Ravens offense starting to look Super
I'm stuffed from too much food. That's a boom.
Happy Thanksgiving to our great readers and viewers on FOXSports.com.
We analyze the Ravens, Bucs, Packers, Chargers,and more with a game of boom or bust, SCHEIN 9 style.
1. The Ravens' offense can help carry them to a Super Bowl.
The Patriots are currently the best team in the NFL. The Steelers are the Steelers. The Jets have been getting the attention since Hard Knocks and have kept the momentum going with a great 9-2 start. Indy employs Peyton Manning. I’m still not sold on the Chargers, but Phil Rivers has been sensational and that top-ranked San Diego defense deserves kudos.
Shhhhhhhh. Don’t sleep on the Ravens. This is a boom.
Look, the NFL has never been more wide open. It’s a week-to-week league. And the Ravens' defense, while still very strong, hasn’t completely resembled the dominant unit from prior years.
But, which team defense do you trust? Is there an elite defense in the league right now? Even with deficiencies at cornerback, Baltimore, with the great Haloti Ngata and the tested Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, has a defense that still changes games and wins games. Don't sleep on Baltimore's defense.
Which leads us to the Baltimore offense. Ravens receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh has an interesting perspective, seeing the Ravens as a rival for all those years in Cincinnati. Houshmandzadeh told us on Wednesday, "Playing against Baltimore while I was in Cincinnati, I would say by far we now have the best offense I've ever seen the Ravens have. And what's scary is we have the potential to be much better. We are leaving some points on the board."
Scary and true. Sometimes, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron gets too enamored with the pass and forgets he employs Ray Rice. The bread and butter of the Baltimore offense should always be Rice, Willis McGahee, Michael Oher and the Baltimore offensive line, and the power running attack.
And it's not that Joe Flacco isn't up for the challenge in his third year. I love this cat. Flacco has 16 touchdowns against seven picks. And Anquan Boldin has added sizzle to the passing attack with 48 catches and six touchdowns. Houshmandzadeh, signed right before Week 1, is getting in the flow. Todd Heap is back from near extinction. And Rice is a major weapon in the passing attack. Plus, despite a sideline blow-up between Flacco and Derrick Mason, the veteran receiver remains a security blanket on third downs for Flacco. Mason caught his 900th pass last weekend, becoming the 13th player in NFL history to reach that number. He is super consistent.
And I don't fully understand how the greatness of John Harbaugh remains underrated. He doesn't have Belichick's rings or Rex's bravado, but Harbaugh deserves credit for being a great coach who wins games. His teams are smart and physical and they protect home field.
Baltimore has already beat the Jets and Steelers,and went to overtime with the Patriots.
The AFC is wide open. I'm on record saying the Patriots are currently the favorites.
But don't sleep on the incredible balance of the Ravens, who can beat you in a variety of ways, including on offense.
2. Raheem Morris is right when he says, “Stats are for losers."
In theory, I think this is a bust. But you need to understand the context. I asked Morris, coach-of-the-year favorite, about his defense being opportunistic and if that is offensive. He understood where I was coming from. Tampa doesn’t rank highly in key areas. But they make the play, Ronde Barber makes the interception, Barrett Ruud makes the tackle, Aqib Tailb creates the turnover when it matters the most. Look at the wins against Cincy and San Fran. The Bucs' offense isn’t scary. But Josh Freeman saves his best for the fourth quarter. LeGarrette Blount controls the clock. In context for the 2010 7-3 Bucs, it is an absolute boom.
3. The Packers are back.
Mike McCarthy gushed Wednesday on Sirius NFL Radio that the staff was thrilled how the team took a needed week off during the bye week, had a sensational tempo during practice last week, and then dominated the Vikings in every area. And after dealing with a rash of devastating season-ending injuries to stars and key nicks that hampered players throughout the first half, McCarthy declared this is the healthiest the team has been all year long.
The Packers face the Falcons this weekend in Atlanta in what very well could be an NFC title-game preview. Even if they lose, with the way Aaron Rodgers is playing, with the play of his offensive line, with Clay Matthews and the defense dominating, the Packers' upside remains winning the Super Bowl. This is a boom.
4. Vincent Jackson will make an immediate impact.
Talking to Norv Turner on Madden Football this week on Sirius NFL Radio, the Chargers coach was rightly optimistic. Jackson has been practicing for three weeks. And it is not like he’s a newbie to the system and star quarterback Phil Rivers. The pair has a great rapport. If anything, Turner lamented the fact that Jackson wasn’t around earlier when the team lost games. It’s a boom.
5. Ben Roethlisberger is the leader of the Steelers.
This is a bust. When we talked to Mike Tomlin on Tuesday, we asked him about the underrated greatness of James Farrior. Tomlin said, “He is the unquestioned leader of our team.” Case closed. I’m not sure how a Steeler could actually fly under the radar, but Farrior’s consistently excellent play and leadership somehow does.
6. Chan Gailey is in control of the Bills.
This is a surprising boom. Talking to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sirius NFL Radio, he credited Gailey for the team staying together despite an 0-8 start. Fitzpatrick gave Gailey props for the team fighting in close losses before beating the Lions and exploding with a huge win and thunderous comeback in Cincy. I called Gailey a terrible hire. I called Fitzpatrick a backup. Both are in the process of proving me wrong.
7. Brad Childress lost the Vikings.
Finally, a Vikings player put his name to quotes on what happened in Minnesota.
Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian joined Rich Gannon and me on Sirius NFL Radio on Tuesday. When I pressed him if Childress lost the locker room, Berrian said, “Yeah, you could say it happened, yeah. I mean, yeah it did. I mean it just, I think people got to a point where it was just, it was too overbearing.”
I asked him to explain.
“He was just confrontational. I think that was the biggest thing. Instead of, you know, going to players like men and just talking and conversating about it, it was kind of brought to their attention in a confrontational way and just people just didn’t really conform to that way of, I guess, him talking and speaking to his team, or players individually.”
8. The Raiders should start Bruce Gradkowski after last week’s debacle.
This is a bust. The Raiders need continuity. I asked star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha who should start against Miami this week. He said it was a no-brainer to keep playing the guy who directed the three-game win streak before the dud in Pittsburgh.
9. The Lions should always play on Thanksgiving.
This is an absolute boom.
We have so little history left in sports. The Lions and Cowboys are part of this wonderful holiday. I loved watching Barry Sanders. Generations will fall in love with Ndamukong Suh, Calvin Johnson, like they did Thursday, and eventually a healthy Matthew Stafford.
Other teams get involved with the holiday festivities with the Thursday night game. Detroit needs this game. I believe in it!