Tag:Ray Lewis
Posted on: January 29, 2013 1:33 am
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Super Bowl 47 Hunch Line

“Nobody can eat fifty eggs”

The biggest story leading-up to SB47?

The Harbaugh family reunion might make a great Hallmark movie but seeing a couple of privileged, cocky men hit pay-dirt doesn’t exactly float my boat.

Nice to see Joe Flacco finally get some positive feedback but the JF interview is just slightly more interesting than an episode of NOVA.

And Ray Lewis, he’s not really retiring. He’ll be giving his NFL insights from the cozy confines of ESPN’s Connecticut studio for years to come. And the rich get richer.

The big story in the Big Easy is the 49ers’ fleet-footed QB Colin Kaepernick and how he’s energized the biggest debate going in football today: pocket passer vs. flash-QB.

The kids love anything that rocks the status-quo, older folk favor pocket poise and the rest are taking a wait & see approach.

Like "Society" (Cool Hand Luke), maybe I'm stubborn, but I’m not buyin’ run-QB.

Some call him revolutionary. I say guys like Kaep Krusader, Vick, Tebow, RG3 and Newton are just newer, muscled versions of the old single-wing tail-back of the 1930s (See; Cecil Isbell).

As for the “read option,” that’s like asking a 6th-grader to read a book rather than watch TV. Not likely. Give flash-QB the “option” to rabbit and he’ll do it 8 outta' 10 times while his reading skills (on defensive schemes) will never mature beyond “See Spot run.”

And if you think highly-paid, spotlight-craving receivers and true ball-carriers are gonna’ forever happily accommodate their ball-hog quarterbacking teammates, you've got another thing coming.

When you think how the passing game changed the nature of football (Sid Gilman ‘60), keep in mind that that change expanded the franchise to anywhere from 4-8 possible targets who might be on the receiving end of a pass play. That was revolutionary.

It’s why stopping the aerial attacks of a Joe Namath, Doug Williams or Tom Brady has always given defensive coordinators fits, as in, ‘Where’s the damn ball gonna’ go?’

Sure, CK did a real number on GB that won‘t soon be forgotten and the counter-punch he delivered to the Falcons’ heavy helpin’ of run-stuffing was evidence he can multi-task. But seeing isn’t always believing, even for a Missourian ("Show Me").

More than match-ups, the pro game is about adjustments.

Atlanta needed less than a week to make the necessaries to sufficiently contain Colin in NFC title (letting it slip away, like SF in ‘12, on costly TOs), and expect the same from around the League come September. As such, SB47 might be the high-water mark for run-QB as coordinators make necessary modifications to secure the middle and injuries mount for General Athletic .

Does that mean an ‘all expenses paid’ trip to Disneyland is outta‘ the question for Colin in the week following SB47? Heavens no. It just means that, how shall I put this, if Trent Dilfer can hoist the Lombardi, then getting one ring does not a revolutionary make.

The only revolution we’re likely to see will come courtesy of Nike Corporation as they guillotine every classic NFL logo & uniform-design they can hunt down in their youthfully-misguided reign of marketing terror.

The Other Ray

To some, Ray Lewis forever wears a scarlet ‘C’ on his chest: Criminal.

On the night of January 31, 2000, Lewis and two friends (Oakley & Sweeting) were involved in a street fight in Atlanta resulting in two deaths (Baker / Lollar). Lewis was charged with Obstruction by Fulton County in return for his testimony in the murder trial of his companions. Both men were acquitted and no one else was charged (Wikipedia).

Some people believe the investigation was mishandled (Munson / ESPN). To those with a prejudice, this means cover-up. To the rest of us, the lack of sufficient evidence, right or wrong as that may be, allows us to choose forgiveness or just simply move forward.

For the forward thinker, it’s the heavy hits, the passion play and his standard of success that will define Ray Lewis’ legacy.

My favorite Ray Lewis trait: honoring the line.

When you compete on a playing field, there’s a place you never go.

It’s different in business, where Machiavelli is patron saint. The end justifies the means, buyer beware, greed is good, lawyer on retainer and all that jazz.

On the gridiron you bring your “killer instinct” (Bednarik) and if you catch your opponent unawares, all the better (head on a swivel), but you don’t cheap-shot and you don’t take away his dignity. You leave enough there so he can pick himself up and go ‘til the bell rings. That’s Marquess of Queensberry and that’s a professional.

Cross that line and you go from hero to hooligan, from player to punk.

Before you start listing off all of Ray’s late hits, unsportsmanlikes and other boo-boos…don’t bother. Every player’s got ‘em, from Ray Nitschke (“Mean on Sunday”) to 49ers’ All-Pro Patrick Willis.

And Ray Lewis never crossed the line.

Super Bowl 47 Pick

Believe it, basketball can be entertaining.

By the time Super Sunday finally rolls around I’ve cashed in my football chips and vested in Mr. Naismith‘s invention. For me, it’s the lead-up to Super Sunday which is apex of the NFL season.

Had the powers-that-be not tacked on an extra week of sales & hype I might feel different. But with the delay, the players are running on fumes (most at it since May), momentum curried in the PS is lost and fans like myself are not all too pleased at being played for saps.

And using the semi-Pro Bowl to somehow tide us over doesn’t sweeten the deal, Roger & DeMaurice. Apart from PED prevention, those two cufflinks play the same course.

As for the game, the guys will give their best effort, even if it won’t be their best. That usually means a pretty good show, ever since the NFC decided to join the modern era with the help of Roger Staubach and Bill Walsh.

In the pros, there’s no easier road to a title than the NFL playoff highway.

The Ravens’ path to New Orleans was no cakewalk, besting three foes, including wins at Denver and New England, whereas, SF gets a R1 bye, a homer versus enigmatic WK1 foe GB and find their “golden ticket” in the Georgia Dome against Atlanta’s great pretenders.

Why San Fran favored? Odds-makers are businessmen, not football fans.

Post-season, Baltimore's defense has become equal of 49ers’ vaunted crew, has a capable run game, holds an edge in passer proficiency, brings more pressure, can clog the middle to force CK horizontal, has traveled a tougher road to get here and will not be bested in the intensity department. Clichéd, but expect moderate scoring affair with these defense-favored coaching philosophies. The winner: Baltimore Ravens.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: January 16, 2013 2:29 pm
 

NFL '13 Conference Picks

Breaking All the Rules

First Jim Harbaugh adds Randy ‘Ipecac’ Moss to the 2012 49ers’ roster, a man washed-out & retired since being cut loose by New England, Minnesota and Tennessee in 2010.

In Week 11 he changes horses mid-stream, benching a recently concussed veteran in QB Alex Smith (6-2-1) in favor of 2nd-year man from Nevada, Col. Kaepernick.

And the piece de résistance: Jim employs a modern version of the old single-wing tail-back formation, putting Kaep Krusader’s 6’4” 230 lbs. frame and run ability to full use.

Who ever said Michigan men are too conservative?

New Landscaping or Captured by the Moment?

To borrow Pete Carroll’s post-game wordage, last weekend’s Divisionals were “exquisite.”

Colin’s record-setting play against Green Bay would win him ‘Best in Show’ by a land-slide if polling the public but the quality of competition weighs heavy and the Niners’ win just looked too darn easy. Packers lost something in that fateful trip to Kansas City in late 2011 and haven’t gotten it back, appearing completely befuddled after nabbing an early pick-6.

And I’m not so sure that Mike Vick’s 2002 win at Lambeau over the Favre crew (27-7), handing G-Bay their first ever home playoff loss, wasn’t slightly more momentous.

Best of last weekend’s performances is a five-way tie: four Ravens and a rookie Seahawks’ QB who nearly pulled off the unthinkable in Atlanta.

Joe Flacco went toe-to-toe with the NFL’s 2012 likely MVP (AP) Peyton Manning, Ray Rice churned out 131 against the # 3 rush-D in the NFL and a rejuvenated Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs scored 10 tackles each in pressuring Pey-dirt into fatal mistakes.

And while Matty Ice flirted with disaster and Mike Smith nervously worked the clock with the dreaded ’prevent-offense,’ Seattle’s Russell Wilson played cool as a cucumber in leading the Hawks’ 2nd-half surge to a late-game lead-grab before watching in agony as Ryan coolly drove 41 in final seconds to set up M. Bryant’s game-winning 49 yarder.

Absence of Good Faith

DeMaurice Smith is no slouch, that‘s for sure. The NFLPA executive director (‘09) is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, an experienced trial attorney and was instrumental in fashioning the NFL 2011 collective bargaining agreement.

He’s also quite adept at the art of pre-emptive strike.

No sooner had MLB announced agreement on expanded blood-testing for the up-coming 2013 season (“MLB” / CBS / Snyder / 1-10) when it’s reported Mr. Smith has shot off a letter to all players & agents (“DeMaurice” / CBS / Freeman / 1-11), heading-off media inquires as to why football lags behind baseball in HGH testing, by laying blame at the doorstep of, you guessed it, NFL owners.

The dispute centers on one point: Smith is demanding a right “to challenge the science underlying the hGH (sic) test (“DeMaurice”).” It’s a merit-less position, as WADA has signed-off on its reliability long ago (“WADA” / NFL / Ellenport / 12-1-11). But Mr. Smith has a trump card: players, and more importantly fans, on the whole, seem little concerned about the ethical and health issues raised by use of PEDs on the gridiron.

But a day will come when NFL players have their blood tested for HGH and its spawn. And as long as DeMaurice Smith and like minds remain in charge at NFLPA and Federal efforts remain ephemeral and toothless, you can expect the believed rampant use of PEDs in the NFL will continue largely unimpeded for years to come.

Makes one wonder, where’s Rob Parker on DeMaurice and, for that matter, Oprah Winfrey (Lance Armstrong scrub-up)?

2013 Conference Picks

San Francisco 49ers (1-0 / 2) @ Atlanta Falcons (1-0 / 1) (1-20 / Fox 3:00)

Networks choose Georgia Dome for the early game over Foxborough where the temp could dip below 30° by kickoff with wind, rain & snow? Thanks, cufflinks.

The 49ers had their way with Green Bay while Atlanta wins by a “hair on their chinny chin chin,” so San Fran is a lock on Sunday, right-o?  Wrong-o.  In the words of “a great & mighty warrior,” “Nothing is written (Lawrence of Arabia).” Jim H. found space in Capers’ D-scheme that they won’t find in the Dome. The pros are big on adjustment so expect A-birds to put all their chips on ‘Colin Containment,‘ something they’re not half-bad at, as they slowed Mr. Lynch (46), held Russell to 45 and are more than happy to test Colin’s arm with an A-grade pass-D (6 / 20 INT).

Offense and defense have symbiotic rapport. The thrill & spontaneity generated by flash-QB can also produce a volatility & unpredictability that alters the defensive flow. Niners D has given up an average 30 pts. last four (36 (-) Cards game). Kaepernick’s road-play gets mixed results, Atlanta’s run-game is clicking and Ryan’s confidence is measured, all spelling kryptonite for Kaep Krusader. Falcons win and earn a trip to New Orleans.

Baltimore Ravens (2-0 / 4) @ New England Patriots (1-0 / 2) (CBS 6:30)

At this stage of the game, numbers, match-ups, histrionics and an early rumble (BAL 31-30) do as little for predicting as urine-samples do for PED appraisal. Injuries matter but low-factor here (media double-std: Bill (Gronk) vs Mike (RG3)?). One team follows a code of silence, the other likes to chit-chat (Ayanbadejo); one’s a bit of a party-crasher, the other often holds court; and while one is a ‘jack of all trades and master of none,’ the other is multi-talented but with an Achilles heel (PD-29 NE).

Both squads will take Gillette field ‘feeling their oats’ after proud wins and Flacco can sense that brass ring. Ray’s return a big booster but that can wear-thin. This is Baltimore’s best chance at AFC title since ’01 but they’ll face a field general in T. Brady who, unlike 1-yr. Mile High mustang Peyton, is ensconced at Foxborough. Patriots win.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Posted on: August 26, 2012 1:20 am
 

Jared Allen Tops NFL D-List

You’ve heard it a thousand times. The NFL, it’s a quarterback league.

How the QB plays is a bellwether of his team’s progress or decline, week in, week out.

They get the glory in victory, the blame in defeat and everything else on the field is just so many props. Seems a funny evolution of the game, but that’s how it is and we seem to like it that way.

As for the guys on defense, well, the late, great Rodney Dangerfield put it best: “(They) get no respect, what can I tell ya’?”

Should we feel bad? Probably not, when you consider that a good defense is hard to find, though, in fairness, you could say the same about physicians, computer repair guys and barbers. Doesn’t matter if you’re talking college or the pros (NFL / CFL), the reliable defensive scheme seems a rare commodity in this day & age.

While the linebacker corps carries the load in the tackling department and lineman put pressure on the QB, defensive backs are working a balance of tackling & pass-deflection. But nothing is more emblematic of today’s ebbing state-of-defense than NFL secondaries.

Next time you tune into a game pay close attention to the DBs. You’re likely to see more muffed tackles and blown break-ups, even as they shadow their targets, than beer ads during the telecast. You’d think the prevent-defense was a permanent state. Ever since the days of Deion “Neon” Sanders, the art of secondary tackling has become passé while the big play (INT / LB sacks) and laying-in-the-weeds for the wicked-hit are all the rage.

I exaggerate, of course, because there are some terrific exceptions who play the backfield (Tyvon Branch / OAK / SS / 109T). But there's no debate that defense has become more an after-thought than focal point for coaches and their pre-game strategies.

These are the bright spots.

Pad-Smack, Team Style

When talking team defense, it’s the American Conference that fuels the conversation, in particular, the AFC North.

Led by ageless and still thrilled Ray Lewis (ILB / 95T), who comes back for season 17, and decorated (AP-DPY) but now-achilled Terrell Suggs (OLB / 70T / 14S / 7FF), the Baltimore Ravens get the nod as 2011’s top-D (2nd vs Run / 4th vs Pass), edging out Troy Polamalu (DB / 91T) and Ryan Clark’s (FS / 100T) Pittsburgh Steelers (1P / 8R) who picked a bad time to look porous in last season’s finale versus Tebowmania.

The Cincinnati Bengals are building a defensive foundation (10R / 9P) (Tom Howard / OLB / 99T) as their young gun learns the trade (Dalton). And don’t forget Ohio’s other team, the Cleveland Browns, who came in just behind Pittsburgh (1P @ 172 ypg) against the pass (2P @ 185 ypg), thanks in large part to the 'everywhere man' D’Qwell Jackson (MLB / 158T) and active lineman Ahtyba Rubin (NT / 83T / 5S / PUP).

With a promising but green QB (Gabbert) and a run-game in flux (Maurice Jones-Drew), the Jacksonville Jaguars, like division foe Indy, seek answers on the O-side, but also like the Colts, can boast strong building blocks in a trio of tackling mavens. Paul Posluszny (MLB / 119T / shoulder), Daryl Smith (OLB / 107T) and Dawan Landry (FS / 97T) guided the Jags to top-ten finishes against both the pass (8) and run (9) in the last campaign.

Teamwork was the talisman for the Houston Texans in 2011 as they stymied both the pass (3) and run (4) without sack-happy LB Mario Williams (out Wk 5 / Bills), and then, like the Ravens, with only one name among the top-50 tacklers in Brian Cushing (ILB / 114). What void Mario leaves in Texas will be filled soon enough.

And don’t go sour yet on the New York Jets. They may have a QB quandary, of their own making, but defense is still a Rex Ryan trademark as Gotham’s junior team made strong showings versus the pass (5P), the run (13R) and added talented Yeremiah Bell (SS / MIA / 107T).

In the NFC, it’s the Western dudes who think offense is sissified.

Former QB and still ‘rah-rah’ man Jim Harbaugh has San Francisco 49ers’ fans believing again with stout defense (1R @ 77 YPG) and sound, methodical offense. Third year ILB NaVorro Bowman set a super pace with 143 tackles in 2011, as perennial All-Pro Pat Willis (ILB) missed three and still netted 97 turf take-downs.

With solid QB play, the Seattle Seahawks will take flight as a balanced defense (15R / 11P) gives them some edge. David Hawthorne will be missed (115T / Saints / knee), but stalwarts Earl Thomas (FS / 98T) and Kam Chancellor (SS / 97T) keep it respectable.

Stick Men

Football players learn quickly about the ‘stick men.’ You find ‘em at every level: high school, college and the pros. The guys on the field who were born to tackle. They find ball-carriers like a heat-seeking missile. They can, as we would say back in the day, “really stick.” And when they strike, down you go: fast, furious and unforgettable.

While defense struggles to stay relevant in this era of pinball-like point tallies, there are men in the NFL who carry on proudly the tradition of tackling. They love to hit, hit often and hit hard. And they don’t need to lead with their helmet, Mr. James Harrison.

The NFC North won’t top the team rankings, but they showcase some of the League’s best tackling tandems (and trios). Defensive diva Ndamukong Suh looks to be more trouble than he’s worth (36T / 4S / 0FR), but the Detroit Lions are firm in the middle with Stephen Tulloch (MLB / 111T / knee) and DeAndre Levy (OLB / 109T).

The book on the Green Bay Packers used to read, defense 1st, run 2nd, pass 3rd and no donnas. Stout against the run in ‘11 (14), Packers came in dead last versus the pass (32), just behind projected SB 47? (retire the Romans, Roger) opponent Patriots. Ted rolls the dice on Mr. Enigma, Cedric Benson (RB), while Clay Matthews brought hair-spray but forgot a lunch pail in 2011 (OLB / 50T / 6S). Desmond Bishop is out (ILB / 115T / ham) and Charlie Peprah is really out (SS / cut), but Morgan Burnett (FS / 107T) sticks fine while way-rated Charles Woodson (CB / 74T / 7 INT) and A.J. Hawk look to pick-it-up in 2012 (ILB / 84T).

Though the Monsters of the Midway are long-in-the-tooth, the Chicago BearsLance Briggs (OLB / 105T) and Charles Tillman (CB / 99T) can still scare. Tim Jennings added game in 2011 (CB / 77T), big name Brian Urlacher (MLB / 102T) is hurting (knee) and Julius Peppers showed some life last season (DE / 37T / 11S). After them, there's a drop-off.

Many new faces dot the Indianapolis Colts’ O-side with departure of pros like Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark and Jeff Saturday. The D-side, not as much, but loss of stick star Pat Angerer (great name / frac-foot) (MLB / 148T) will be felt, while Kavell Conner (OLB / 107T) and fellow tackling titan Antoine Bethea (FS / 139T) patrol the tundra.

Miami Dolphins hit-show took a hit when Y. Bell split (Jets), leaving Kevin Burnett (ILB / 105T) and gimpy Karlos Dansby (ILB / 103T / knee) to cover. Addition of pricey Mario Williams is icing on the cake for a Buffalo Bills’ entree that already features hit-men Nick Barnett (ILB / 130T), George Wilson (SS / 106T) and Jairus Byrd (FS / 98T).

No surprise the Atlanta Falcons stuffed the run in 2011 (5) with Curtis Lofton (MLB / 147T) and Sean Weatherspoon (OLB / 115T) holding court, now work on the pass (20).

It’s been a rough go recently in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and their arch nemesis to the east is beaming ear-to-ear. But there’s a silver lining in the Minnesota Vikings’ dark cloud. They’re staying put (stadium), 2-yr. QB Christian Ponder still has possibility and Adrian Peterson might run again. Add in, Vikes have two of the NFL’s surest hitters in Chad Greenway (OLB / 152T) and E.J. Henderson (MLB / 110T), while the best defender in all of football may take shape in the person of Jared Allen (DE / 66T / 22S / 4FF).

Quarterbacks reign supreme. But if there is a defender who can work a game nearly as well as a QB, it is Jared Allen. He perfected the sack in 2011 (22) but brings a fiery spirit to the field of play that only Ray Lewis can duplicate. And like Ray, Jared overcame a difficult past but has the added burden of staying motivated on a bottom-feeder.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give mention to these tackling dynamos: London Fletcher (ILB / WAS / 166T!), James Anderson (OLB / CAR / 145T), James Laurinaitis (MLB / 142T), Jason Pierre-Paul (DE / NYG / 86T / 17S), Jason McCourty (CB / TN / 105T), Calais Campbell (DE / ARI / 72T / 8S), DeMarcus Ware (DE / DAL / 58T / 20S) and Derrick Johnson (ILB / KC / 131T). Without these guys, the NFL would be, well, Arena.

Steven Keys

Note: This article is dedicated to those brave people allied around the globe who have given, or who today put their limbs & lives on the line in the dangerous fight against terror & extremism, defending, in face of a stealth and brutal foe, the freedom to choose and the right to reason.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com