

When the Ravens ran:

Ray Rice ran for 101 yards on 20 carries and was hard to bring down most of the night. His effectiveness, coupled with the lack of a Patriots pass rush, had the Patriots’ defense off balance. Advantage: Ravens

When the Ravens passed:

Flacco overcame a rough start to throw for 382 yards and three touchdowns, slicing through the Patriots’ secondary after the first quarter. Wide receiver Torrey Smith caught 6 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns on the same day that his younger brother died in a motorcycle accident. The Patriots’ secondary did a decent job in coverage, but Flacco had way too much time to throw and the receivers eventually got open. Advantage: Ravens

Special Teams:

Both teams had good nights here, with no major gaffes. The Patriots were able to pin the Ravens deep a couple of times, but the Ravens’ offense responded. Advantage: Even

Game Log –  

FIRST QUARTER

Patriots possession:

Patriots open in hurry up. After a quick first down to Brandon Lloyd, a botched snap and a sack defuse Patriot series. Solid punt return has Ravens set up near midfield.

Ravens possession:

Ravens open with Ray Rice carrying twice, then quick pass to Boldin comes up short.  Ravens punt and Patriots start at their own 10.

Patriots possession:

Brady to Edelman for a quick 8. Woodhead for only one, then squeezes out first down on next carry. Brady to Welker for big 59 yard gain to the Ravens 20. Ridley for no gain. Ridley for one, and the Ravens defensive players getting frisky after end of play. Referees need to keep control.  Edelman has TD in hands but Reed makes big play to force field goal attempt. Patriots connect to take early 3-0 lead.

Ravens possession:

First play is a Flacco pass picked off by Steve Gregory.

Patriots possession:

Brandon Boldin takes third down carry into the end zone. Patriots up 10-0.

Ravens possession:

Three plays and the Ravens again come up a yard short as Patriots secondary not giving Flacco receivers to throw to.

Patriots possession:

Patriots start backed up at own 8 after penalty on punt return. After an incompletion, Ridley runs for four. Brady converts to Lloyd.  Two plays later, a nice catch by Lloyd for another first down. Timeout by Ravens. Personal foul after cheap  head shot on Brady scramble. Patriots stalled by two awful officiating calls on Gronk and Edelman, settle for field goal and 13-0 lead.

Ravens possession:

Incomplete pass and short Rice run close the quarter.

SECOND QUARTER

Ravens possession:

Quick incomplete pass should have ended drive but PI call extends drive.Rice run for first down called back by Boldin hold. Passes to Pierce nets first down. Pierce again for 7! Then first down to Leach. Short run by Rice and incomplete bring up third down. Boldin comes up a yard short. Officials botch and give a measurement to the Ravens when the ball is a yard short. Then officials reverse call and grants first down. Two Rice runs for a first down before Flacco hits Torrey Smith for a touchdown pass. Patriots 13-7.

Patriots possession:

Gronk and Edelman net Patriots first down, then Brady to Edelman for another.  Woodhead into Ravens territory, then Edelman for huge loss on end around. Patriots punt and force fair catch inside the Ravens’ 10 yard line.

Ravens possession:

Flacco squeezes out first down on short scramble under pressure. Then a big pass play to Jacoby Jones to Patriots’ 36 yard line. Rice carries to 26 for another first down. A few plays later, Flacco to Pitta for a touchdown due to pathetic tackling attempts by Gregory and McCourty. Ravens 14 Patriots 13.

Patriots possession:

On second play, pass to Gronk for first down. Then defensive holding call for 5 yards. Patriots able to squeeze out a first down before a defensive contact penalty against the Ravens. Then Deion Branch gets his first grab for a first down. Then Welker for  a grab to get it inside the 10 with 13 seconds left. Incomplete pass on the next play before a touchdown strike to Edelman. Patriots go into locker room up 20-14. Brady has now thrown at least one touchdown pass in 35 straight games.

THIRD QUARTER

Ravens possession:

Rice out of the gate for a 15 yard gain. Then a bad defensive holding call against Kyle Arrington; phantom call. Two short gains to bring up 3rd and 2 which is converted by Torrey Smith. A few plays later, 32 yard reception to Smith for first and goal. rice runs it in on the next play. Ravens 21 Patriots 20.

Patriots possession:

Quick first down strike to Lloyd. Then Ridley for about four followed by an incomplete to Winslow before a first down completion to Welker. Woodhead to midfield for three and then for one. First down pass to Lloyd. Then a personal foul against Pollard to get the Patriots to the 21. Woodhead for 3. Another first down to Lloyd. First and goal. Woodhead to the 5. Woodhead in for the score. Patriots 27 Ravens 21.

Ravens possession:

Two plays in Flacco hits Smith for 37 yards. Holding call against the Ravens wipes out a fist down. Patriots struggling to pressure Flacco. Long incomplete brings up Ravens punt.

Patriots possession:

First pass is a first down strike to Winslow. Ridley loses a yard. Brandon Lloyd for 10 to bring up third and one. Ridley converts. Lloyd for another ten. Defensive holding for five yards. Pass to Welker beings up third and three. Pass to Branch… results in 15 yards with blow to the head by Ed Reed. Ridley carries it to the 4.

FOURTH QUARTER

Patriots possession:

Welker gets it to the two, but Patriots forced to settle for field goal. Patriots lead 30-21.

Ravens possession:

Pitta for four yards, then Rice for a first down. McCourty drops a pick on the next play and then a 24 yard gain to Boldin. Two Rice  runs bring up a third down on the Patriots 35. Rice stopped short on third down, and Ravens get stuffed by Chung on fourth down. Bad coaching call by John Harbaugh, given that the Ravens could have gotten the game to a one score difference.

Patriots possession:

Quick strike to Lloyd for first down. Two plays later, another first down to Welker. On third and long, Brady is incomplete to Woodhead, forcing a punt.

Ravens possession:

Backed up snide own ten, quick strike to Rice brings the ball to the 20. Holding on next play brings it back to the 10. Rice runs to the 15. Defensive holding on McCourty bails the Ravens out; another phantom call. Flacco to Jones for 21 yards, then Smith to the Patriots 42. Flacco hits Rice on a short pass and he brings it to the Patriots 10 yard line. Flacco sacked,Pena wiped out by defensive holding. Flacco hits  Smith in he end zone for a touchdown. Patriots 30 Ravens 28.

Patriots possession:

On second play, big first down catch and run by Welker. Three plays later, interception wiped out by illegal contact and automatic first down. Unsportsmanlike conduct against John Harbaugh nets 15 and another first down.Ridley for one yard and a Baltimore time-out. Patriots then take their first time-out. The crowd is pissed, but they have little room to complain; the Ravens have benefited from phantom calls all night long. Brady sacked to bring up third down. Ravens calls second time-out. Brady passes incomplete to bring up fourth down at 2:01.

Ravens possession:

Flacco to Jones for 24 yards. Pitta for short gain. Big pass to Pitta to get it to Patriots 35. Nothing for Rice inside, then an incomplete pass. Jones draws a PI call inside the 10 against McCourty… Very clear call on Devin.  Ravens kick field goal to win the game, 31-30.

FINAL SCORE: Baltimore 31 New England 30

Key Moment: Phantom defensive holding call against Patriots’ linebacker Brandon Spikes, which negated a Patriots sack of Joe Flacco by Chandler Jones and Kyle Love, and gave the Ravens a first and goal instead of a 3rd and 22 while the Ravens were still down by 9.

What should have been the key moment: John Harbaugh’s decision to go for it on fourth down despite needing to get within one score with 10:56 to go in the game. The Patriots stopped Bernard Pierce for a one yard loss, and seemingly had complete control of the game.

Game Ball: Torrey Smith, who played extremely well despite a heavy heart from losing his brother in the early morning hours prior to the game. It was a brave and gutsy performance by Smith and my heart goes out to him, despite Ray Lewis’ incomprehensible post-game comments that somehow compared the two events.

Sep 222012
 

All of the experts it seems, with the exception of Mike Ditka and John Madden, are taking the Ravens to beat the Patriots this week. While both teams are coming off of disappointing losses in Week Two, New England’s upset loss to the Cardinals has people rightly wondering about the chemistry of the offense, particularly with Aaron Hernandez out of the lineup for the next month. With the game being in Baltimore, the home field edge in a close contest is enough to push most of the experts (including all but two GiR writers) to conclude that the Ravens will pull this win out.

But there is a perception out there that the Ravens have had the Patriots number of late, and should have won the AFC Championship Game last season save for a “drop” by Lee Evans and a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff. First, it wasn’t a drop, but rather a fine defensive play by Patriots’ defensive back Sterling Moore. Second, with the exception of the Ravens’ blowout win in the 2009 playoffs, the Ravens have never beaten the Patriots. Never. The Patriots are 6-0 against the Ravens in the regular season since the franchise moved from Cleveland to Baltimore. While the Ravens are a very talented and highly competitive team, to say they have had the Patriots’ number is a massive overstatement. They won once, and they have done a good job of keeping games close. But this Week Three match-up may well be Baltimore’s best opportunity to score its first regular season win in the series when the teams square off on Sunday night.

Three keys for the Patriots:

1. Rattling Joe Flacco. Although Joe Flacco perceives himself as the best quarterback in the game, he has not done anything yet in his career to establish that opinion as a debatable fact, and his performances lack consistency, as seen last week in the Ravens’ Week Two loss to the Eagles. The key (and this is true of any quarterback) is to rattle Flacco early and often, and force him to make mistakes. Left tackle Michael Oher is not a true left tackle, and struggles against the speed rush. Look for Chandler Jones to try and disrupt the offensive attack of the Ravens by getting shots at Flacco.

2. Can Brady be effective with his cobbled together group of receivers? Strangely, the Ravens offense is currently performing better than the Patriots’ offense and the Patriots defense is performing better than the Ravens. However, the Ravens have been susceptible to the big play, and the Patriots are a big play offense. But with Hernandez out and the Ravens being one of the best equipped teams to cover Gronk, Brady will have to utilize Brandon Lloyd (who is questionable to play), Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, the newly signed Kellen Winslow, Jr and the re-signed Deion Branch. That is a problem for the Patriots, who are facing one of the more talented secondaries in the NFL.

3. Running effectively. Given the list of receivers for Brady this week, running the ball is going to be an important part of their offense, and the Patriots run blocking is capable of opening big holes for Stevan Ridley. How will Ridley do against the slimmed down Ray Lewis?

Three keys for the Ravens:

1. Pressure Brady. I can just leave this here every week, can’t I? The Ravens’ defense has yet to really gel, and the Patriots’ offensive line did not have an exemplary game against the Cardinals. If the Ravens are going to win this game, they must take Tom Brady out of his game and not allow him the time to carve up the middle of the field.

2. Big plays on offense. The Patriots through two weeks have been able to prevent big plays when on defense, which is a major step forward from the 2011 season. Torrey Smith is a dangerous receiver who is likely to draw coverage from Devin McCourty. McCourty had a thoroughly forgettable 2011 but seems to have rebounded this season. This will be a key match-up when the Ravens have the ball.

3. Balmer’s Gronk. Tight End Dennis Pitta is a mini-Gronk but looks every bit as effective. Through two games, Pitta has 13 receptions for 138 yards and one touchdown. Just as Gronk provides a difficult match-up for opposing defenses, so too does Pitta.

PREDICTION: My head says that the Ravens have enough factors in their favor to pull out the win, or even blow the Patriots out this week. My heart says the Patriots are dangerous coming off a loss, but the Ravens are also coming off a loss. In this week’s picks, I took the Patriots, but that was more of an opportunity to gain an advantage in the standings should the Patriots be able to pull off the upset. In truth, this is a game between two very talented teams, neither of whom has gelled yet, and one of whom is going to start the season 1-2. I simply don’t want it to be the Patriots, but recognize that while the Week 17 or playoff Patriots are perfectly capable of winning this game, the Week Three Patriots are not far enough along yet in their development to hold off a Ravens team that has revenge in its sights. RAVENS 28 PATRIOTS 20

Finally, no live blog this week either for the game. It’s going to be a crazy weekend in the Ghost Rat household, so hopefully I can get back to a live blog in Week Four.

 

Sep 182012
 

As a life long Cleveland Browns fan, I believed it was important for me to allow some time to elapse before commenting on the passing of Art Modell. Over the last several weeks numerous articles have been written about his life, career, and family. I am not going to spend too much time rehashing different viewpoints regarding Modell, rather I am providing you my personal viewpoints regarding Modell. For those who would like to read an excellent article and his moving the Cleveland Browns, I would refer you to this piece. I also provide you a youtube clip from when it was announced that the Browns were moving to give you a frame of reference of how the fans dealt with the loss of their beloved franchise.

Art Modell was a great ambassador for the NFL. He brought the NFL to television, played significant roles in owners meetings about the development of the game, and wanted winning football in Cleveland. With all that being said, he was a lousy business man and could not manage the business of the Cleveland Browns and more importantly good old Cleveland Municipal Stadium (aka the Mistake by the Lake). As a result, he took the greedy, least popular way to dig his way out of a hole. He up and moved the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. The city that lost the Colts to Indianapolis stole one of the great franchises in sports history and provided the financial golden ticket that was needed for Modell to have “no choice” but to move the Browns. For Modell, it was worth the hatred and anger of one city, to go and be beloved in another.

For me, this move hurt greatly. My father and I lived and breathed Cleveland Browns football. We went to training camp, we went to games where we sat in the last row of the Stadium, games in the dead of winter, and a Monday night game where Bernie Kosar threw a 95 yard touchdown pass to Webster Slaughter. We died a little inside with the Fumble and the Drive. Hell, we still talk about those losses to this day. Every year we believe this will be our year. We spend countless hours arguing over play calling, player performance, or what we would do if we were GM. All of that ended in 1995. Those four years without Browns football (some would argue they are still not playing football in Cleveland) were terrible. And when the Browns returned in 1999, our love for our team did not. To this day, we do not have the same passion we once held. Of course, if the Browns would start winning, that may change things. We have continued attending games and watch on Sundays, however there is much more cynicism about our beloved Browns. I trace this all back to Modell’s decision.

Art Modell was as loved as any owner could be. The fans saw him as the owner who cared about the team and the city. After the Fumble, he hugged Ernest Byner and told him to keep his head up. The players lauded his approach. However in the late ’80s and early ’90s those feelings started to change. He began laying the foundation for leaving Cleveland. At one point, he mismanaged his money so much, he had to borrow money from several banks just to land free agent wide receiver Andre “Bad Moon” Rison. To my knowledge, he was the only owner in the NFL losing money on his football team. Modell openly complained about the stadium and fought with politicians. By 1994, it was clear, the Browns were in serious trouble. Even though he was offered a stadium deal called the Gateway Project (where Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena are located today), he chose not to accept the offer. Then, during the 1995 season, Modell was on an airplane (owned by Al Lerner) at a Baltimore tarmac officially agreeing to move the Browns to Baltimore. Instead of selling the team and making millions, he ripped the hearts of Cleveland fans out of their chests.

By 1998, we knew that the Browns would be back in Cleveland and playing in 1999. The kicker, the new owner would be Alfred Lerner, the one who facilitated the deal between the city of Baltimore and Art Modell. In 2001, Art Modell finally received his Super Bowl trophy and to Browns fans the hatred boiled over again. From 2001 to the day Modell passed away, the hatred just simmered. However, once he died the feelings were at the forefront again. I listened to a lot of Cleveland sports talk and fan after fan hammered Modell for his decisions. It was so bad, the Modell family asked the Browns not to plan a tribute to Modell before a recent game because they knew it would not go well.

So where does this leave me today? I believe Modell did a lot of great things in his lifetime and for the cities of Cleveland and Baltimore. However, I also believe that in life, if you make a serious bad decision, that may define your legacy. In this case, I think Art Modell’s decision to move the Browns should define him and his decision to move the Browns and take football away from the Cleveland should be his scarlet letter or albatross. His Super Bowl was his just desserts and justification for moving the team, but his decision to move the Browns should keep him from ever entering the Hall of Fame. After all, Canton is a mere 90 miles from Cleveland, and having Art Modell enshrined just doesn’t seem fitting to me.

 

Sep 172012
 

The Baltimore Ravens were just full of quotes after their painful 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The target of their crowing was the poor officiating throughout the game.

According to Joe Flacco:

“I think those guys were on us tight like that the whole game and there was a lot of holding and grabbing going on … for them to make that (offensive pass interference) call was kind of crazy,” said Flacco. “He didn’t even throw a flag. He threw a blue beanie and then put his hands in the air like offensive pass interference…I mean, come on.” According to the New York Post, Flacco said after the game that the replacement refs are “affecting the integrity of the game.” Flacco said he hates complaining because he doesn’t want to “sound like a baby,” but that it needed to be said.

And this from Ray Lewis:

“The game is played the way the game is played, but there’s some serious calls the refs missed,” Lewis said after the game. “And that’s just the way it is, man, all around the league. And that, for our league to be what it is, we have to correct that. Because these games are critical. And guys are giving everything they got all across the league, but there are calls that the regular refs, if they were here, we know the way calls would be made. For the conversations to be had the way they had on the sidelines saying ‘If the real refs were here, that could would have been made.’ That shouldn’t happen. That shouldn’t be the case around the league. But it is. And we have to deal with it.”

Ray Lewis on NFL Officiating

I have two reactions to the Ravens’ crowing. First, both Flacco and Lewis are right; the officiating on Sunday sucked all across the NFL. This is a problem that really does impact the integrity of the game, and the NFL is very close to sabotaging its own product on the field. Lewis made that point far more eloquently than Flacco did, but that leads to my second point.

Both men must realize that sounding off as they did following a Ravens’ loss, was simply not that bright. Flacco said he didn’t want to “sound like a baby”, yet that’s exactly what Flacco sounded like. What seems lost on Flacco is that the officials made poor calls both ways, and the officials were not the ones responsible for Flacco’s fumble that set up an Eagles’ touchdown, nor were they responsible for his interception that also led to an Eagles’ touchdown. Flacco was a mere 22 for 42 on the day, so coming out and blasting the refs for doing a crap job is a little like the pot calling the kettle black. Take responsibility for yourself, Joe.

Lewis was more on point by noting that all payers across the league were dealing with poor officiating, and that it impacted everyone. However, he made the mistake of isolating one play (and his interpretation of it) as a specific cause of concern. That was not wise, given the play may not have been what Lewis thought it was. Lewis would have been better off to decline comment on the topic, given the fact that the Ravens’ could gain nothing by complaining about the officiating after a loss.

And while John Harbaugh referred to the officiating in the game as “chaotic” (a much more benign term than Flacco used), he at least had the good sense to accept criticism for some questionable play-calling on the part of the Ravens’ offense. And at the end of the day, no matter how bad the officiating, the Raven’s had more control over whether or not they won the game than the officials did.

The best comment on the day over officiating came from the NFL’s former Vice President for Officiating Mike Pereira, when he tweeted “I’m officially over it. The regular refs need to get back on the field. Enough is enough.”

Amen, Mike. And at least you didn’t say it after a loss.

Sep 072012
 

Editor’s Note: With the exception of PFT, most football sites will not be inclined to carry this story, but since we are primarily educators who happen to run an NFL fan blog, this is exactly the kind of story we are interested in. And while this site will not take positions in elections, or identify as a right or left leaning site, party affiliation is a natural part of this particular story. Never the less, Gridiron Rats does not endorse any political party or candidate.

Brendon Ayanbadejo is a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and is a three-time Pro Bowler. He has maintained an active political presence, advocating for passage of the FIT Kids Act and for the legalizing of same sex marriage. This latter point in itself is not newsworthy, as gay marriage is a hotly-debated topic in our society. Many conservatives have even begun to recognize gay marriage as a civil rights issue, and a generational divide seems to have been created among conservatives over the acceptance of gay marriage, with the younger generation being far more tolerant of different lifestyles.

Yet Ayanbadejo’s views have drawn the wrath of one Maryland legislator, who has gone as far as to ask the Ravens to shut him up. Maryland house of delegates member Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Democrat from Baltimore County, wrote the following letter to Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens on August 29:

Dear Mr. Bisciotti:

As a Delegate to the Maryland General Assembly and a Baltimore Ravens Football fan, I find it inconceivable that one of your players, Mr. Brendan Ayanbadejo, would publicly endorse Same-Sex marriage, specifically, as a Raven Football player. many of my constituents and your football supporters are appalled and aghast that a member of the Ravens Football Team would step into this controversial divide and try to sway public opinion one way or the other. Many of your fans are opposed to such a view and feel it has no place in a sport that is strictly for pride, entertainment and excitement. I believe Mr. Ayanbadejo should concentrate on football and steer clear of dividing the fan base.

I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a National Football Franchise Owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions. I know of no other NFL player who has done what Mr. Ayanbadejo is doing.

Please give me your immediate response.

Sincerely,

Emmett C. Burns

I have several reactions to this letter.

First, Mr. Burns has CAPITALIZATION issues. Sir, if you are a delegate in the Maryland General Assembly, please learn how to write a business letter.

Second, and far more seriously, I am utterly appalled (to use Mr. Burns’ term) that a government official would seek to deprive a citizen of their right to free speech. It is universally understood that Mr. Ayanbadejo was speaking as an individual and not as a representative of the organization. The fact that he has a higher profile than most citizens does not mean that he sacrifices his right to free speech. If Mr. Burns in unable to comprehend that simply reality, then I must question his fitness for public service.

Third, Mr. Burns’ letter is transparent in its bigotry, given Mr. Burns’ vote against the Civil Marriage Protection Act, a law allowing same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license in Maryland. And if Mr. Burns’ was truly concerned for representing his constituency, as a Democrat, then he might want to consider his party’s own platform stance on gay marriage. Simply put, this was a narcissistic attempt to shut someone down that he doesn’t agree with.

Ayanbadejo’s response to the controversy has been incredibly professional. “Just what our country was founded on, for someone to try to take that away from me, I was pretty surprised that something like that would come up, especially from a politician,” Ayanbadejo said. Regarding his political view, Ayanbadejo is unapologetic. “I just thought it was important because it’s an equality issue. I see the big picture,” Ayanbadejo said. “You know, there was a time when women didn’t have rights, black people didn’t have rights, and right now, gay rights is a big issue and it has been for a long time. And so we’re slowly chopping down the barriers to equality. We have some minority rights we have to get straight and some gay rights, then we’ll be on our way — because ultimately, the goal is to be the best country that we can be and we’re always evolving. You just look back to where we came from, and we’ve come a long way, but we still have a ways to go.”

The response of the Baltimore Ravens has been commendable. Team President Dick Cass issued a statement stating, “We support Brendon’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.” It’s both heartening and sad that a football team president gets that concept better than a state legislator.

Ayanbadejo said that Cass has been equally supportive of Ayanbadejo in private. According to Ayanbadejo, “He [said], ‘We’re in support of you, and it’s good that you’re able to voice your opinion and say how you feel… But Dick personally told me that we’re not an organization that discriminates…”

At the end of the day, this Patriots’ fan is proud of the way that the Baltimore Ravens have handled this situation and even more proud of Brendon Ayanbadejo for speaking his mind about an important issue in our society. He has been nothing but professional and respectful, and there is a certain state legislator in Maryland who could learn an awful lot from Ayanbadejo’s character.

UPDATE: Vikings’ punter Chris Kluwe, always known to be a colorful character has written a brilliant response to Mr. Burns. It is hysterical.  The letter is jam-packed with sarcasm, of which this is my favorite little gem:

Kluwe: “I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?”

Well said, Chris. Well said.

 

Aug 272012
 

So last week I grumbled that our initial poll only collected 15 votes, and asked our readers to make sure that they weighed in on our new poll. The response? We once again had 15 people cast votes in the poll (OK, 14 after me). So now I’m thinking you’re all just toying with me. :-)  OK, be that way… our traffic is consistently climbing and we are beginning to think that this little project of ours is going to work. So we’ll just keep posting polls until we find one that strikes a nerve with our readers.

Our previous poll was: Which rookie quarterback will finish with the highest quarterback ranking this season?

You responded with:

Andrew Luck, Colts (10 votes, 67%)

Robert Griffin III, Redskins (3 votes, 20%)

Brandon Wheeden, Browns (2 votes, 13%)

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins (0 votes, 0%)

This week’s poll:

The AFC North looks like a competitive division this season, as the division claimed both wildcard spots last season. The Ravens are potentially the class of the division but are showing signs of weakness on defense. The Steelers overhauled their defense and look like they might have a hard time keeping Big Ben healthy. The Bengals are on the rise, but many expect them to take a step back this season. And the Browns are… well… the Browns. So we ask you our readers for your prediction on this year’s AFC North champion.

Who will win the AFC North?

Baltimore

Cincinnati

Cleveland

Pittsburgh

Aug 142012
 

I know the preseason generally means nothing, especially for consistently good teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, after the first week of the preseason, I would be a little nervous if I am a Steeler fan. Why, because that offensive line is just plain bad.

The Pittsburgh Steelers used two early picks to draft offensive linemen David DeCastro (#24; 1st round) and Mike Adams (#56; 2nd round) in order to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright for the upcoming season. Well, after watching the first preseason game, the Steelers may want to clean up a few things, especially the offensive line because they were dominated in their game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The play was sloppy and Big Ben was not protected well at all. Was this just first game jitters or something more? And was this game a precursor to the season?

I thought the David DeCastro selection was an excellent choice as he did a fine job of protecting Andrew Luck at Stanford. With great surprise to me, against the Eagles, DeCastro did not hold up as well as expected and was pushed around. As for Mike Adams, I thought he was a reach in the second round and felt he would not do a good job of protecting Roethlisberger as Adams always struggled against speed rushers and those with brute strength. As a Ohio State Buckeyes fan, I watched Mike Adams get beat like a drum every week. If he was not getting beat, he was holding or had a false start that would stop a drive. Depending on which stats you read, Adams gave up between 1.5 to 3.5 sacks in the game to the Eagles.

Many will say, it is just the first preseason game, aren’t you overreacting ? I don’t believe so. I think that DeCastro will solidify his spot on the line and progress as appropriate. As a guard, he will provide a strong inside presence and will help the Steelers running game. In time, I think he will become an above average pass protector as well. However, Adams is going to be a liability. Again, he struggles with speed and brute strength. Go back to the tapes in college and watch as he gave up a number of big plays. I also did not find him to be a great run blocker. So, if I am the Steelers, I would be sure not to leave Mike Adams on an island.  If that occurs, I have a feeling that Ben Roethlisberger is going to be running for his life all year-long.

Aug 102012
 

Well, the Cleveland Browns open the preseason tonight and one has to wonder what kind of year it is going to be? One of great joy or one of great misery? Being the eternal Browns optimist, I believed that they were beginning to turn the corner. The last two drafts have produced several starters or potential starters, including a new right tackle, quarterback, receiver, running back, defensive lineman, corner, and safety. 

My optimism has been short-lived. Scott Fujita is being suspended for three games for stuff he did with a previous team, Phil Taylor has gone down with a torn pectoral muscle, Chris Gocong is out for the year with a torn Achilles, Joe Haden is facing a potential four game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, Trent Richardson just had knee surgery, oh and the team was just sold (to a man who once had a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers). What does that mean for the Browns management? Well, I would not feel too comfortable right now. Which in turn means that as Browns fans, I expect them to be searching for a new coach, general manager, and team president. Please note, all of this has happened since May. This gets me pondering, when will the Factory of Sadness ever end! Well, beginning tonight, I believe it will. GO BROWNS!!!!