Outcoached and overthinking in Cincy

The first rule of NFL Football is, take points whenever they are given to you. The second rule of NFL football is, take points whenever they are given to you! Three points that the Ravens decided to risk, cost them a winnable game, as they fall to the Bengals 27-24.

Brian Billick on numerous occasions talked about how winning NFL games on the road is the hardest thing to accomplish in this league. I believe it. There is a little extra on your mind when you have to pack a bag, leave your family, you lose a day of practice because of travel. I know I don’t sleep well in a hotel bed rather than when I’m not in my bed at home. The visiting team locker rooms are often not nearly as cushy as the home teams. Then you take the field and deal with the ruthless fans berating you about anything and everything, even your personal life. Crowd noise in game, the scoreboard operator doesn’t show the visiting team potentially challengeable plays. I totally get it. Going on the road and winning is tough. Now you throw in the added difficulty of playing the division favorites who needed a win in a bad way.

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These hard fought divisional games against familiar foes often come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes. The Ravens and Bengals both committed two turnovers, both in the second half. Both teams managed to come away with 10 points on those two mistakes.

The Ravens committed one more penalty than the Bengals did on the day, and boy was it a big one.

Steve Smith was called for offensive pass interference on a bomb Joe Flacco completed in the closing seconds that Smith took to the end zone. There has definitely been more contact that what we saw go uncalled, but you can see why the flag came out. All of the contact was initiated by Smith and the DB George Iloka fell to the turf. Ultimately, if you don’t want the ref to decide the game, prepare better, play better, and win by two scores plus.

Getting back to the original point, or in this case, three points, we’ve see it time and time again, leaving easy points off the board. Trailing 7-0, and on the Ravens first possession of the game, they marched 89 yards in 17 plays. Faced with a 4th and goal at the one yard line on the 18th play of the drive, John Harbaugh elects to go for the TD. This is not smart for a number of reasons.

First, they just stopped you cold on three straight runs. So they know you are likely to pass. When they know it, it’s hard to beat it. Second, your best red zone target in Owen Daniels is not playing. Third, this is not the time or place to be ballsy.  You don’t NEED seven points right now, so take the easy three. How easy? Well, Justin Tucker is 88 for 88 on extra points, about the distance here, and 23 for 23 on field goals inside 30 yards; this one about 19. Yes, it’s automatic from there. 100% of the time you get the three points.

But if you’re John Harbaugh, you probably know the numbers, right? You probably know you’re player’s strengths and weaknesses. You know that Joe Flacco isn’t a good red zone QB, right? I guess he glossed over that one. You’re not running it. You opt to throw it. Except that Joe Flacco’s completion percentage inside the opponent’s 10 yard line is a dismal 45.86%. On 4th and short, Flacco is only slightly better at 51.37%. Granted, it was a catchable ball by Kamar Aiken, but that’s just another reason not to run that play. It was designed to go to Kamar Aiken. No offense to Mr. Aiken, but he is not Steve Smith, or Torrey Smith, or the solid red zone target last year in Marlon Brown, or the absent veteran Owen Daniels. They drew it up to go to Kamar Aiken. That’s on the coaches for calling it as much as it’s on him for dropping it.

Should you ever go for it on 4th and goal from the 1 yard line? Sure, in the fourth quarter if you’re down by more than three points. Or if you are Peyton Manning with a nice looking 67.32% CMP% on 4th and short, and 55.69% from inside the 10, or Tom Brady who is 65.57% and 57.21% respectively. Aaron Rodgers is 62.03% and 61.07% respectively.

John Harbaugh calls it aggressive, I call it desperate. When you play desperate football when you’re not in a desperate situation, it’s out right dumb. It’s like that one trick play in your playbook that you wait for the absolute perfect time to run, when you absolutely need a big play, but then you pull it out and reveal it to everyone in a game you’re already winning.

Two touchdown leads are tough to overcome, especially on the road. When you leave three points out there already down just seven, you run the risk of going down 14-0 rather then 14-3. An 11 point differential is still a FG and a TD if you need to go for two.  That’s another one of Harbaugh’s tendencies that bothers me, is going for two when it’s not necessary. I know coaches have that card that says if the score is this do that, that tells them go for two or not. But like pushing it on fourth and short, you don’t go for two until you absolutely need it.

Just because the Ravens converted the two, doesn’t make it the right call. Say they missed it, like the 4th and short earlier. Now you trail by five, 17-12. Bengals kicker, Mike Nugent, makes a FG and makes it 20-12. Now what do you need? You need a TD and a TWO POINT conversion just to tie anyway. Kick the extra point, and the Nugent FG means you trail by seven. You can still tie with a conventional score.

Moral of the story is, desperate times call for desperate measures. If you think trailing by seven in the first quarter, or four in the third quarter against the NFL’s 30th ranked defense  is desperate…I don’t know what to tell you.

That said, John Harbaugh does a lot a good things and his record reflects that. He is a master motivator, he’s well rounded in all facets as a special teams guy, he’s great with developing young talent since he worked with those fringe guys on special teams early in his career. He’s a great coach seven days a week and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone. Except for three hours on Sundays he seems to need an aid to call his timeouts, throw his challenge flags, and do first grade math on the fly for him.

End of the day, the three points they opted to risk, cost them in the end. It was a winnable game where the both teams made mistakes. 

(As I type this, Chuck Pagano and the Colts despite trailing 35-17 on the road, despite having Andrew Luck at their disposal, opted for a FG from near the goal line to cut the lead to 15, rather than try to score a TD going into the half. Why? It’s because the first half is not desperation time. Harbaugh goes for broke down seven. Pagano understands how important even three little points are and will take them wherever he can get them.)

Now that my lecture on taking as many easy points as you can get is done, let’s finish on a high note.  How about the rookie class today!With Bernard Pierce inactive, rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro was able to find the endzone twice. He also scored on the two point conversion, and did convert a 4th and short on the opening drive to keep the first drive alive. He also caught two balls for 42 yards.

Michael Campanaro continues to impress. Before he left with a hamstring issue, Campanaro hauled in all three of his targets for 40 yards, including a beautiful diving catch over the middle to convert a third and long. He is running really nice routes which help him get open. Keeping an eye on that hamstring, hopefully it doesn’t hamper him long as he could be a real asset with Jacoby Jones continuing to lose snaps.

On defense, C.J. Mosley continues to rack up the tackles as he had 13 total and eight solo tackles.

It looked like injuries were going to be the major story of the day as Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, and Marshal Yanda all missed time today as they were examined for injuries, but all three returned and the O-line finished the game intact. In addition to the aforementioned Jimmy Smith and Michael Campanaro, Torrey Smith was also taken out for concussion protocol tests. He was later cleared to return.

We’ll keep an eye on these guys status’ heading into next week’s matchup in prime time against the hated Steelers. If the Steelers improve to 5-3, first place in the division could once again be on the line. It seems rather unlikely with the Bengals facing the 1-7 Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 9. Good chance first place belongs to Cincy for at least another week.

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Class of 2014: Where Are They Now?

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Image Credit: UMTerps

With the 2014 season at the halfway mark, it’s time to take a quick look at the Maryland Terrapins football team’s Class of 2014. In this article, we’ll look at where each member of the class is right now, and where they’ll be in 2015. The Terps have had some key contributions by some true freshmen this season, and have some very talented players waiting in the wings.

(Discuss this article on the BSL Message Board here.)

Damian Prince, OL - The biggest recruit for Randy Edsall’s staff since Stefon Diggs committed to play his college football in College Park was Damian Prince. Prince was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school, and was the crown jewel of the 2014 recruiting class. He is currently the third-string left guard for the Terps, and will redshirt this season. He will be fully immersed in the starting left tackle competition for the 2015 season.

Jesse Aniebonam, LB - Another of the highly-ranked players to come out of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, MD, Jesse Aniebonam has made an immediate impact for Brian Stewart’s defense. He has received significant snaps all season long, and has proven how good a pass-rusher he is. His coverage skills need to improve, but his role in the Terps’ third-down defense has been crucial this season. He will likely be starting across from Yannick Ngakoue at outside linebacker in 2015.

Derwin Gray, OL - The Terps thought they’d be getting Derwin Gray in 2013, but his poor grades forced him to attend Fork Union Military Academy for a year before coming to College Park. He enrolled at the University of Maryland in January, and was eligible for spring practice. However, he suffered an injury and was unable to get onto the practice field before the summer. He is currently the Terps’ backup right tackle, and will be given a chance to compete for the job again in 2015. He may also slide inside to one of the guard spots if necessary.

Juwann Winfree, WR - One of the more underrated Terps’ recruits from 2014 is Juwann Winfree. Though he was listed as a 4-star recruit, many analysts seemed to overlook how much talent he brings to College Park. He has received some snaps so far this season, and is best suited for the split end position. He will be given a chance to win that job in 2015 after Deon Long has graduated.

Tyler Burke, LB - One of three linebacker recruits for the Terps in their 2014 class, Tyler Burke is a talented inside linebacker from Coatesville, PA. He is a bit buried on the team’s depth chart this season behind Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree, Abner Logan, and Jermaine Carter, but should receive plenty of opportunities next season. He’ll redshirt this year and compete for a starting job with Logan and Carter next season.

Nnamdi Egbuaba, LB - Another of the three linebacker recruits for the Terps in 2014, Nnamdi Egbuaba suffered a season-ending shoulder injury before the year began. He wasn’t expected to get any playing time, and will likely slot in at the weak-side linebacker spot when he gets healthy. He will use his redshirt season in 2014 and compete with Cavon Walker for the backup job behind Jesse Aniebonam in 2015.

Andrew Gray, TE - One of my favorite recruits in 2014 due to his sheer toughness, Andrew Gray was the only tight end recruited by Randy Edsall and his staff last season. He hails from Chardon, OH, part of the area that the Maryland staff has been breaking into due to their new Big Ten membership. He will redshirt in 2014, as he is behind P.J. Gallo and Derrick Hayward on the depth chart. He’ll likely compete with those guys for the backup job behind Andrew Isaacs next season.

Brett Kulka, DE - One of the two defensive line recruits in the Terps’ class of 2014, Brett Kulka was a 3-star recruit from Edinboro, PA. He is best suited for the strong-side defensive end spot, and will spend this season bulking up for the position. He’ll redshirt this year before competing for the backup job behind Roman Braglio next season.

Brendan Moore, OL - The Terps put an emphasis on the offensive line in their 2014 class, and Brendan Moore is one of four offensive linemen in the class. He will likely see most of his future playing time at one of the offensive guard spots, but will spend 2014 redshirting. He will be given a chance to earn a backup guard job next season.

David Shaw, DT - Darius Kilgo is an extremely talented nose tackle for Brian Stewart, but he will need to be replaced after this season. David Shaw has earned the backup nose tackle job in his true freshman season, and looks to be the favorite to replace Kilgo next season. He will need to continue to bulk up, but has proven to be a very effective run-stopper when he’s received snaps this season.

William Ulmer, ATH - While he came to Maryland as a quarterback, William Ulmer was moved to wide receiver before the season began. He will be working with Keenan McCardell and developing his skills as a slot receiver. He’ll redshirt the 2014 season and may get some snaps next season, especially if Stefon Diggs elects to forgo his senior season and head to the NFL.

Josh Woods, DB - The young man hailing from my hometown (Owings Mills, MD) is one of the more underrated prospects for the Maryland Terrapins. He has moved his way up the depth chart this season, and is currently the team’s #4 cornerback. He has a great build, standing 6-foot-2, and has very good speed. He will likely spend 2015 as a backup to William Likely again, seeing occasional snaps in nickel and dime packages.

Nate Adams, LS - It’s one of those positions that everyone forgets about: the long snapper. Nate Adams is a good one, and will spend 2014 redshirting while serving as Christian Carpenter’s backup. He may get the chance to compete with Carpenter for the starting job next season.

Antwaine Carter, DB - After missing out on Jalen Tabor, Randy Edsall and his staff made it a priority to grab a few cornerbacks. Antwaine Carter was one of those pickups. While only a 2-star recruit, he provides solid depth for a position that was previously very thin. He’ll spend 2014 redshirting, and will likely be given a chance to compete for a backup job next season with Josh Woods and Jarrett Ross.

Sean Christie, OL - The first player to suffer a season-ending injury this season was true freshman offensive lineman Sean Christie. While he wasn’t expected to see the field in 2014, the injury will likely set him back from the ability to compete for a backup lineman spot next season. Regardless, he’ll spend 2014 redshirting and recovering from his injury while preparing to compete for a backup guard or tackle spot next season.

Daniel Ezeagwu, ATH - Another of the cornerbacks that Randy Edsall and his staff picked up after missing out on Jalen Tabor. He, like Carter and Woods, stands 6-foot-2, and signals a possible preference by Brian Stewart to have some taller defensive backs. He is a bit underrated as a 2-star recruit, and will spend 2014 redshirting. He, like Carter, will compete for a backup job next season. Had knee surgery this past week.

Denzel Conyers, DB - A very late sign by Randy Edsall and his staff, Denzel Conyers transferred to Maryland from Butte Community College, but is ineligible to play this season. Also recently had ankle surgery. He will be able to compete for a backup job next season.

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Bengals Offense Different From Week One

When the Ravens travel to Cincinnati on Sunday, they should be prepared for a drastically different Bengals offense than the one they faced in Baltimore back in week one. The Bengals have been without star receiver A.J. Green for the past two weeks, while explosive running back Giovani Bernard has been limited in practice after picking up an injury last week. Cincinnati’s week one offense worked through those two players. Green runs excellent routes to create separation, but also posses great speed to be a constant deep threat.

(Discuss this post on the BSL forums here)

It was Green’s deep threat that separated the two sides in the season opener.

 Green TD 1a

Green gets matched up against corner Chykie Brown. He runs a go route aimed at Brown before working inside him.

 Green TD 1b

Green runs right past Brown and quarterback Andy Dalton has an easy throw.

 Green TD 1c

Green pulls in the catch after a couple of grabs at it. The bobbles allow safety Darian Stewart to catch up, but Green puts a move on him and walks into the end zone for a touchdown.

When Dalton wasn’t looking for Green, he went to his running back Bernard. The Bengals do an excellent job moving Bernard around and finding different ways to get him touches.

 Bernard slot screen 1a

Baltimore saw this creative screen play designed for Bernard. He lines up in the slot and fakes running an out route before cutting back towards the ball. Meanwhile, the left guard and center get out from the line of scrimmage and try to block for Bernard.

 Bernard slot screen 1b

As Bernard catches the ball, the Bengals have the play set up well. Bernard has two blockers to try and get behind, with just one Ravens defender to beat.

 Bernard slot screen 1c

Fortunately, the Bengals lineman struggle to maintain the block and Bernard is tackled, but not before he picks up 16 yards on the screen.

But both these two key components remain injury doubts. Both could miss the game, both might make it but could still be limited in production. Should they be restricted or ruled out altogether, the Bengals will then turn to receiver Mohamed Sanu and tight end Jermaine Gresham as their main threats.

In the past two games, 29 of Dalton’s 51 completed passes have gone to either Gresham or Sanu, while the pair account for 270 (60%) of Dalton’s 449 passing yards. Sanu has done a good job stepping up in Green’s absence, offering a deep threat to keep the defense honest.

 TD Sanu 1a

Here, Sanu runs a go route up the sideline.

 TD Sanu 1b

His speed gets him a step ahead of the defender and Dalton pulls the trigger.

 TD Sanu 1c

But Dalton’s pass is underthrown. Sanu is forced to make and adjustment and work back towards the ball. He does an excellent job with his body control to go up and get the catch over the top of the defender before crossing the goal line for a touchdown.

Sanu is a shifty receiver. On top of the deeper routes, the Bengals will move him around and throw quick screens to him.

 Sanu screen 1a

Here, Sanu starts outside the numbers to Dalton’s right. He motions all the way down to the numbers on Dalton’s left.

 Sanu screen 1b

The ball is snapped the moment Sanu resets. He runs a quick tunnel screen, faking up field before working back towards the ball.

 Sanu screen 1c

Sanu gets help from an offensive lineman that comes across to block off the defensive backs. Sanu works in behind that block and gets up field.

 Sanu screen 1d

The Carolina defense hustles over to make the tackle, but Sanu is easily able to pick up the first down and more.

Gresham, on the other hand, overs a threat over the middle. Cincinnati haven’t moved him around as much the past few weeks as they have in the past, but he’s been effective lining up as a conventional in-line tight end.

 Gresham zone 1a

Here, Gresham runs a simple “Y-Stick” concept.

 Gresham zone 1b

Gresham is very adept at finding a hole in the zone coverage and sitting down in it to give his quarterback a target. This is an easy five yard completion for Dalton.

 Gresham zone 1c

But Gresham is a big, athletic tight end. Instead of being content with an easy five yards, Gresham turns up field and runs through the first two tacklers.

 Gresham zone 1d

The third tackler manages to bring him down, but Gresham picks up 12 yards in the process.

Back in week one, the Bengals worked through Green and Bernard. If both are unavailable or restricted, Cincinnati have other options in Sanu and Gresham that offer different threats to the Baltimore defense.

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