BALTIMORE RAVENS PREVIEW
Baltimore has been one of the NFL’s consistent franchises over the past decade, first under Brian Billick and for the past three years under John Harbaugh. But they haven’t been to a Super Bowl since winning it in 2000, and after three years of coming up short in the race for the AFC North and ultimately losing road games in the playoffs, the locals are hungry for a big run—or at least one that doesn’t end at the hands of the hated Steelers (2008, 2010) or the Colts (2006, 2009), whose desertion of Charm City in 1984 hasn’t been forgotten.
Joe Flacco’s NFL career at quarterback has coincided with Harbaugh’s regime as head coach, and so far it’s Flacco who’s catching most of the…well, flack, for the postseason losses. The numbers are there, but there’s questions about his intangibles and leadership, areas where he’s judged very negatively by comparison to his main rival, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. Baltimore is 0-5 in games where those two QBs both start, and the only thing that will quiet critics is for Flacco to at least make a Super Bowl.
The receiving corps has been gradually upgraded over the last two years. Anquan Boldin was brought in last year, and this year’s new toy is Lee Evans, acquired from Buffalo. The Ravens are also willing to try anything at running back, signing Ricky Williams. I really don’t see where the latter is good for more than anything besides headlines and current starter Ray Rice is a good blend of power, speed and pass-catching ability. Rice runs behind a quality offensive line, although one that’s more speed than power.
Defense remains this team’s calling card, and the front seven is as good as any in the NFL. End Haloti Ngata is one of the ends in the game who is a reliable pass rusher out of the 3-4 set, and that pressure is made all the more potent when you bring Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis from the linebacking spots. Both players are veterans and their window for a Super Bowl run is closing fast. Lewis always plays the game with urgency and the tickings of Father Time will undoubtedly accentuate that.
The biggest problem the Ravens face is in the secondary. Ed Reed, another veteran is still playing centerfield at free safety and doing it as well as ever. His absence for the first six games of last season wasn’t as publicized as Pittsburgh’s missing Roethlisberger for four, but Reed matters to the Baltimore defense the same way his Steeler rival matters to the offense. The corners are a significant problem though, and first-round draft choice Jimmy Smith is going to be expected to contribute immediately.
Baltimore broke with a lot of veterans in the days following the end of the lockout. Nose tackle Kelly Gregg, receiver Derrick Mason, running back Willis McGahee and tight end Todd Heap were all given their release. This team has won 32 games over the last three regular seasons and gone 4-3 in playoff games, all on the road. But they want more and it has to start by beating Pittsburgh at home in the September 11 opener.
MARYLAND REACHES FOR THE NEXT LEVEL
Coming into last season, Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen was on the hot seat. After a 2-10 year in 2009, it was win or leave, and the consensus here in Baltimore area where the Notebook resides, was that the “Fridge” needed six wins and a bowl. He got eight wins and stayed in the ACC title hunt to the final week of the regular season. The administration still canned him. Tough standards, though the $2 million buyout the coach got undoubtedly soothed some wounds. Maryland brought in Randy Edsall to take over the program and there can be no doubt that the school sees itself as one that should be winning conference championships and going to quality bowl games.
Sophomore quarterback Danny O’Brien made a quick splash as the starter last year, and if he can handle learning his second new system in as many years, Maryland will have a very good passing game. Since O’Brien adjusted so quickly to the college game, I think we can reasonably assume that adjusting to Edsall’s system won’t be too big a hurdle. He’s going to be protected by a veteran offensive line, and senior running back Davin Meggett is good enough to take the pressure off.
Defensively Maryland uses a four-man front and they should be stout against the run with three quality tackles they can rotate, including redshirt freshman Andre Monroe. The weakness is going to be on the ends, where a 4-3 scheme ideally gets its pass rush. If Edsall can’t find a combination he could be forced into more blitzing, and the secondary is inexperienced. Linebacker is in good hands, led by all-conference returnee Kenny Tate.
The schedule is difficult, as Maryland didn’t shy away from scheduling up in non-conference play. They host West Virginia on September 17 and on November 12 they play Notre Dame at FedEx Field in Landover. And they don’t get any kind of warmup for ACC play—the season starts Labor Day night against Miami in a nationally televised ABC game.
I think Maryland made a mistake in letting Friedgen go, but I also think they got a good hire in Edsall. He built the UConn program from the ground up to the Fiesta Bowl. The rise to the top is going to be tougher in the ACC, but the precedent has been set—nothing less is acceptable in College Park these days.
*It's an exciting time for horse racing right now, as prestigious meets are in full swing at Saratoga and Del Mar, in upstate New York and SoCal respectively. Both meets are renowned for longshot winners and exciting stakes races are ahead for both. Visit Bloodhorse.com for updates on the doings here and at major tracks around the country.
TheSportsNotebook.com is home to an extensive archive of sports history articles along with blog posts on contemporary sports.
The museum includes past champions, great moments, personal favorites and offers e-book article compilations.
Baseball Featured History
NCAA Football Featured History
Pro Football Featured History
Basketball Featured History
Smart Layout Options
Ultra gives you full control from header to footer, either site-wide or on a per-page basis. This means that you can make your entire site share the same look and feel or create a unique look for every page.
Section Scrolling (*New)
Inspired by our Fullpane theme, full section scrolling feature allows viewers to scroll through your page design one row at a time like a presentation slideshow.