The Ravens’ Shifting Identity
For nearly a decade the Baltimore Ravens’ identity has been a defensive one, almost to the complete exclusion of the offense. For years Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs have been the poster-boys of the franchise, and offensive stars have always shone with a lesser fury. But times are changing, and we may be in store for a Ravens team that doesn’t fit previous molds.
Both Lewis and Reed are aging stars, who every year defy the averages. While they continue to be effective players, it is clear that they are getting by as much with veteran know-how as physical skill. Suggs is on the PUP list, and won’t be available until week 7. The injuries and the age couple with the ever-changing rules that favor offensive players to suggest that the Ravens have reached a crossroads in their identity.
Joe Flacco has demonstrated ability in the preseason that suggests he is ready to take his game to a new level and that the Ravens are ready to open their offense up and discard with some of their more predictable approaches. The offense boasts a star skill player in Ray Rice and a budding talent in receiver Torrey Smith. Additionally, the Ravens have begun employing a no-huddle offense that has looked dangerous in the preseason. As one NFC scout warned, the Ravens could be on the verge of becoming an offensive “juggernaut”.
We would do well to wait on such pontifications, but it seems that even the surly Ravens are adjusting to life in the modern NFL. If you ask Ray Lewis, the defense isn’t making any bones about it. “At the end of the day, that’s why we are called a team,” Ray Lewis told the team's official website. “It don’t matter who takes the lead, who does whatever. We go into games and we win games together. That’s the bottom line emphasis.”
A Plague Of Injuries
Michael Vick has always exposed himself to injuries more than other quarterbacks. This is the result of his stature (6’0”, 215 pounds, small for a quarterback) and strangely, his skill. His elusiveness and speed not only allow him to keep plays alive that other quarterbacks can’t,, but the fact that he knows this, and attempts to escape impossible situations often opens him up to shots that a lesser quarterback would wisely duck to fight another day.
A lot of fun has been made of Peyton Manning’s flops in the face of pressure, but before last season Manning had never missed a game, and Vick’s electrifying playing style is going to limit him to 12 preseason snaps.
Every year it seems that Vick is hobbled by numerous injuries that testify to his toughness and his dangerous playing style. Already this preseason he sustained a minor but briefly frightening thumb injury and nearly fractured his ribs. Many in Philadelphia are wondering if Vick can make it through an entire season (something he hasn’t done since 2006), because the options behind him are not particularly inspiring. The Eagles are loaded for bear at the moment, but they will need Vick if they hope to capitalize on their talent.
Vick himself is aware of the growing concerns over his health and playing style. “I don’t think I’m injury prone at all,” Vick told CSNPhilly.com. “It’s not something I’m going to worry about. I’m going out and play.”
The phrase “It’s not something I’m going to worry about” has an ominous feel doesn’t it? It suggests that perhaps Vick is more prone to injury than other quarterbacks and that he is choosing to ignore the fact since it can only hurt his game to second-guess his every instinct. Then there is the old voodoo among football players that someone who is trying to protect himself at all times exposes himself to a greater risk of injury.
The problem is that Vick’s approach to the game will always open him up to a greater risk of injury. He will provide electrifying moments that other quarterbacks only dream of, but he probably won’t play in all 16 games. It is admirable for a player to put his team before his physical health. Unfortunately it isn’t always the best choice, especially when that player is among the most expensive in the league and is essential to his team’s chances of winning.
The Wisconsin Connection
The Seattle Seahawks have had a three-way quarterback battle this offseason, and they have the state of Wisconsin to thank for all of the participants. Russell Wilson was drafted out of the University of Wisconsin.
Matt Flynn was acquired after his contract with the Green Bay Packers expired. Tarvaris Jackson came to the Seahawks after Brett Favre’s revenge stint against the Packers turned sour in year two, and forced the Vikings’ front office to enter a rebuilding mode and release him.
This week, the Seahawks somewhat surprisingly tabbed Russell Wilson as the presumptive starter. This makes Matt Flynn, the man whom many expected to win the job, the backup. Things aren’t all bad for Flynn.
He didn’t receive a promotion, but he did get to move to a warmer climate and he received a substantial pay raise, making him a rather expensive backup to a third-round rookie quarterback.
In a subsequent move the Seahawks cut Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson was immediately picked up by the Buffalo Bills, who then cut Vince Young. How quickly life changes in the NFL. There was once a time when Tarvaris Jackson was viewed as the one squeaky wheel on the indomitable machine that was the Vikings and Vince Young was considered the only reason the Titans ever won games. Few things are stable anymore.
A Sign of the Times
If you visit Profootballtalk.com you will notice a number of tabs beneath the main banner. The most interesting of these is the one named “Police Blotter”. We have become so inured to the fact that athletes are arrested at a rather staggering clip that we have set aside space on our websites so that we can quickly check on it.
The looming specter of high school referees officiating NFL games that count is growing more grimly real than we could have ever dreamed. In 2001, the referee lockout lasted into week 1, but then the replacements were largely from major college conferences, not “glorified high school games”. The referees from these major conferences have not crossed the picket line this time because many of their conference supervisors are also NFL referees and they additionally do not want risk their current positions for a brief stint in the NFL.
Rodger Goodell remains confident in the replacements’ abilities, if that does anything for you. For many of you it probably inspires a greater degree of suspicion. Others of you may be wondering why we need the actual officials at all if high school referees so easily replace them. But fans are no longer the only ones with severe reservations about the replacements. Players are lashing out increasingly as the season draws near.
“They haven’t been very good,” Charles Woodson told USA Today. “That’s the honest opinion. Before preseason started, I think you’re optimistic. But it’s almost like a young guy coming into the NFL. The game goes too fast for them. Now, could they go through a season and get better? Sure. But there’s going to be a lot of bad officiating going on until they catch up to the speed of the game.”
"The NFL really needs to kiss and make up with the refs," Vikings punter Chris Kluwe tweeted. "These replacements are horrible. Frankly, it's kind of embarrassing."
“I actually overheard one of the refs saying he only refereed glorified high school games,” Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz said recently. “I don’t even know what that means.”
“I would be concerned if it went into the regular season, certainly,” New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees told reporters. “It’s just like on a team, if we say we are going to put five rookies in front of you and a bunch of first-year players catching the ball and running the football around you. You just don’t have that same level of trust and confidence.”
Among the offenses already committed by the replacements: several instances of confusion over who had won the coin toss, announcing a penalty with one’s back towards the camera, twice referring to Atlanta as Arizona, incorrectly providing an extra play when a quarter had ended, declaring a runner standing on his feet down, ruling a pass had hit the ground when it had never come close, ruling a punt had landed in the end zone when it was nearly at the 5-yard line, identifying a kick returner as having been guilty of holding, ending a half on a defensive penalty, and handing out excessive celebration penalties for celebrations that have been done for years.
Uniform Power Rankings?
We are at that unfortunate time of year when anyone who decides to write about football must decide if they are going to add an artificial air of levity to the games, or if they are going to find a way to pointlessly waste time until there is something real to talk about.
ESPN has put itself firmly in the second camp. Not only did they waste an entire day throwing Mark Sanchez’s backup a birthday party, but they actually have put up “Uniform Power Rankings”. The idea here is to add the arbitrary and subjective nature of power rankings to the fairly uninteresting and effeminate discipline of fashion design. It’s as unscientific as it is pointless, but that is the four-letter network’s specialty these days.
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