Sports Outside the Beltway

Ravens 2006 Postseason Outlook

Well the Baltimore Sun is as excited about any fan about the Ravens’ prospects for this year. Columnist John Eisenberg measures this year’s team vs. the 2000 version and finds them pretty similar in Comparison to 2000 no stretch.

Not surprisingly …

Their passing game is much more productive under quarterback Steve McNair, averaging 38.7 more yards per game than the Super Bowl team and featuring three receivers with at least 60 catches, as opposed to one. Although the overall scoring and yardage totals of the two offenses are surprisingly comparable, this season’s unit is tougher to defend, more capable of big plays, less plodding.

Not as obvious …

And defensively, though some may consider it heresy to compare any unit with the one that dominated the Super Bowl and is considered among the best in NFL history, this season’s Ravens defense increasingly bears a resemblance.

It isn’t quite as physically overpowering, but it is faster and more athletic, less predictable tactically with its array of blitzes and, in the end, just as dominating. The Super Bowl winners yielded 10.3 points per game. This season’s Ravens are allowing 12.9.

and …

The impregnable run defense (with linemen Trevor Pryce, Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg reprising the roles of behemoth run-stoppers Siragusa and Sam Adams) puts pressure on opposing quarterbacks to invent plays, which inevitably leads to turnovers. The Super Bowl defense forced 49 during the 2000 regular season. The Ravens have forced 37 this season. (But they have recorded 57 sacks this season as opposed to 35 by the Super Bowl team.)

So I guess what they lost (in comparison) in turnovers, they gained in field position (with those extra sacks).

I guess what’s missing though, is the feeling that there’s one guy who can change the complexion of a game. In 2000, I finally realized how a defensive player could be an MVP. Ray Lewis was everywhere, it seemed. Whether he was making a crucial tackle or deflecting a pass or intercepting, in the late season and post-season, he seemed to be in the middle of every play.

Eisenberg also left out the special teams. In 2000 Jermaine Lewis had a number of really nice returns including a record breaker in the Super Bowl.

And the Ravens this year don’t seem to have a runner as strong as Jamal Lewis was six years ago.

But if 2000 the Ravens won based on the play of special teams and defense, this year, they’re winning with offense contributing a bit more. I guess that’s what you’d call balance.

But will it be enough to win it all?

A number of analysts don’t think that they’ll overcome the Chargers – even though they beat them earlier this year.

Ravens-Chargers Super Bowl?
With no great team emerging from the NFC, many fans and writers think the AFC Championship game could be the real Super Bowl this year. Sports Illustrated’s King is among those buying into that idea:

Watching as much football as I have for the last couple of months, I’m starting to think that the shame of this playoff season will be that the two best teams won’t meet in the Super Bowl. San Diego and Baltimore clearly are superior to every other team. They’re a combined 17-1 over the last nine weeks.

So which team will have the edge if they do meet in the AFC Championship? poses that question to analysts and former players Eric Allen and Joe Theismann. Allen says the Chargers would come out on top:

I gotta go with the Chargers. This team plays passionate, hungry football just like the Ravens, but the biggest difference is the balance the Chargers possess. The Chargers can beat you with the defense, through the air or on the ground and that’s how you beat the Ravens. You can’t beat that team with just one facet of the game. You have to do it with every facet of the game.

Theismann agrees:

The Chargers look unstoppable out there. They are playing excellent football and are my favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. What other team has every phase working like the Chargers?

In a chat with fans, Ed Bouchette from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is asked who the favorites are from the AFC:

I too like San Diego and Baltimore. Not many people talk about Baltimore, which beat the Chargers this year in Baltimore. Also, no one’s talking about Brian Billick as coach of the year and I think he deserves at least a mention.

(Is this a reason for optimism, McNair lately has been moving up the QB ratings and Rivers has going downstream?)

And talk about a championship wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t also identify stars among the coaches. This year ( obligatory Lewis reference: in 2000 it was Marvin Lewis who was tapped as head coaching material as a reward for his performance that year. He’s made the Cincinatti Bengals respectable, even if the team’s fallen back a little this year) the guy getting talked about is Rex Ryan – coming from a fine defensive pedigree who might be heading for a top job. It would appear that there may be no shortage of opportunities for him next year either.

The list of potential openings at the end of the season could include: the Cleveland Browns (Romeo Crennel has 10 wins in two seasons), Miami Dolphins (constant rumors of Nick Saban leaving), Oakland Raiders (team hasn’t responded to Art Shell), New York Giants (late-season collapse could be costly for Tom Coughlin), Atlanta Falcons (continue to regress under Jim Mora) and Arizona Cardinals (Dennis Green has not lived up to expectations).

His father, Buddy, though, didn’t just have a defensive reputation, he had an offensive one too: ask Kevin Gilbride.

Rex, though, seems to have a more relaxed temperment.

Buddy Ryan had a brash, in-your-face approach that sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. Rex Ryan is the exact opposite, an affable coach who is considered one of the most popular people on the Ravens’ staff.

“He’s the ultimate players’ coach,” Lewis said.

Ryan frequently laughs and jokes with players during practice. He even allows them to have input on game plans, discussing which calls work best with them throughout the week.

The article also points out one of the strengths of the Ravens: their defensive coaches:

Billick’s first defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis, has turned around the Cincinnati Bengals. His second one, Mike Nolan, has improved the San Francisco 49ers in his second season. And former Ravens linebackers coach Jack Del Rio has led the Jacksonville Jaguars to the playoffs.

Clearly, they’re doing something right as an organization.

Finally, I have no idea how this is impacting the Ravens’ preparation but they’ve got a fancy new toy to see X’s and O’s in 3D.

Created with a new technology called Play Visualizer, the pictures that Roman’s charges see in these strategy sessions show plays from a variety of viewpoints – behind the offense, even through the eyes of the quarterback – rather than from the limited angles available through traditional video.

The technology, developed by Hunt Valley-based sports technology company 3D MVP, will officially launch next month. But the Ravens, headed to the playoffs in January after winning 12 of their first 15 regular season games, have been testing it since inception two years ago.

“There’s no question that as a teaching tool it’s far superior to anything we’ve gotten or used,” Ravens head coach Brian Billick said of Play Visualizer. “It’s taken what we do to another level.”

And this is interesting too:

Dave Nash, a video technician for the Oakland Raiders, also has access to the technology, Taylor said. Mike Working, who is quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator for the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, owns a piece of 3D MVP and also uses the technology.

Right now it’s fun. Nothing’s pre-ordained. If the Ravens’ season ends with a loss, all these good feelings will pass – quickly. Still with the frustration Baltimore fans over the serial mismanagement of the Orioles it’s nice to have something to root for.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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