Maryland wins at Michigan; Quick Hits

The University of Maryland Terrapins improved to 7-4 overall, and 4-3 in The Big Ten with a 23-16 win at Michigan.

(Discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

Kirthmon F. Dozier Detroit Free-Press

Kirthmon F. Dozier Detroit Free-Press

Quick Hits:

1) Coach Edsall’s detractors won’t like to hear this, but this was an important win for MD’s Coach. It’s true that Michigan (and Penn State) were down this year, but these road victories still look good. Five road victories on the year is impressive.  Finishing in 3rd place in the Big Ten East is an accomplishment, even if the Division (and Conference as a whole) is down. When MD’s conference move was announced, there were some who said it would take time until the Terps could beat anyone but Rutgers in Big Ten play. That MD would be intimidated going into places like the Big House. These results, combined with the news about MD’s planned indoor facility gives Terps fans a chance to envision bigger days ahead.

2) Embattled 6th year Senior QB CJ Brown had a quality game. His final numbers would have looked better had his WR’s not contributed at-least 5 drops. (Jacquille Veii twice, Daniel Adams, Deon Long, TE Derrick Hayward.)

3) CB/PR/KR William Likely, and PK Brad Craddock have had great seasons, and are true difference makers when MD faces teams with similar overall talent.

4) Wes Brown, Brandon Ross, and Veii combined for 17 carries (CJ Brown had 18). MD has guys with talent in their backfield, even though their numbers show very minimal production. We’ve talked and talked about the offensive line, but it has to be stated once again. The run blocking in particular has to be a priority for improvement starting in the Spring.

5) BSL Terps Analyst Zack Kiesel pointed out that Michael Dunn was moved from LT to RT, and that Jake Wheeler took over at RT.

6) Maryland came into the year with what was considered to be one of the premier WR corps in the country. By the end of the opener vs. James Madison on August 30th – both of the Jacobs brothers had been lost. Today MD was without both Diggs, and Winfree, leaving the Terps with a different looking group. Still weapons there though with Long, Veii, Leak, Etta-Tawo, and Adams. Does speak to the depth which has been assembled; an improvement over 2012 and ’13 – when injuries and other losses crippled the roster.

7) Hayward had that end-zone drop today, but I remain a fan of his potential. I hope to see the TE’s become a higher priority in this offense next year.

8) Yes, Michigan’s offense is rather poor – but Maryland’s defense deserves some kudos for their play today. There is a group of Senior’s who have consistently played well this year. The offense has often put them in tough positions, but they have continued to play with pride and compete. Andre Monroe has had a big year. Darius Kilgo, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, and Cole Farrand will be missed as well.  (No slights to guys like Jeremiah Johnson, Matt Robinson, AJ Hendy, LA Goree – each of them have had their own moments.)

9) No turnovers for MD today.

10) Maryland returns home to face Rutgers, and close out the regular season. With a win Saturday, the Terps would finish 8-4 overall, and 5-3 in conference play. Maryland will face former Terps Head Coach (Rutgers OC) Ralph Friedgen. I was (am) a Friedgen fan. He’s always (at MD, Georgia Tech, with the Chargers) been an innovative offensive mind. He improved a lot of things at his Alma Mater, and should be remembered for that. I think his departure could have been handled better. I also think some of Friedgen’s actions / comments since his departure were not ideal. Clearly there were hurt feelings. When his Coaching career comes to an end, I’m hopeful there can be meaningful reconciliation between him and Maryland.  This week, this will be brought up again, and again. The only comments which should come from Maryland (no matter what may come from Friedgen) are comments which thank him for his time in College Park.  A nice gesture before and/or after the game might go a long way.

While Maryland won in Ann Arbor today, the Scarlet Knights were stomped 45-3 in East Lansing vs. the Michigan State Spartans. With the loss, Rutgers fell to 6-5 overall, and 2-5 in Big Ten play. They will arrive in College Park having lost 4 of their last 5 games. My guess is that they will be fired up to finish their regular season with a win over their fellow league newcomer.

What MD accomplished today, will be quickly forgotten if the Terps do not defend their home-field this coming week. 

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Fact & Opinion: Orioles Version

With the usual apologies to former Baltimore Sun columnist and current contributor John Eisenberg, here is my initial attempt at my version of “Fact & Opinion”, in regards to the Baltimore Orioles.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board  here.)

Fact: Andrew Miller had a tremendous 2014 season with the Red Sox and the Orioles. His K rate was just under 15, his BB rate was under 2.5 and he had a low HR rate. His ERA was 2.02 but his FIP and xFIP was actually in the 1.50 area. He missed a ton of bats and was able to dominate both sides of the plate, which is rather unusual nowadays. Reports indicate that he has already been offered 3 years and will likely end up with a 4th. Its also assumed he will eclipse 6M per season.

Opinion: Miller still remains the FA I most want to keep but I do have limits. Something in the 3/24-4/32 area would be good for me. That’s a lot to pay for a reliever but I do think he will continue to be one of the better relievers in baseball. That being said, this was basically his third year as a reliever and while he has been solid the previous 2 years (3.35 ERA and 2.64 ERA), he hasn’t quite been at the dominant level he was in 2014. The Ks have been there but the walks have been much higher the previous 2 seasons and the HR Rate has also been higher. So, I do think you have to question whether or not he will be able to sustain a sub 3 BB rate, after having a BB rate in the 4.5-5 ranges in the previous 2 seasons. If they miss out on him (and they probably will), that will be upsetting but it could also end up being something we end up being happy about because that is a lot of money to pay for a reliever who could revert back to prior form and have control issues. And again, he was still good with those issues but not 6-8M a year good.

Fact: The Orioles are currently negotiating with Nick Markakis to keep him in Baltimore. Reports indicate that a 4-year offer is on the table for him. The Orioles chose not to offer Nick a QO.

Opinion: 4 years is at least 1 year too many for Markakis. I hope he is back but I don’t want to see the Orioles get too emotional here. He is a good player but he isn’t much more than that and to tie up 9-12M a year for 3-4 years is a lot. I can get behind for 3 years even if I wouldn’t be excited for a 3-year deal at 10+ million. The fact that this isn’t done yet and that Nick has talked to other teams makes the Orioles not offering a QO a very poor move.

Fact: The Braves have already traded Heyward and reportedly looking to move Upton. The reports are saying they want more for Upton than Heyward. In return for Heyward, the Braves got Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. Jenkins wasn’t looked at as a top 10-20 prospect in the Cards organization in 2014 but some believe he was a top 10 prospect for 2015, including the

Opinion: As Cameron wrote for FanGraphs, I don’t see the Braves getting as much for Upton as they did Heyward, although Seattle could go nuts and give up one of their good young arms. Makes more sense for Seattle to give money to Cruz though. For one year of Heyward, Miller was a nice get for Atlanta. Miller took a step back in 2014 but the upside is there and he is still just 24. Atlanta also has him under team control for several more years. If Atlanta wants to continue to add to their staff (and perhaps they should, given all the arm injuries their pitchers have battled), Miguel Gonzalez could be a target for them. Much like Miller, Gonzalez is under team control for several more years. He is a solid vet pitcher and would likely be better in the NL. He is a good arm for the Braves to have, as they are relying on a lot of young arms. He gives them that vet presence with a bulldog mentality that can help with the younger arms. What else the Orioles would need to add is unclear and while I would like to keep Sisco (in terms of just talking prospects here), I would be open to adding almost anyone else we have in the system not named Bundy or Harvey. Miller has more upside than Gonzalez but I am not sure he is really a better bet to be a more productive pitcher than Gonzalez and I am just not sure anyone will give up a better pitcher than Gonzalez for Upton, given the 14.5M he is still owed and the fact he is only signed for one more year.  If Atlanta is able to get a younger player with a lot of service time left, good for them.  Seattle may do just that but I am not sure anyone else will, although the talk is that right handed power has a huge market right now.

Fact: The Orioles were 6th in the AL in runs scored in 2014. They led the league in homers but they were 11th in OBP.

Opinion: I would like to see at least one more batter added (maybe multiple players if you lose Cruz and/or Markakis) that can give us a 350+ OBP. Adding a little more balance to the lineup would be nice. Combine that with the returning Machado and Wieters and the offense should be better next year and that is before even mentioning Chris Davis.

Fact: The Orioles currently have 6 starters on their team.

Opinion: One of them needs to be dealt. We can’t tie up that resource and that money when we have other areas of need. Now, I hope we sign some guys that can be 6th and 7th starters (like we did when we sign Gonzalez, for example) but trading one of these guys is necessary, assuming you get good value of course. I believe that one of these guys, at least, would fetch enough talent back to move them. We have heard that a Swisher/Ubaldo deal may have been discussed and I am glad the Orioles said no thanks to that one. We have also heard Norris could be moved. Norris makes the most sense because of salary and timing of how well he pitched last year, especially towards the end of the season. That being said, if a guy like Gonzalez, due to salary and service time fetches you more and can get a player like Upton, as I outlined above, so be it. Whoever you deal, move one of them and get back something that can help you win in 2015 and beyond. (Upton could qualify for that if you re-sign him or get a comp pick and that player helps you)

Fact: The Dodgers are currently shopping their OFers to help alleviate the logjam and find a spot for Pederson sooner rather than later.

Opinion: There are too many years and too much money tied into these OFers for me to want the Orioles to go after them unless other things, such as good prospects, are also coming back to the team.

Fact: Hunter Harvey has been cleared to have a normal offseason.

Opinion: If he is able to avoid surgery, that is huge for the organization. As MASN’s Steve Melewski said this week on Sports Tonight with Rob and Mike, we won’t really have a good idea on Harvey until he starts pitching again but the fact that they haven’t automatically put him under the knife is positive. Whether it’s his future as a Baltimore Oriole or whether or not you use him as trade bait, Harvey being healthy and avoiding surgery is the best thing we have heard since the off-season began. It gives the team options now and going forward.

Fact: The Reds are reportedly putting Jay Bruce on the trading block. He had a terrible year in 2014.

Opinion: Bruce had a fWAR of 4 in 2013 and has been a good player in the past. His defense isn’t all that good but he is signed for a few more years at reasonable money and he could be worth the gamble if the O’s can acquire him for 60-70 cents on the dollar. It’s worth making the phone call about for sure.

Fact: Gausman showed improvement in 2014 and is no longer going to be on an innings limit.

Opinion: Gausman is going to be the O’s best starter in 2015. I want to see the K rate continue to rise but I am expecting a 3.50 ERA at worst in 2015, to go along with 190-210 innings. It is time for him to take that next step and that starts with him spending time this off-season refining his third pitch.

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Improving the Ravens Red Zone Offense

For the 2014 season, the Ravens are ranked 11th in the league in terms of Red Zone TD scores per game. Over the last three games, the Ravens have dropped to 15th. For this post, we will take a look at the Ravens Red Zone offense over the previous 4 games. We will also look at ways the offense can adjust to improve the TDs in the Red Zone.   

(Thoughts? Send me your comments on the BSL board here.)

Pass / Run Ratio in the Red Zone

Over the previous 4 games the Ravens ran a total of 28 plays in the Red Zone. On the surface, the play calling was very balanced. Fourteen plays were called for the Pass and 14 Plays were called for the Run. Looking at the personnel on the field and the play called will show a completely different result. The Ravens Red Zone offense is predictable based on the personnel on the field.

Ravens Redzone Offense (1)

When the Ravens Offense has a Fullback and Running Back on the field, they are going to run 90% of the time. If there is only one Running Back on the field, Coach Kubiak will calling a passing play over 75% of the time.

Take What the Defense Gives

Since the Ravens are more likely to pass when there is a single RB in the backfield, teams are putting more defenders in deep coverage to protect from the deep throw for a touchdown. This leaves more underneath routes available for the Ravens offense. Unfortunately, Kubiak will call for a passing play that targets the strength of the Defense’s coverage.

An example of this play call can be seen against the Bengals. On a 3rd and 8 on the 19 yard line, the Ravens run a play where the slot receiver is designated to run a seam route drawing the Free Safety’s attention. This leaves the WR running a curl route under the Slot Receiver open. On defense, the Bengals are lined up in a cover 3 formation. In a cover 3 formation, the field is covered by 3 defenders in deep coverage and 4 defenders in intermediate coverage. A cover 3 defense allows for short / underneath routes – Drive, Hitch, Stick, Flat.

Campanaro pre-snap

The Ravens can’t take advantage of what the defense gives them because all three routes run by the receivers are into the coverage zones of the defenders. The result of this play is a coverage sack.

Campanaro post-snap

On other similar plays, Flacco will try to force the ball into a receiver, throw out of bounds or scramble for a couple of yards. There are only 4 defenders rushing the Quarterback, so Forsett can become the check down receiver.

Even when the Ravens have an open receiver underneath, Flacco will still try to throw deep instead of taking what the defense gives. On this 1st down against the Falcons, the Ravens try to isolate Forsett using WR routes to draw away the defenders.

Forsett Pre-snap

A defender doesn’t bite on the play and starts to cover Forsett. Instead of passing the ball to Forsett and allowing him to make a play, Flacco holds onto the ball looking to throw to Smith Sr in the end zone.

Forsett post snap 1

By the time Flacco throws the ball to Forsett, it is too late. The defender is able to contest the ball.

Forsett post snap 2

Kubiak can also call for more running plays when there is a single Running Back on the field. Over the last four games, Justin Forsett averages 4.5 yards per carry. Mixing in more runs will allow the offense to take advantage of the defense playing in deep coverage.

Exploiting Coverage Alignments

An example of an excellent adjustment to a coverage scheme was against the Titans. The Ravens were lined up for a running play. Flacco recognized that the defense was lined up to stop the run and that the DB covering Smith Sr had a 5 yard cushion.

Smith Sr Pre-snap

After the ball is snapped, Flacco immediately throws the ball to Smith Sr who is running a slant route. The result was a 5 yard gain. Two plays later Forsett ran into the end zone for a Touchdown.

Smith Sr Post-snap

Throw to Juszczyk

Coach Kubiak has gotten away from taking advantage of Juszczyk’s pass catching abilities in the Red Zone. Against the Browns, Kubiak designed this play that isolated Juszczyk and allowed him to get an easy Touchdown.

Juszczyk pre-snap

With 90% of plays being called for a run when Juszczyk is on the field, a pass play would to Juszczyk would allow the Offense to take advantage of a Defense that has not prepared for this type of play call.

Juszczyk post-snap

Let’s see if Coach Kubiak introduces some new wrinkles in the Ravens Red Zone offense over the remaining 6 weeks to make it less predictable.

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