Ryan Seen As Better Than Flacco? It Doesn't Add Up
NOTEBOOK: NGATA, MCKINNIE RETURN; STEELERS' RETIREMENT IDEA
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- The memory seems just as fresh as it is painful for Ravens fans.
Two years ago, the Ravens traveled to the Georgia Dome to play the Atlanta Falcons -- as they will next week to open the preseason -- for a nationally televised Thursday-night game between two quarterbacks whose careers have seemed to be on parallel planes.
Because they are two of the league's best young quarterbacks -- indeed, they were drafted the same year (2008) -- Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are often mentioned in the same breath. This was their first (and, so far, only) head-to-head regular-season meeting.
The game lived up to the billing. Both signal callers threw three touchdown passes and both gave their teams chances to win.
Flacco's 72-yard, eight-play drive late during the fourth quarter ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap with 1:05 to go and gave the Ravens a 21-20 lead. Could the national perception of the duo have changed if that score had held?
We will never know, because Ryan took his team 80 yards and seven plays during the next 45 seconds. The capper was a 33-yard catch-and-run play by Roddy White, who shoved down cornerback Josh Wilson before the ball arrived, but no penalty was called.
The Falcons won, 26-21, and Ryan continued to be hailed as the better of the two Class of '08 draftees.
But the Ravens don't have to apologize for Flacco's record -- an NFL-record 44 regular-season wins during the first four seasons of his career -- and they certainly aren't thinking about revenge next week during a mere preseason game when many in-house questions of their own need to be answered.
But the fact that Ryan -- with 43 wins during the same four-year period -- is nationally seen as being the better quarterback certainly has to trouble the Baltimore organization as much as it does the fans.
That being said, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron notes that most of the league's successful young quarterbacks deserve credit for making a most difficult transition.
"I just think the league in general makes it tough on young quarterbacks," Cameron said. "And, defenses and defensive coordinators [make it tough on young quarterbacks]. I really marveled last year at how some of the young guys came in and did what they did, because I think in a lot of ways, the college game and the pro game are becoming more and more different.
"I think, first and foremost, credit goes to Joe [Flacco] and the amount of hard work he has put in and always does. He's always wanting to learn. So, you give the credit to him. I think things are just maturing and growing, getting better. He still can keep getting better and better and better, and no one knows it better than him."
Flacco and Ryan have had nearly identical statistics in several categories, in addition to their win totals.
Both have thrown 46 interceptions, both have career completion percentages of almost 61 percent and Ryan's 88 passer rating isn't far above Flacco's 86.
Ryan's comeback win against the Ravens is one of 16 career fourth-quarter or overtime wins. Flacco has 11, including one during the playoffs (Tennessee, 2008) and two at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.
But the Ravens' signal caller has been better than Ryan during the postseason.
Flacco is the first quarterback in post-merger league history to make the playoffs during each of his first four seasons, and the first rookie to win two postseason games during his maiden season. His 5-4 playoff mark includes four road wins.
Ryan is 0-3 with losses to Arizona in 2008, Green Bay (at home) in 2010 and the New York Giants last year. Despite that dismal mark, there are three easily discernible reasons for Ryan's preeminent position in the pavilion of perception.
First, Ryan was a top-five draft pick, while Flacco wasn't taken until the 18th overall selection. Secondly, Ryan attended a bigger school: Boston College to Flacco's Delaware.
But perhaps the most important reason is this: nature abhors a vacuum, and Ryan stepped into a big one when former Falcons starter Michael Vick's fall from grace was just as spectacular as the dazzling style with which he played.
It really wouldn't have mattered who stepped into Vick's shoes; Ryan was going to be heavily scrutinized and publicized. He was Atlanta's version of Doug DeCinces following Brooks Robinson.
Also, it was Ryan's team that adjusted more quickly to the pass-happy era the NFL now enjoys.
It beat the Ravens to the punch by acquiring productive, fast receivers that can stretch the field like White, Michael Jenkins and Julio Jones. That has led to Ryan's only real statistical advantage against Flacco; he has 95 touchdown passes to Flacco's 80.
But Baltimore may be ready to answer in kind with the Torrey Smith-Jacoby Jones-LaQuan Williams-Tommy Streeter quartet, providing all four make the roster.
With options like those, Flacco could have the opportunity to audible more often, a characteristic of his game most think simply isn't there. Cameron doesn't agree with that.
"Joe has a lot of flexibility," Cameron said. "It varies from game to game. Sometimes it's not always tied into what the quarterback can do. It depends on your offensive line.
"… There are a lot of factors that go into your ability to audible. I guess the best way for me to word it is there is nothing that we wouldn't be able to do with Joe Flacco at quarterback from any aspect of the game."
Cameron wasn't talking about Ryan, but his words could also mean that, despite outsiders' perceptions, there's nothing Ryan can do that Flacco can't.
And even though their next meeting won't garner the attention their last one did, maybe the result won't be as painful for Baltimore fans.
MCKINNIE, NGATA RETURN: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (hamstring) passed his conditioning test Friday morning -- "with a dive at the end," according to head coach John Harbaugh -- and reported to his first training-camp practice, as did tackle Bryant McKinnie (back).
With Ngata's return, the Physically Unable To Perform list is down to two: guard/tackle Jah Reid (calf) and wideout David Reed (knee). Linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles) remains on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury sheet.
Along with Ngata and McKinnie, guard Bobbie Williams came back to the workouts, but backup tackle Paul Madsen was cut. Madsen's release means that defensive end Terrence Moore is now the only player wearing No. 79.
Also not practicing were the following: cornerback Cary Williams (unknown), fullback Vonta Leach (idled), defensive end Arthur Jones (hip flexor), cornerback Jimmy Smith (back), tight end Dennis Pitta (hand), linebacker Courtney Upshaw (shoulder), linebacker Josh Bynes (unknown), running back Bernard Pierce (hamstring) and wideouts Patrick Williams (unknown) and Tandon Doss (hamstring).
Center Matt Birk missed a fifth consecutive day, as Harbaugh revealed for the first time that his veteran center is suffering from back spasms.
PRACTICE REPORT: It was back outside for the shorts-and-shells-clad Ravens on Friday afternoon, their last workout at the Under Armour Performance Center before the 5 p.m. practice at M&T Bank Stadium practice.
Parking lots open at noon for cold tailgating and the gates will open at 3:30 p.m. The practice is expected to last until approximately 7:45 p.m.
Harbaugh praised the entire Ravens organization for what he has seen as a smooth-running training camp. But he did send out a caveat about the stadium practice.
"It's a ramped-up atmosphere," Harbaugh said. "Last year, some of our young guys let it overwhelm them. You have to learn to block that crowd out and just play football."
The players are off Sunday and will practice Monday and Tuesday before flying to Atlanta on Wednesday for the first preseason game (7:30 p.m., Thursday; WMAR-TV, WBAL Plus; WIYY-FM), a contest for which the Ravens do not intend to have a game plan.
A few Friday practice highlights:
- Rookie kicker Justin Tucker took all the repetitions Friday afternoon as Billy Cundiff took his day-off turn. Tucker was 5-for-6 during the early period, missing only from 60 yards on a kick that was just short.
- Nose tackle Terrence Cody found himself in space chasing quarterback Tyrod Taylor out of the pocket. Omar Brown got an interception as a result. Later, Taylor rifled touchdown passes to LaQuan Williams and Dorian Graham.
- For one of the few times during camp, sixth-round rookie receiver Tommy Streeter bent his 6-foot-5 frame all the way to the ground to catch a pass, doing so with cornerback Danny Gorrer draped all over him.
- Guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Kelechi Osemele seemed in sync on seal blocks during a Ray Rice run. But center Gino Gradkowski didn't fall in line on that play, and Ray Rice went nowhere as a result.
- Seventh-round draft pick DeAngelo Tyson has been solid during camp, but not that spectacular. But he did tip a pass at the line of scrimmage and, two plays later, clog the middle on a Damien Berry run that went nowhere.
- One especially bad repetition came the way of backup nose tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, who nearly jumped offsides, got back in time, then got double-teamed as a pass easily sailed over his head.
- Lardarius Webb dove for an interception of a pass that had slipped through the hands of running back Bobby Rainey. Also, Berry would have been plastered on a lead play by Chavis Williams if the drill had been live.
- There were a couple of notable coverage mistakes; LaQuan Williams got open behind a seemingly lost Chykie Brown, and Brendon Ayanbadejo didn't pick up Torrey Smith down the seam as he got free for a touchdown. But Ayanbadejo later broke up a seam pass for Anquan Boldin.
- One of the fans watching practice yelled "Blitz!" as Sean Considine bore down on Tyrod Taylor, but it didn't have much effect.
- Quarterback Joe Flacco had another ultra-accurate day, including some throws to unfamiliar receivers such as tight end Jonathan Stupar and a tight-window low throw into the end zone that was grabbed off the top of the turf by backup Devin Goda. During 7-on-7 drills, three receivers dropped some of Flacco's missiles.
- As practice ended, grizzled veteran guard Yanda reminded the team, especially the younger players, to embrace the grind. As a sign of his leadership, Yanda walked onto the field with McKinnie as the latter hit the field for the first time.
- The Maryland Special Olympics sent many of its athletes to the Ravens' practice, and many of the players greeted them warmly after the workout.
- ESPN reporter and former WBAL-TV (Channel 11) staffer Lisa Salters was in town to do prep work for the Ravens' home opener. Salters is the new sideline face of "Monday Night Football," and she will be at M&T Bank Stadium for the Sept. 10 lidlifter against Cincinnati.
RETIREMENT PARTY: Ravens fans probably won't like this suggestion, because the idea was generated in Pittsburgh, but it's an intriguing concept nonetheless.
The Steelers' organization is inviting back former players such as Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, Willie Parker and Marvel Smith to announce their retirement in front of the fans at a training-camp practice at St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, Pa.
Even though Parker and Marvel Smith have been out of the game for some time, it seemed like a good idea for them and the other two players to have a victory lap of sorts in front of their fans.
Because the Ravens no longer train at a college, they could have used an occasion such as Saturday's M&T Bank Stadium practice to do the same thing with Derrick Mason, even though he has already held a retirement press conference.
It's a given that Mason would lap up the attention, what with 20,000 or more fans in the stadium cheering for him on what is supposed to be a sunny, beautiful day.
Not only that, it would lay the groundwork for a probable Ring of Honor ceremony for Mason, which would not take place until next year at the earliest because of Jamal Lewis' scheduled ceremony this September.
Because the Ravens are so bent on giving at least some semblance of the Westminster experience back to the fans, maybe this is something they could think about next summer. ... That is, if someone else retires by then.
FOOTBALL-YMPICS?: Commissioner Roger Goodell told "The Dan Patrick Show" recently that he thought football should absolutely be an Olympic sport.
Goodell said he had been keeping abreast of International Olympic Committee guidelines for a sport to gain inclusion in the games. He pointed to the fact that 64 countries now play American-style football, as opposed to 40 just a few years ago.
The commissioner has had his eye on globally growing the game for some time, what with regular-season contests being played in Mexico City and London -- there is talk of two games in England next year -- as well as momentum toward an expansion franchise in the city is currently hosting the 30th Summer Olympiad.
But there would have to be some sort of global competitive balance evident before the IOC would even consider some kind of move.
The United States occasionally lost in baseball and softball, two sports that were taken off the Olympic program. But if football were to be included within the next 12 years, the United States would probably still dominate.
Not only that, football is one of the most expensive sports to initiate for even the most well-heeled high schools and colleges in this country, so the amount of money it would take to launch grass-roots efforts to grow football talent in other countries would be immense.
So, even though Goodell is in favor of football's global growth, the idea that the sport will see the Olympic light of day -- or is it flame? -- is most likely a long way off.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron probably didn't feel like re-hashing the moment when he first saw Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco on a scouting mission, but he recalled it vividly.
"It's really 100 years ago," Cameron said. "[Flacco] is not a fragile guy. Things that affect some guys don't affect him. ... We came out, we ran routes on a -- you've heard the story -- [field with] no lines, receivers he didn't know, new footballs, all this stuff, and he just never blinks.
"Things don't affect Joe like they affect some other guys."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's the question we asked you in our last entry:
During their 16 regular seasons of existence, the Ravens have racked up 633 quarterback sacks, an average of nearly 40 per season.
The team passed the 600-sack mark sometime last season. Which Raven got the 600th sack in team history, and against which opponent?
The 600th quarterback sack in Ravens regular-season history came at a fortuitous time.
When the Houston Texans visited Baltimore last year, they played their customary tough game against the Ravens. With 7:27 to go during the fourth quarter, they trailed the Ravens by five points and faced a third-and-3 from their own 21-yard line.
At that point, rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee broke through to sack Matt Schaub for a 7-yard loss and forced a fumble in the process. The Texans recovered the ball, but they had to punt it to the Ravens, who then drove 66 yards in six plays for a game-clinching score.
McPhee may have gotten the team's 600th as a rookie, but during his last game as a Raven, Peter Boulware notched Baltimore's 400th lifetime quarterback takedown during the final game of the 2005 season, sacking Cleveland's Charlie Frye.
No. 500 came courtesy of the team's current all-time sack leader, Terrell Suggs, who decked Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger during a 2008 Monday-night game at Heinz Field, which the Steelers eventually won in overtime.
Posted Aug. 3, 2012