Sunday, January 10, 2010

Blogging about Football ... and Life?

Forgive me in advance for the very football-centric theme of this post, but the Ravens game was compelling, and it really got me thinking.

The Ravens surprised everyone, except perhaps themselves, with today's 33-14 defeat of the New England Patriots. There were just too many factors for the Ravens to overcome to win the game - Tom Brady's mystique, playing a Patriots team that had not lost at home this season, the genius of Patriot coach Bill Belichick, the Ravens' habit of losing games because of penalties and/or turnovers.

And then the game started. On January 10, 2010, the Ravens looked like the team from January 2009. On the road, against a division champion, the Ravens rolled on to a lopsided win on the strength of a running game and defense. The irony is this ... for much of the 2009 season, the Ravens preferred to pass the ball. Why?

The team that achieved an 11-5 record in 2008, plus two playoff wins, ran the ball 592 times and passed the ball 433 times (1025 total plays). This year, the team finished 9-7. The team ran the ball 468 times, and passed the ball 510 times (978 total plays). Coincidence?

As the 2009 season began, the Ravens returned Pro Bowler LeRon McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice. Rice was injured at the end of the 2008 season. In addition to the runners, the Ravens added Matt Birk and Michael Oher to the offensive line. Yet the team's run attempts decreased by 124, and the passes increased by 77.

Today, in the biggest game of the year, against seemingly insurmountable odds (not to mention a whole league and its officials, who paranoid Raven conspiracy theorists believe want the Patriots to win and the Raven to lose), the Ravens reverted back to their old formula. The Ravens ran the ball on 52 of 62 total plays. There was not one fumble on a run attempt. The 52 carries led to 234 yards. All three running backs scored a touchdown (Rice had two).

Teams that run the ball successfully can affect a game in this way - it keeps a defense rested, it keeps the opponent's offense off of the field, it takes up more time (making it easier to protect a lead), and it takes the wind out of the other team's sails. When a team gives up lots of yards on running plays, it becomes deflated, and deflated teams are often defeated.

The Ravens ran their way to an improbable appearance in the AFC Championship game a year ago by running the ball. The team lost its way a bit this year to the tune of 9-7, but when the bright lights of the playoffs went on, the team reined in Joe Flacco and let the three-headed-monster running back trio win the game.

And then there's the defense. Folks thought the defense was in deep trouble for the Patriots game. People assumed that Tom Brady, Randy Moss and friends would have their way with a unit that sorely missed Rex Ryan, Bart Scott and the injured Samari Rolle, Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb. The defense had quite a day - 4 turnovers, 3 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, allowing only 64 rushing yards, and limiting Randy Moss to 48 yards receiving.

This is where football and life begin to reflect one another. The Ravens reminded me of an important lesson - be yourself. The Ravens are, and have always been, a team that runs the ball and plays defense. So while it was nice to see the team try to sling the ball around this year, to thine own self be true.

I'm real big into books on tape these days. I was listening to an author named Parker Palmer. He talks about a person living an "authentic life" - that is, we need to present to the world on the outside, what we are on the inside, and that in order to do this, we should be true to ourselves.


In real life, that means don't be someone that you are not. Don't be a phony, a fake, a fraud. People see through the false exteriors. When you say something out of character, or do something out of context, you cause raised eyebrows. I don't mean the surprise bouquet of flowers, or buying bagels for the folks in the office at work. Just be consistent. Mean what you say, keep your word, and be sincere.

In football, it means RUN THE BALL. Run the ball until they can stop you. And when they decide to position all of their defensive players in such a way to stop the run, throw it, and score points. Simple.

Defensively, the game plan from the first Colts game was a good one. The Ravens held the Colts to 17 points - and the Ravens held a 15-14 lead with 10 minutes remaining. With just under 3 minutes remaining, the Ravens trailed 17-15 but were in field goal range. But a costly interception ended the drive. The question on everyone's mind - why weren't the Ravens running the ball?

Side note - a key play that game was Ed Reed attempting a lateral after an interception. The play resulted in a fumble, and the Colts took a knee to end the game. Ed was up to the same tricks again today ... the lateral was successful, and the play helped set up the Ravens' third touchdown.

Wow, that was a long blog, and mostly about football.

Other stuff that happened recently:

A snow day on Friday ... looks like we're in for quite a winter, with most of January and all of February waiting in the wings.

Our new favorite family TV show is "Man vs. Food." I went to college with the host, Adam Richman. The show is a riot - check it out on the Travel Channel.

I'm looking for an idea for a mini-vacation - Pam and I have a credit with Southwest Airlines that we'd like to use toward a long weekend getaway. Feedback welcome.

School tomorrow - I need to iron, make lunches and get my beauty rest.