Ray Lewis Still Best, and Bye-Bye Billick?
The New England Patriots (11-0) play their third straight prime time game Monday. Another late night for the Patriots faithful. Fans and pundits alike had this game circled in the preseason as a potential battle of AFC division leaders, but the 4-7 Baltimore Ravens have disappointed their fans (not to mention ESPN). Ravens fans are hoping that the second species of birds the Patriots face in two weeks can get the job done. Bruce (a.k.a. "Rexx") from Baltimore Beatdown joins us this week to preview the game.
tommasse: Is Brian Billick on the proverbial hot seat? What does the local media say? What do the fans say? What do you say?
Bruce: The fans and a lot of the media say he should go at the end of the season. I was a huge Billick fan up until the first game of this season. After choosing to pass on third down and once on fourth against the Bengals when a one yard run could have tied or won the game turned my loyalty away from him. Making the exact same poor, unsuccessful decisions in losses against both Buffalo and Cleveland just sealed my opinion.
However, he signed a four year extension at $5 million per season last year and there's no way the owner eats $15 million. Maybe after 2008, but not now.
tommasse: What's the problem on offense? Is it just the quarterback, or is there something more?
For more from Bruce, click "Read More" and to read my responses to Bruce's questions, visit Baltimore Beatdown.
Bruce: The problems on offense are too long to list in anything less than a novel. The QB play has been poor, whether it be Steve McNair or Kyle Boller. The offensive line has been decimated by injuries and needs to commit to the youth movement. The primary target in the passing game, Todd Heap, has been injured and on the sideline more than in the huddle.
The other wideouts pose no big challenge to the defense, and due in combination to their lack of size, speed and the poor pass protection, have relegated the passing attack to those frustrating underneath short passes. Finally, the play calling in critical game-changing situations (as noted above) has been mind boggling.
tommasse: How is the Ravens' defense faring without Adalius Thomas? Ray Lewis has 99 tackles this season, but the couple games I've seen (Pittsburgh, San Diego) it has looked like he's slowing down. How does he look to someone who sees him more often?
Bruce: I get irritated when I hear the TV commentators saying Ray Lewis is getting old and isn't the man he was in the Ravens Super Bowl year of 2000-01. Of course he's not, but neither is anyone else. However, there's still not another MLB on any team that I'd rather have than Ray-Ray. Nobody plays with his enthusiasm, motivates teammates better, or still covers the field sideline to sideline as well as he does. Not Brian Urlacher, Zach Thomas or even any of the inside LBs on the Patriots (including A. Thomas)!
The Ravens miss the combination of Thomas and injured Raven Trevor Pryce's contribution to the pass rush. Combined they not only gave us 20+ sacks last year, but allowed Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott to have All-Pro seasons as well. Without them, opponents have double teamed Suggs, and Scott has been forced to drop back into coverage rather than blitz so often.
tommasse: What do you expect from the crowd Monday night? Will they be pumped up to try to beat New England, or have they given up on the season?
Bruce: You will notice when watching that despite the offensive shortcomings, the defense will never give up. They'll continue to dance and swagger after every tackle, no matter if the Pats are up by four touchdowns. I'd be real concerned if Belichick leaves Brady in long after the game is in question against this defense, which is prone to taking stupid unnecessary penalties out of frustration.
The fans will be pumped up, at least at the beginning. If it's a blowout, they'll take it out on the coach and prbably start heading for the exits early. Personally, no matter how upset I am, I will never boo my home team -- ever!
tommasse: Will Baltimore follow the Philadelphia "blueprint" or is there another game plan?
Bruce: Puh-lease! Every team has had a similar "blueprint" for beating the Pats. The only thing that will keep this game close, or allow another team to keep New England from an undefeated season, is a combination of both playing at our highest level for sixty minutes and hoping the Pats have an "off" night. Even Philly couldn't keep it up for 60 minutes, just 59, and see what happened?
The only way the Ravens have a chance will be if they get off early and force the Patriots into unusual mistakes to give the Ravens the short field for scores that put them ahead and give them the confidence to compete for the entire game. Doubtful.