Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lessons Learned From the Baltimore Ravens

Behind rookie head coach and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, the 2008 Baltimore Ravens exceeded everyone’s expectations en route to the AFC Championship. The Ravens lost that championship game to the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers, but the season was still considered an overwhelming success. No team starting a rookie quarterback has ever made it to the Super Bowl, and the Ravens were coming off a 5-11 season.

The 2008 team was spearheaded by an electric, bone-crushing defense featuring veterans Ray Lewis and Ed Reed along with young stars Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. On offense the Ravens played it safe, nurturing Flacco with a diet of handoffs and simplistic throws. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron devised a punishing three-tiered running attack that sprinkled in the occasional throw to keep the defense honest. Flacco was efficient for a rookie quarterback, throwing more touchdowns than interceptions, but never recorded a 300-yard passing game.The Ravens lost three times to the Steelers that season. They just couldn’t get over the hump against the hated Steelers, a similar defensive-minded team with a quarterback a few years further along in his development than Flacco.

Baltimore’s record slipped to 9-7 the next season, but that was enough to get the Ravens back to the playoffs. They hammered the Patriots in round one before a punchless 20-3 loss to the Super Bowl-bound Indianapolis Colts.

In an effort to become more dynamic in the passing game, to be able to match scores with the Steelers and Colts, the Ravens traded for wide receiver Anquan Boldin in March and then added T.J. Houshmandzadeh right before the season. Flacco posted career highs in yards, touchdowns, and QB rating. The Ravens went 12-4, but once again lost a heartbreaker to the Steelers which relegated them to wild card status. The playoffs found them in Pittsburgh once again, and again the Ravens came up short. Flacco threw for just 125 yards and both Boldin and Houshmandzadeh dropped critical passes.

Flacco is a solid young quarterback. He finished the season 7th in QB rating. But Flacco isn’t one of the best. He’s not a guy who you can trust in the clutch. He doesn’t seem to play his best in big games. He doesn’t make plays with his feet. He turns the ball over at inopportune times. And he seems to lack the panache, the leadership of QBs like Ben Roethlisberger and Josh Freeman.

The Ravens have also lost their identity. That 2008 team knew what it was – an overtly physical, intimidating squad that relied on a top defense and a creative offense. Since then the defense has declined slightly. While Flacco and the offense have improved overall, there isn’t a word that describes their style. “Straightforward”, “mainstream”, “vanilla”, and “slow” are the best descriptors. The Ravens may go for more yards these days, but there isn’t anything they do that scares opposing defenses.

Baltimore is now at a crossroads. For three years the Ravens have crushed the weaker competition but have struggled against the powerhouses. Hall of Famers Lewis and Reed don’t have much time left in the league. Their windows are closing. The team needs to decide whether the current offense, quarterbacked by Flacco and coached by Cameron, has what it takes for the Ravens to compete with the likes of Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. The NFL is so brutally competitive right now. A quarterback who is merely good is not enough. It could be a trying offseason in Baltimore, haunted by visions of Troy Polamalu sacking Flacco and jarring a fumble loose, Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropping passes onto a frosty Heinz Field.

As they have for the Ravens, things have been going pretty well for me. I can’t really complain about anything, and life has been on a general uptick for a while now. But I have no identity. I don’t know how to describe myself anymore. I’m not really a professional poker player, not really a writer. I wish I could be a professional board game player, and I am sort of looking into designing board games. I’m just sort of drifting without a sail right now, though the seas are calm.

The PCA was a humbling experience for me. It’s clear that my poker game has become decrepit. Repairing it won’t be a matter of shaking off the rust. There are large holes to fill. I have fallen behind the curve. If I want to get better, I am going to have to put in a lot of work. I am fortunate to have plenty of educational resources at my disposal, and I still believe that I have what it takes to compete at the highest levels of tournament poker. But I’m certainly not at that level presently.

I have to make a decision. Get in or get out. Push all-in or fold. If I want to be a successful poker player, I can’t half-ass it (which is what I’ve been doing for the last six months) anymore. At the moment I am squarely on the fence. It's not easy to just turn my back on what I've been doing the last six years, especially since I feel like the mission was never accomplished.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ZERO chance you leave poker. You do this to yourself at least once every year. You grow tired of the game, people, the grind, etc.... Only to figure out how easy the poker life is. Stop fooling yourself, stop being lazy. Do something else and see it through or commit to poker like you always do

Take down a big one this year. Gl

12:48 PM  
Blogger Spencetron said...

I wish i could pick a fun young upstart to win the Aussie Open this year, unfortunately I don't think anyone can touch Nadal. If you are looking for someone to make a run at Federer, watch out for his next match against Xavier Malisse...the wily veteran of a Belgian is playing tough right now.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Spencetron said...

Well, shows what I know...

12:45 AM  

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