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Ravens: Q & A

Ravens: Q & A

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As the Green Bay Packers prepare to meet the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night, I felt the need to get the inside scoop on the Ravens from someone in the know.

 

 

 

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview John Eisenberg, a long-time Baltimore sportswriter and author of seven sports books. John is currently employed by the Ravens organization, writing a regular column for the official team web site.

 

Also of great interest to Packers fans is John's latest book, "That First Season", about the 1959 Green Bay Packers. Based on new interviews with people who were there, the book recounts how Vince Lombardi came to Green Bay and transformed a downtrodden organization into one of the NFL's greatest dynasties. More about the book later, but first lets get to my question and answer session with John Eisenberg.

 

 

Al: Thinking about this Packers - Ravens matchup, I have this uneasy feeling that the Ravens are a team ready to break out with a big game. Looking at the Ravens' record, one thing stands out. The Ravens' 5 losses have come to teams with a combined record of 44-10. The average margin of loss in those games was 4.6 points. Are the Ravens a very good team ready to explode on the unsuspecting Packers?

John: The Ravens are indeed a dangerous team. I don't think anyone relishes playing them. They hit hard and play close games. A couple of late-game gaffes, including a missed field goal by a kicker no longer with them, have kept them from being 8-3 or even better. Having said that, they're also one of the most penalized teams in the league, they've been prone to make key mistakes, and most importantly, their defense, long one of the game's best, is not playing at the same level this year -- still solid but more yielding against both the run and pass. I don't think they will explode on the Packers. And I don't think the Packers are unsuspecting -- they have seen the films of all these brutal games the Ravens play in their division with Pittsburgh and Cincy. I would expect a close, hard-nosed game.

 

Al: Joe Flacco can expect to see plenty of blitzing from the Packers defense. How would you say he has handled teams that try to rattle him in that way?

John: The Vikings had a lot of luck early in their game with the Ravens by blitzing Flacco. And Pittsburgh had some success last week. Flacco is just in his second year and is still learning about reading defenses and coverages -- sometimes his youth shows. But he is a big guy and not afraid to take a hit. A warning, he gets up and comes back at you. The Vikings had him on the ropes and he directed a huge rally in the fourth quarter and had the game won until Steve Hauschka missed the 44-yard kick -- in a dome, unforgivable. Flacco's biggest problem right now is a sore ankle that is hampering his mobility and also his throwing mechanics.

 

Al: The Ravens brought in kicker Billy Cundiff two weeks ago. He has made an immediate impact, making 5 out of 6 field goals against Indianapolis and then kicked a game winner in OT against the Steelers. How much were the Ravens affected by missed field goals in their five losses?

John: Cundiff has provided stability, which the Ravens needed. They took a big gamble and failed by not bringing back Matt Stover, a superb kicker who was getting old but still had it. They thought Hauschka could step in with a huge leg, but he was a kid (24) and he crumbled under the pressure. The miss in Minnesota was devastating, and he missed a couple of other key kicks before the Ravens cut him. It is not impossible that Cundiff could eventually struggle, too, but he looks good so far.

 

Al: Ravens fans have been very critical of head coach John Harbaugh, much like Packer fans were of Mike McCarthy earlier this season. Do you feel he's being out coached during games and is the criticism warranted?

John: The fans are rightfully upset with all the penalties, which indicate a lack of discipline that falls on the shoulders of the head coach. And he has had problems with time management, timeouts and challenges. But he isn't really taking that much heat. Cam Cameron runs the offense and Greg Mattison runs the defense. Mattison is taking more heat than Harbaugh because the defense has had some problems. Mattison was a longtime college coordinator and some fans don't like his more conservative approach. They long for the days of Rex Ryan, the mad scientist, who brought all kinds of blitzes.

 

Al: Having followed Ray Rice at Rutgers, I was very high on him coming into the NFL draft. The Ravens grabbed Rice in the second round, one pick before the Packers made their ill-fated selection of Brian Brohm. I have often wondered if the Packers would have taken Rice if the Ravens didn't. I consider Rice a future Pro Bowler. Do you agree and what problems do you think he presents for the Packer defense?

John: The Ravens drafted Rice, but like every team, had no idea he would be this good, especially so soon. They thought they were set at running back with Willis McGahee but Rice has made Willis expendable. He can run and catch, and makes a ton of yards after the first hit. He has been a huge playmaker. I wouldn't be surprised if he makes the Pro Bowl this year -- he deserves it. He will present the Packers the same problem he has presented every opponent -- with his strength and low center of gravity, he is elusive in traffic, has a knack for getting through scrums.

 

Al: How did the Ravens come out of the Pittsburgh game injury-wise? Will any starters be out for the Packers game? Is Terrell Suggs expected back?

John: The Ravens are banged up. I realize that is true for every team this time of year, but the Ravens have issues. Flacco is playing on a sore ankle that is having an impact. Their best defense defensive player, Haloti Ngata, is also playing on a sore ankle that has made him less effective. Suggs is questionable, and if he plays, won't be 100 percent. Starting cornerback Fabian Washington is out for the season, but the rookie who replaced him, Lardarius Webb, had a great game against the Steelers. Webb is a classic Raven, a third-round pick from a little school who plays tough.

 

Al: In your opinion, what are the three main things the Packers will have to do to beat the Ravens?

John:

1. Run the ball. It can be done against the Ravens this year, as opposed to years past, and it throws the defense off.

 

2. Pass the ball down field. The Ravens are susceptible to big plays in the secondary.

 

3. Don't make mistakes. The Ravens tend to make their share -- penalties and turnovers. If you don't give the game away, you're halfway there.

 

 

That concluded my interview with John Eisenberg. I find it interesting that the three things John mentioned as keys for beating the Ravens are all things the Packers have had issues with. Running the ball successfully has been a problem until just recently. Being able to throw down field, of course, depends on the offensive line's ability to protect Aaron Rodgers. Excessive penalties have been a recurring problem for the last three seasons.

 

Personally, I think the performance of the offensive line will be the key for this game. Can they open some holes for Ryan Grant to keep the Ravens defense honest? Can Rodgers be given enough time to pick apart the Raven's struggling secondary or will he spend the evening fearing for his life? The answers to those questions will most likely determine the outcome.

 

Getting back to John's book, the full title is "That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory". It is interesting to note that John grew up in Dallas and was a Cowboys fan during the 50's. He jokingly says that the Green Bay Packers "ruined his childhood."  But you would never know that from reading his book.

 

I am personally about halfway through the book and have found it both entertaining and informative. I rate it a "must-read" for anyone interested in the Green Bay Packers or NFL history, in general.

 

Thank you, John, for the interview and enjoy the game!

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You can find more of Jersey Al Bracco's articles on several sports websites: Jersey Al's Blog, Packers Lounge, NFL Touchdown and Bleacher Report. Jersey Al is the Green Bay Packers Draft Correspondent for Drafttek.com.

You can also follow Jersey Al on facebook and twitter.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (20) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Franklin Hillside's picture

Nice work, Al.

I thought it was a great book, enjoy the rest of it.

Jersey Al's picture

I'm up to the Packers preseason games in the book. So far, I've learned a lot of new things...

Asshalo's picture

Good questions, Al. I felt like I was listening to Hub Arkish there

Jersey Al's picture

OK, I'll admit I had to google Hub Arkish. Never really read profootballweekly. I was strictly a Packer Report guy.

Asshalo's picture

Haha, no big. I hear him a lot on the 670 the SCORE in chicago. He's the voice of reason on that station. Great insights into all the teams.

Erik's picture

Great interview, Al.

Jersey Al's picture

Thank Eric, hopefully we've learned some things about the Ravens. What I learned is don't assume this will be anything but a difficult task for the Packers.

RonLC's picture

Great job Al and thanks for conectinbg with someone who really knows the Ravens. This should be an evenly matched battle between two developing teams. I think DaveK over at Packergeeks hit on a great point. This game will be won by field position, meaning the ST's. I fear the outcome when I start to feel the game will be in the hands of Slocum and his less-than-Special Teams. Crosby, Kampinos, the coverage and returns teams being a factor in the fianl outcome doesn't get me too conifident about the score.
_____
The Packers do have an even to slightly better than even chance if we can get some of the home field magic back. I'm tired of anyone beating them at Lambeau.

Jersey Al's picture

I do think the placekickers will be be used a lot on Monday Night. Not good for us...

Greg C.'s picture

Great interview. This guy gave an honest opinion instead of trying to pump up the Ravens, which he could've done, since he works for them.

I agree with him that this will most likely be a close, hard-nosed game. I think it will be low-scoring. That's not good for us, because of our bad special teams. This would be a good game for the Packers to get their red-zone offense going. We need you, Jermichael Finley!

Jersey Al's picture

Yeah, he's not afraid to say what he really thinks, which is a quality I admire.

I think the placekickers will decide this game, which does not bode well for Green bay.

RonLC's picture

More trouble for Monday. Lang is out with a concussion and Clifton is still having hamstring issues. You want to get nervous? LT-Colledge, Lg - Sitton, C - Wells, RG - ED Smith, RT - Tauscher. This could turn out to be a real stressful game.

PackersRS's picture

If that happens you can add another L to the Packers' record... Well, unless Evan Dietrich-Smith (?) is really Alan Faneca disguised, and Colledge borrowed Anthony Muñoz's footwork...

Jersey Al's picture

Are you sure about Sitton moving to left? Smith has filled in and practice at both guard spots so why disrupt the whole line again? I think we've all seen what that does. And if Colledge has to play LT, Smith would have the guy who normally plays his position right next to him.

RonLC's picture

Not sure about Sitton moving, but they have suggested that move before. Their left side seems to be the side they want to be strongest. (Strongest? That might be a bit optimistic). Let's hope Clifton has a miraculous recovery. As bad as Clifton is when he is slowed by injury, I shudder to think what they will do to Colledge on the outside.

FITZCORE1252's picture

Sounds like Clifton's probable, hopefully we can bypass all the hypotheticals!

GBP 4 LIFE

Jersey Al's picture

Maybe that extra day will help Clifton. I would hope they've learned their lesson about disrupting the entire line. Dietrich-Smith has prepared for both guards spots and played a bit for Colledge at LG.

Stan's picture

Last!

oh and nice work Al (you've done us proud again). McCarthy is certainly going to be put to the test in this one.

FITZCORE1252's picture

Fuck Baltimore. This is a great opportunity for our team to go bully a notorious bully in front of the whole country! I hope we crack their proverbial nose and watch 'em bleed out. This is the type of game we have to win to get CRED... AND get into the playoffs. While it may not be necessary to get a W, I want the CRED. When I think of Baltimore/ Pittsburgh, I think tough/physical brawlers... I want the GBP to invoke the same notion, I think we have the foundation to accomplish that! Let's crack these fuckers in the mouth.

GBP 4 LIFE

P.S. - sorry for the potty mouth... it's the @#($*$* talkin'

Stan's picture

Too true. If this team is to be known for it's Defense first then this is the game to prove it!

We're about to find out how bad this group of players want a shot in the playoffs!

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