kt1000) is a huge Baltimore Ravens fan. And I'm a huge San Francisco 49ers fan. Our teams are playing in the Super Bowl. So we're going to ask each other questions about our respective teams. Enjoy.
Q. What's been the most annoying local news story on the Ravens leading up to the Super Bowl?
A. I could definitely do without the stories on New Orleans travel tips. I believe it’s all a plot from BIG TOURISM to remind all of us in Baltimore how awesome New Orleans is and how Baltimore blows. I just want to remind them that “The Wire” is far superior to “Treme,” even if I would trade for Creole and Cajun food in a heartbeat.
Q. What's been the most annoying national story line on the Super Bowl? The Harbaugh brothers? Ray Lewis's character being dissected?
A. At this point, the whole “Is Joe Flacco elite?” story line makes me want to claw my eyes out. Flacco suffers from the fact he isn’t smooth in front of the cameras & just looks like kind of a goof. I mean, has anyone ever been successful with a unibrow?
Q. What are Ravens fans thoughts on John Harbaugh? Do they believe he's a good coach or a great coach? And what are his coaching strengths and weaknesses?
A.Obviously most fans at this point love the guy. I don’t believe his strength lies in X and O scheming. First, he’s embraced technology. The Ravens are at the forefront of the technology revolution in the NFL, from advanced metrics, to putting their playbooks on iPads. More importantly, you can easily tell that Harbaugh absolutely loves on the field competition. But it was more than just coaching–it was clear his passion was leading from the heart and serving as a role-model and mentor to his players. Harbaugh is caring, and passionate about football–and by the smile on his face when he talks about his players, you could tell he really loves them. He has no visible ego, a wonderful sense of humor, and repeatedly pokes fun at himself and his own weaknesses. It’s obvious the players love & respect him & it filters down to the way they stand by each other in the tough times. This also leads to his weakness: he is over-loyal to his assistants & players he likes (most people believe Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti played a huge role in firing Cam Cameron) & stubborn to a fault. Once a player lands in his Chateau Bowwow, it takes a long time for them to escape it. He also takes after his mentor Andy Reid in ridiculous challenges that have no hope of succeeding.
Q. What's your biggest worry about the Ravens heading into the game? Lack of touches for Ray Rice? Lack of speed to defend Kaepernick? Other?
A. Offensively, can the Ravens establish any kind of running game against the 49ers front seven? The Falcons never had the run game started and I think it hurt them in the 2nd Half of the NFC Championship game. Ray Rice looked run down & tired against New England, and Bernard Pierce is nursing an ankle injury, so hopefully the bye week allows both guys a chance to rest and get close to full strength. Ray Rice only had 59 yards against the 49ers in the 2011 matchup and the Ravens have to improve on that in order force the 49ers to honor the play action game. Also, the Ravens need to be more aggressive in their play calling from the start of the game and not just wait until forced to open up their playbook. It’s also imperative that their coverage teams clean up their act, and not allow Ted Ginn, Jr the opportunity to make a couple of big plays in the return game.
Q. What's been the biggest difference between Jim Caldwell and Cam Cameron as play callers? Is Caldwell an improvement over Cameron? Or is he about the same?
A. Caldwell is doing more designed roll-outs and has largely ditched Cameron’s ineffective screen game, however this is still the Cam Cameron playbook. The improvement with Caldwell comes with increased communication between Flacco & him, not through any genius in calling plays. The Ravens still struggle with getting in an offensive rhythm and can fall into some obvious patterns (no passes on 1st down in the first half of the Patriots game). In fact, the improvement in offensive play can probably be traced directly to putting Bryant McKinnie into the lineup at LT, which has seemingly solved the Ravens problems at both tackle, and left guard. Of course, the offense is averaging 28 points a game in these playoffs, so Caldwell has to be doing something right.
Q. Do you believe in teams having "momentum" going into a championship? If so do you believe the Ravens have "momentum" heading into the Super Bowl?
A. I’ve never been a big believer in momentum, especially in a week to week game like football. However, these Ravens do seem to have a touch of destiny. Remember, they were at 2% win probability getting the ball with a minute to go and no timeouts in Denver, and ever since Rahim Moore blew his deep zone, they seem to be playing like a team that knows it got a second chance at winning the Super Bowl.
Q. Is the Ravens defense as good as everyone says? Do they have a weakness? And what worries you the most about the defense heading into the Super Bowl?
A. People think the Ravens defense is good? This unit is a shell of the classic Ravens defenses most football fans associate with the franchise. They’ve been battling injuries all season, and the Super Bowl will be about as healthy as they have been all season. However, they do two things really well: they don’t give up many touchdowns (2nd in red zone TD’s allowed), and they can turn the offense over. In this game, the question will be; how do the Ravens slow down the zone read? Atlanta chose to take away Kaepernick’s runs, which led to Frank Gore gashing them & Kaepernick to show off how easy it was to find a wide open Vernon Davis anywhere on the field. Now, when the Ravens faced RG3 & the Redskins version of the zone read they made the same choice, which led to Alfred Morris having a monster day. But, RG3 threw for 243 & “only” scrambled for 34 more. I think you’re going to see something similar in this game, where the Ravens will do everything they can to keep Kaepernick in the pocket, and hope that their coverage holds up. I could also see the Ravens trying to use some kind of gimmick defense that won’t be on any film the 49ers have seen. The secondary collectively played its best game in Foxboro and the 49ers receivers don’t scare me the way Atlanta’s or Green Bay’s would have. I do expect a big game from Vernon Davis (Terps!) as they exploit the coverage deficiencies of both Ray Lewis and Donnell Ellerbe. Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees appears to be the master of the halftime adjustment. In both the Denver and New England game, the Ravens defense was torched in the 1st half and lights out in the 2nd. The game could come down to do the 49ers get touchdowns or settle for field goals in the red zone.
Q. What are Ravens fans thoughts on Joe Flacco? Is he as frustrating to watch as he appears to be? And are you worried about the possible extension he's going to sign after the year?
A. It’s like constantly cycling on & off Zoloft. You take the medicine for a few weeks and everything is going well, so you start trying to reduce the dosage and suddenly and all your old habits and behaviors re-establish themselves. That’s what watching Flacco play is like. Just when you’re sure he’s going to finally take the step and be a consistent performer, that’s when he’ll have a game or two with a 40% completion rate and only 140 yards. Of course, Flacco is never helped that his receivers drop 3-5 catchable balls a game, even though Joe takes the heat for the drops. Flacco is a better runner and decision maker than he gets credit for. However, he overly trusts his arm, which leads to him hanging around in the pocket for far too long. Flacco also has very weak hands, so if the Niners can get to them, he’ll more often than not put the ball on the ground. Yes, I’m terrified about paying Joe Flacco 16 million dollars a year, especially considering all of the other needs the Ravens have and how they are one of the teams that is always perennially right up against the salary cap.
Q. I'm starting to run out of questions but I have to ask, how pissed were Ravens fans when the team dumped Trent Dilfer for the immortal Elvis Grbac?
A. Honestly, there’s a bit of revisionist history in this. At the time, the QB the Ravens really wanted was Brad Johnson, whom Brian Billick had coached in Minnesota. He wisely decided to pass on that pressure and signed with Tampa Bay, and the Ravens signed Grbac. The big blow to the 2001 Ravens was Jamal Lewis blowing out his knee in training camp (as was memorably featured on the first Hard Knocks). Without him to take the pressure off, Grbac and his receivers struggled all year to develop any kind of rhythm and they never gelled into the offensive unit they had the potential to become.
Q. How much are you worried about Jerome Boger officiating this game?
A. Jerome “Ladies Man” Boger as the Super Bowl referee makes me wonder what games the people in the NFL office have been watching, and if this is all just a big fuck you to the referees union. All you have to do is read the reports that the other officials think this is a terrible choice, including the fact he has had an unprecedented number of bad call markdowns overturned by the league office to make me worried about his ability to keep control of the game; especially with these teams and the physicality they both bring to the field. I just hope it doesn’t swing the game and leave one fanbase to be blame the loss on the referees. This has the potential to go very poorly and lead to a Free Hochuli hashtag to start trending worldwide on Twitter sometime Sunday night.
Q. What do Ravens fans think of the 49ers?
A. For a time, up to and including the NFC Championship game, the 49ers were viewed as the Ravens little brother (mainly because of the Harbaugh thing and a little bit because of Vernon Davis), and a lot of Ravens fans were rooting for them to win a lot of games and make it to the Super Bowl. I think that view lasted for such a long time because, outside of National TV games, most 49ers Sunday regional games are not usually shown in Baltimore. Now that there’s been a week of chatter, a lot of that is wearing off, and 49ers fans are being seen as being as arrogant as Patriots fans. All you hear about is the rings, Montana to Rice, 55-10 in the Superdome, and how the 49ers are about to enter a new golden age, and how the Santa Clara stadium is going to be the best stadium not only in the NFL, but in the world; it just goes on and on in that vein. It’s a good reminder of why I always hated the Niners as a kid, and would root for anyone, including the Redskins (whom I’ve despised since birth) to knock them out of the playoffs. Basically, I want the Ravens to shut Niners fans up about both their future and ancient past.
Q. I promised myself not to ask Ray Lewis questions but I can't help myself. What's his overall legacy in Baltimore? When he retires is he the most popular athlete ever to play in Baltimore or is that reserved for a Orioles player or even Johnny Unitas?
A. You can insert Cal Ripken and the gruesome metaphor of your choice here, and he would still be the runaway winner in this category. No one, not even Ray Lewis, is that close. The cult of Ripken is that strong.
As for Ray Lewis, none of the questions that surround him nationally will be brought up in Baltimore. He’s become easy to caricature, but Ray Lewis will always be remembered as the ferocious hitter and the ultimate leader of men. It is going to be very, very difficult to replace him on the field and in the locker room. Just by playing, he lifts everyone else’s game up to another level. He leads these guys, and in a sense the city, and we’ve all bought in to the belief that there isn’t anything he or the team can’t do. In a sense, the players play hard because they don’t want to let Ray Lewis down. That’s something very, very few great athletes have the ability to pull off. This team has been through so many gut punch losses in the last 5 years (2008 Steelers times 3, 2010 SNF against the Steelers that swung the location of the playoff game against them, 2011 Divisional against Pittsburgh, 2012 AFC Championship at New England) that I think they will handle the pressure and the nerves of this moment, because Ray isn’t going to let them lose focus of this moment. Just writing that has me ready to run through a brick wall.
Thanks to Kris and good luck to the Ravens.