Jan 112013
 

Pro Football Hall of FameThe Pro Football Hall of Fame today announced its 15 finalists. This year’s nominees includes:

G Larry Allen (DAL – 14 seasons, 7 time All-Pro, 11 time Pro-Bowler, 1990s and 2000s All Decade Teams, 1 time Super Bowl champion)

G Will Shields (KC – 14 seasons, 9 time All-Pro, 12 time Pro-Bowler, 2000s All Decade Team, 2003 Walter Payton Man of the Year)

T Jonathan Ogden (BAL – 12 seasons, 9 time All-Pro, 11 time Pro-Bowler, 2000s All Decade Team, 1 time Super Bowl champion)

RB Jerome Bettis (PIT – 13 seasons, 3 time All-Pro, 6 time Pro-Bowler, 1 time Super Bowl champion, 13,662 rushing yards (3.9 ypc), 200 receptions, 1,449 receiving yards, 94
touchdowns)

WR Tim Brown (OAK/LA – 16 seasons, 0 time All-Pro, 9 time Pro-Bowler, 1990s All Decade Team, 1,094 receptions, 14,934 receiving yards, 105 touchdowns)

WR Cris Carter (MIN – 16 seasons, 2 time All-Pro, 8 time Pro-Bowler, 1990s All Decade Team, 1,101 receptions, 13,889 receiving yards, 130 touchdowns, 1999 Walter Payton Man
of the Year)

WR Andre Reed (BUF – 16 seasons, 0 time All-Pro, 7 time Pro-Bowler, 951 receptions, 13,198 yards, 87 touchdowns)

DT Warren Sapp (TB – 13 seasons, 4 time All-Pro, 7 time Pro-Bowler, 1990s and 2000s All Decade Teams, 1 time Super Bowl champion, 569 tackles, 96.5 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, 4
interceptions)

DE Michael Strahan (NYG – 14 seasons, 4 time All-Pro, 7 time Pro-Bowler, 2000s All Decade Team, 1 time Super Bowl champion, 854 tackles, 141.5 sacks, 4 interceptions)

DE Charles Haley (SF – 14 seasons, 2 time All-Pro, 5 time Pro-Bowler, 5 time Super Bowl champion, 100.5 sacks, 8 fumble recoveries, 2 interceptions)

LB Kevin Greene (LA Rams – 15 seasons, 3 time All-Pro, 5 time Pro Bowler, 1990s All Decade Team, 160 sacks, 5 interceptions)

CB Aeneas Williams (AZ – 4 time All-Pro, 8 time Pro-Bowler, 795 tackles, 55 interceptions, 9 touchdowns)

Bill Parcells (Head Coach, NYG – 1990s All Decade Team, 172-130-1 record (.569), overall 183-138-1 (.570), 2 time Super Bowl champion in 3 appearances)

Ed DeBartolo, Jr. (Owner, SF – 5 time Super Bowl champion)

Art Modell (Owner, CLE/BAL – 1 time NFL champion)

A maximum of five individuals will be enshrined in 2013. Two senior nominees (former Chiefs and Oilers nose tackle Curley Culp and former Packers and Redskins linebacker Dave Robinson) are voted upon separately, for a maximum class of seven.

Jan 042013
 

Ravens-ColtsThe disintegration of the already tenuous relationship between Joe Flacco and the Baltimore fans has continued its downward trajectory along with the Ravens record after Baltimore’s 9-2 start gave way to a 1-4 finish. Nevermind Flacco’s 54-26 record in Baltimore or that since taking over as a rookie in 2008 he has become the only QB in history to lead his team to at least one post season victory in each of his first four seasons. It has gone virtually unmentioned the Flacco has improved in every single major statistical category from 2011 to 2012; as it’s the drop in wins from last season’s 12 to 10 that has the championship thirsty city on edge. His 309 yard 2 TD performance in Baltimore’s week 16 decimation of the Giants seemingly has gone unnoticed. Perceptions couldn’t have changed more dramatically than they have for Flacco who less than a calendar year ago executed a near perfect 2 minute drive in the AFC Championship only to have the NFL gods strike down and snatch victory at the last moment. Nonetheless, for the fifth time in Flacco’s five years—and second as division champion-the Ravens are heading to the playoffs.

For the opposing side, the Colts Andrew Luck has earned in 16 games a level of adulation from the city of Indianapolis seemingly reserved for the likes of only Peyton Manning. His 7 game winning drives are the most by an NFL QB since 1970 and no rookie in this stellar class has been asked to do more downfield with so little in the backfield (there is no Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Trent Richardson, or even Reggie Bush in the Colt lineup). Luck had dropped back nearly 650 times and only 4 QBs have been sacked more, nevertheless, Luck has nearly single-handedly resuscitated and transformed a team that was 2-14 just a year ago into an 11-5 contender.

In the 28 years that have elapsed since Robert Irsay drew the ire of the city of Baltimore by jetting for Indianapolis in a move that made economic sense and Jim Irsay drew equal ire from the city of Indianapolis by jettisoning Peyton Manning (another fiscally prudent move) much has changed. Manning brought a pair of AFC Titles and a Super Bowl to Indianapolis and Art Modell brought a team and title to Baltimore. As playoff opponents this marks the third meeting between the two franchises. The first two acts took place in Indianapolis and left much to be desired as Baltimore has managed only 12 points total. The most recent post season matchup with the two ended in a 20-3 Indy route in 2010 and marked Manning’s final victory in a Colt uniform.

The Keys for Indianapolis
Lining up for their 17th game, don’t expect wholesale differences for the Colt’s or any other team for that matter this late in the season (i.e. the Colts will not suddenly develop the ability to control the line of scrimmage or add a ground game to add balance to their attack). More than a touch of Luck will be required for the Colts to move on and they will need Luck to be every bit the quarterback that passed for more than 4,300 yards, was rivaled by only Flacco for most 20-plus yard completions, and posted 7 game winning drives.

The Colts will have their hands full handling Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs and the only hope to improve on the 104 yards per game they rushed for is if Anthony Castonzo can withstand Ngata’s pressure versus the run. Unfortunately for the Colts, RB Vick Ballard has only one carry of over 25 yards this season and Ngata spent week 17 re-charging his batteries. Factor in the return of Ray Lewis and it is likely the Colts will be at their one dimensional worst.

The Colts will have to do anything they can to factor in as many five-man routes as possible, giving Luck as many options as possible. His ability to get the ball deep has been a revelation considering the lack of a ground threat and while his tendency has been to go deep he will need check down options available. Luck’s ability to dissect the Ravens’ defense will be pertinent, and he has the perfect coaching scenario to help him identify those keys and giveaways. Chuck Pagano—prior to taking the Colts job—took a tour as defensive coordinator in Baltimore and knows their personal better than anyone.

The Colts 28-16 victory last week against Houston marked their first win over a winning team since early October and came despite being outgained by over 100 yards. Yet, Luck was able to do enough to exploit the secondary to notch the win in Pagano’s return. If Luck can continue his third down success that has masked the run deficiencies and the Colts utilize the other subtle qualities they bring into the game—namely returner Deji Karim’s recent explosiveness and Pagano’s knowledge of the opposition—they can find a way. It has been just that, the ability to find a way, which has positioned them at 11-5 despite being the only team in the post-season with a negative scoring differential.

Defensively the Colts will need to do what they can to limit Rice’s effectiveness between the tackles; if they can force him outside they can utilize what is perhaps their only asset against the run—their sideline to sideline speed. Like Luck, Joe Flacco has been victimized by a leaky offensive line. The Colts will hope to touch up Flacco and will need Vontae Davis to build on his two interception performance of last week and match up with speedster Torrey Smith.

The Keys for Baltimore
While defense has been the Baltimore calling and the names Suggs, Reed, Ngata, and Lewis still appear on the marquee a win for the Ravens will likely have to be attributed to the ability to exploit obvious weaknesses in the Colt defense. The Colts defense has allowed 137.5 rushing yards per game. While solid in pursuit, they fail to hold up well versus running backs that do damage between the tackles. Enter Ray Rice: the Ravens have won 23 of the 26 games when Rice has at least 25 carries. The Ravens will look to establish strong play by their tackles to allow Rice to control the pace of the game and effectively approach that 25 carry magic number.

In the passing game, the same group of tackles that will be key to springing Rice to a good game on the ground will have to do a better job than they have this year of protecting Flacco. When protected, Flacco can be accurate and effective and the Baltimore offense more than efficient. The Ravens thrashed the Giants for 533 yards in week 16 and, despite all the late season offensive turmoil, have averaged nearly 32 points per game at home. Baltimore has their own man from the other side in Jim Caldwell who manned the Colts sideline in both a tight Super Bowl loss and last season’s 2-14 debacle. Caldwell has spent the last month calling the plays for Baltimore and though results have been mixed he does have knowledge of Colt personnel.

There is not enough that the Colts can do to gain effectiveness against a Raven’s defense that will look to feed off of the emotional return to the lineup of Ray Lewis. While the Baltimore defense has lost a step or five they still hold enough advantages to boil things down to one focus: the ability of Ed Reed and the secondary to ground the third down passing attack that has been at the crux of Luck’s ability to bail out the Colts offense all season long.

The Outcome
The Pagano story has rightfully captured the hearts of NFL fans everywhere and has made the Colts a post season rooting favorite for fans that don’t have a horse in this race otherwise. If the sentiment of Ray Lewis potentially playing his last game at home can be trumped then it is Pagano’s remarkable return to the sideline after battling leukemia that has deserving done so. Though the luster seems to have faded from Baltimore many weeks ago it will be quite a challenge for the Colts to do what no team has done in the Flacco era and the Ravens to a winless post season.

Is Luck enough to lead a team that takes the field with 28 men playing their first postseason game? Baltimore is better on defensive and their running game foils the Colts direct weakness against the run. Furthermore, Jacoby Jones and the elite return game has the potential to exploit Indianapolis’ struggling coverage unit. This will be Ray Lewis’ last home game, but it won’t be his last game. The Ravens have too many advantages and they are at home. This week being pretty good is better than having ‘Luck’ on one’s side.

Baltimore 30 – Indianapolis 21

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.