Opponents' Penalties Up Sharply Over '09
SPEED, TECHNIQUE CITED FOR FOES' FLAGS
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- Even though Todd Heap and Anquan Boldin are the Ravens' two most productive receivers, neither one of them is known for having blazing speed. But in the modern-day NFL, they have more than enough mobility and savvy to cause defensive penalties, as each one did last Sunday in Pittsburgh.
Early in the second quarter, Boldin got past Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden for what would have been an approximate 30-yard gain had he been able to gather in Joe Flacco's pass. But McFadden was beaten on the play, and his desperation moves caused a flag to be thrown.
One series later, Heap got free for a long downfield throw, but ex-Ravens linebacker and Steeler veteran James Harrison was called for defensive holding.
Thanks in part to plays like those, the Ravens induced a staggering 42 opponent penalties in the season's first quarter, 17 more than at the same juncture in 2009. The 329 yards Baltimore received through those infractions is only 15 less than Tennessee's league-high 344 penalty yards.
"I don't know if the speed's been a big part of forcing the penalties," head coach John Harbaugh said. "But it's been good technique, being in the right spots. We've been in pressure games and pressure situations, but we have to keep building on it."
The win in Pittsburgh certainly qualifies as a pressure cooker, but it was the Steelers who melted under the glare of 11 penalties, the second time in four games a Ravens opponent has committed double-digit infractions (the New York Jets were called for 14).
And it's not just coming from the skill-position players.
Opponents like the Steelers who are eager to get after a young quarterback like Joe Flacco have jumped offsides on more than a few occasions. The Ravens often use that same kind of speed when they rush, but so far, they have been a lot more judicious and disciplined than the teams they have played.
"The 'backers are fast-flowing," tackle Marshal Yanda said in addressing the dilemma. "It looks like they're going to stick in that gap and 'boom,' they're across the top and you got to take into account the speed of the linebackers and the speed of the defensive ends. They can really get off the ball now. [Speed] definitely affects us, too."
Twenty years ago, it would have been unthinkable to see a linebacker or a defensive lineman run a 40-yard dash in under five seconds. Now, such a clocking is commonplace, which can cause consternation for a skill-position player who thought he could avoid tacklers as easily in the NFL as he did in college.
The first play of Super Bowl XXXV said things had changed.
With New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins under center, Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams jumped offsides. Many fans may have interpreted that as a nervous twitch, a sign the Ravens were too amped-up to succeed on that day. But when the CBS camera went to Collins, his eyes were as big as saucers. Presumably, he couldn't have imagined Adams was that fast off the ball, and he'd probably be just as amazed at what players like Haloti Ngata can do today.
Ngata turned in one of the finest performances of his career in Pittsburgh with a team-high 11 tackles, a sack, two tackles for losses and two of the team's three quarterback hits. Lewis thinks an Adams-Ngata comparison is appropriate.
"The value of him is that, overall, he controls," Lewis said of Ngata. "We've spoken about him being what Sam Adams was back in [the Super Bowl] days. He has a gift with his humility and the way he plays the game. His talent speaks for itself, but more importantly, people love playing with him. That's the kind of person he is. It's why I'm excited to have him here. He's so humble a person, it just carries over."
Apparently, it has rubbed off on the entire roster, according to Lewis.
"I think with this team, we have a lot of speed in a lot of different places," he said. "Everywhere from every position on the field, offensive and defensive. When you look ard when you watch film, that's when you notice it the most. We have a bunch of guys who can flat-out run, which is a good thing."
PARITY PARTY: Through four weeks of action, there is only one unbeaten team left in the NFL, but Kansas City's run will end when it faces Indianapolis in Week Five.
The post-merger record for having all teams get saddled with one loss was 1970 when everyone had been beaten by the end of Week Four. If you believe in omens, the Baltimore Colts won the Super Bowl that year.
Even back then, commissioner Pete Rozelle dreamed of a day when every team would be in contention every week. You may call it "parity" or "parody," but his vision has come true.
Thirteen of the league's 32 teams are sitting at 2-2 at the quarter pole. There is one unbeaten team and four winless teams, leaving 14 more squads with one loss or one win.
In all, a record 23 teams are either in first place or within one game of the lead in their respective divisions. In fact, the NFC East and NFC West have a trio of 2-2 teams leading those divisions, while in the AFC South, there are a trio of 2-2 squads within one game of the Houston Texans.
All of this turmoil has caused widely divergent opinions in the weekly "power rankings" various sites issue on Tuesdays.
Usually, you can count on any given team being in a three-slot range in the various rankings surveys. But that's not the case with the Ravens. Their rankings this week range from being right at the top (CBSSports.com) to No. 6 (ESPN.com, which ranks Pittsburgh on top).
WHERE ARE BRIAN AND GOOSE?: Former Ravens head coach and current Fox network analyst Brian Billick knows all about rumor and speculation.
Billick is working with play-by-play partner Thom Brennaman this Sunday on the Tampa Bay-Cincinnati game at Paul Brown Stadium. The last time those teams met at that site was in 2002 when the star of the Bucs' 35-7 rout of the Bengals was someone whose name was attached to Billick's for quite some time.
Just two weeks after shutting out the Ravens in their home opener, 25-0, Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson threw for three touchdown passes against the Bengals, further burnishing his resume as one of the game's best, but most underrated, signal-callers.
Johnson was one of the quarterbacks tutored by Billick during his days as offensive coordinator of the explosive Minnesota teams of the late '90s. Every time a Ravens' signal-caller would falter under Billick, the rumor mill would buzz Johnson was on his way here, which he never was.
As for ex-Ravens defensive tackle and Fox sideline reporter Tony Siragusa, he and booth partners Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston will have a good game to call between the New York Giants and Houston Texans. Both teams are coming off impressive wins last week.
Speaking of sideline reporters, former Loch Raven High, Towson State and NFL punter Sean Landeta will work the sidelines for Westwood One's radio coverage of the Minnesota-New York Jets game, one with ex-Maryland quarterback Boomer Esiason in the radio booth.
ALUMNI REPORT: PressBox draft analyst Matt Zenitz reported Carver High (Towson) grad Joel Gamble, a combination tight end and fullback, has been signed to the Tennessee practice squad. Gamble's NFL quest, making NFL stops in Cleveland and Philadelphia, was featured in PressBox.
Two former Ravens defensive tackles have latched on to rosters. Amon Gordon has signed with the Titans, believed to be his fourth NFL team, and Howard Green has re-upped with the New York Jets.
TRIVIA TIME: At times, Billick and Marchibroda called their own plays and acted as their own offensive coordinators. Besides those two and Cameron, how many offensive coordinators have the Ravens officially had?
ANSWER: As a testament to the kind of help the offense has needed throughout most of the Ravens' history, there have been a total of six offensive coordinators -- Matt Cavanaugh, Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel, besides Cameron and the team's first two head coaches.
Cavanaugh held the job for six years before being fired in 2004 and heading to the University of Pittsburgh, where he was a quarterback. Currently, Cavanaugh is on Rex Ryan's New York Jets staff.
Former NFC champion coach Jim Fassel graduated from a senior offensive consultant to be the Ravens' offensive coordinator. However, he was fired during the 2006 bye week as Brian Billick, his longtime friend and rival, took over the play-calling himself. Billick and Fassel coached against each other in Super Bowl XXXV.
The final coordinator before the Harbaugh/Cameron regime took hold was former UCLA quarterback and current Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel.
Neuheisel had been exiled from the college game for participating in a betting pool while at the University of Washington. He often said coaching on Saturdays rather than Sundays appealed to him, and that's where he wanted to be.
Posted October 6, 2010
For a practice report and a look at new signee Scott Kooistra, visit CSNBaltimore.com.