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Ravens pose big challenge for Gabbert
October, 24, 2011
Oct 242:32PM ETEmailPrintComments2Two teams seemingly heading in opposite directions are set to face off on Monday Night Football (8:30 ET on ESPN).

At 4-1, the Baltimore Ravens look to equal the best six-game start in franchise history. In 2000, they opened 5-1, on the way to a 12-4 finish and Super Bowl XXXV title. Meanwhile, at 1-5, the Jacksonville Jaguars have matched their worst six-game start in team history (started 1-5 in 2003).

After defeating the Titans in Week 1, the Jaguars have lost five straight, their longest losing streak since losing 6 straight games from 2002-03. Jacksonville is facing its fourth straight opponent currently 4-2 or better.

The Ravens have dominated the series of late, having won seven of the past eight meetings. However, six of those wins came by seven points or fewer. History is also working against the Jaguars, who have lost their past six games in primetime.

While defenses now have Ray Rice and company to worry about, the Ravens’ defense remains its core strength. Baltimore is allowing an NFL-low 14.2 points per game, which would be the fewest since the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers (13.9).

It’s vital to strike early against the Ravens, who have allowed only six points in the fourth quarter this season. That’s reminiscent of the 2000 squad, which allowed only 42 fourth-quarter points all season.

Fewest 4th-Quarter Points Allowed
This Season
Ravens 6
Falcons 17
Jets 23
Browns 24
Lions 26

Maurice Jones-Drew is averaging a career-high 4.8 yards-per-carry, but he faces one of the NFL’s top rush defenses. Baltimore is allowing just 76.6 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry, both third best in the NFL.

That puts added pressure on rookie Blaine Gabbert, making his fifth career start. Out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks, he currently has the second-lowest Total QBR (18.8) ahead of only Kerry Collins (13.6).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, over the past 10 times a rookie quarterback has started against the team allowing the fewest points per game, his team has won just once. That came in the 2007 regular-season finale, when Matt Moore led Carolina over Tampa Bay, which was resting its starters.

Blaine Gabbert by Throw Location
2011 Season
Inside Numbers Outside Numbers
Comp pct 52.4 45.8
Yds/att 7.8 3.9
TD-Int 4-0 0-2
QBR 78.8 15.0

Gabbert’s biggest strength has been throws inside the numbers, where he’s completed all four of his touchdowns and is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt. Compare that to outside the numbers, where he averages 3.9 per attempt and two interceptions.

Of course, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed might have something to say about that. The Ravens are allowing the lowest completion percentage inside the numbers this season (55.7 pct)

There is reason for hope in Jacksonville. According to Elias, the Ravens have won just two of the last six games in which they faced a rookie starting quarterback, including losses to Charlie Frye and Trent Edwards

Favre? Who Else Would We Be Talking About?

Mon Sep 19 12:01pm EDT

And now they’re calling for Brett Favre in Indianapolis
Most of the Brett Favre(notes) talk this offseason was done half-jokingly. Sure, there were desperate teams out there, and you can’t rule anything out with Favre, but when his name was brought up, it was mostly done without any real expectation that anything would happen.

It still probably isn’t going to, but the pleas for Favre to come back are getting a little more desperate and a little more serious. Here’s Bob Kravitz of the Indy Star, making the case that the Indianapolis Colts should give Favre a call.

The next time Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay tweets about visiting Hattiesburg, Miss., here’s hoping he’s not joking around.

Seriously, what’s there to lose at this point with the Indianapolis Colts’ season swirling — having swirled — hopelessly down the drain with Sunday’s 27-19 loss to the Cleveland Browns?

Why not try something a little crazy and see if Brett Favre is interested in dismounting his tractor and taking over the Colts offense?

What was once a Twitter joke now looks like a semi-reasonable option, at least if the Colts can figure out some way to make it work with the salary cap. Sure, it would be a Hail Mary, a desperate move in desperate times, but what do the Colts have to lose?

That’s the bigger point Kravitz makes — that the Colts don’t have anything to lose. And I hate to admit it, but a call for Favre does make sense. Clearly, nothing good is happening under Kerry Collins(notes), so why not give Favre a call and take a long-shot on a miracle, as opposed to sticking with the sure thing of a lost season under Kerry Collins?

And if not Favre, why not stick Curtis Painter(notes) in the lineup? That way, at least you learn more about Painter, you get him some experience and see if he’s worth hanging on to for a while. And if he continues to be as miserable as he was in the preseason, then the upside is that you’re in position to draft Andrew Luck.

It’s worth pointing out, too, that despite all this, it’s pointless to be mad at Kerry Collins. No, he hasn’t played well, but he walked into an impossible situation, and Kerry Collins is, well, Kerry Collins. He was never going to step in and replicate Peyton Manning(notes). At best, at this point in his career, he’ll manage a game for you, and if the rest of your team is good, maybe you’ll win some games.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Colts team is not good. No matter what they do — Favre, Painter, Collins — Colts fans aren’t going to have anything to be excited about until next year, when Peyton Manning is back, perhaps tutoring Andrew Luck.

Playoffs? Playoffs! Dont Talk To Us About Playoffs!

Where do the Colts turn with an injured Manning and with Kerry Collins suffering a concussion in Sunday night’s game against the Steelers?

Our Deepest Sympathies To The Kraft Family

Patriots to honor memory of Myra Kraft

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots are honoring the memory of Myra Kraft by wearing her initials on their uniforms during every game this season.

The wife of Patriots owner Robert Kraft died July 20 after a battle with cancer. She was 68.

The team announced Tuesday that to recognize Myra Kraft’s charitable efforts a patch with the initials MHK will be placed on the upper left chest of its uniforms starting with Thursday’s preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

She managed the Robert and Myra Kraft Family Foundation and was president of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, which contributed millions of dollars to area charities.

The organization will honor her with a moment of silence before the regular-season home opener on Sept. 18 against the San Diego Chargers.

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Vick, starters expected to play first quarter vs. Ravens
By Associated Press

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Michael Vick and the rest of the starters are expected to play one quarter when the Philadelphia Eagles open the preseason against against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night (watch on NFL Network Thursday at 11 p.m. ET Thursday).

Eagles coach Andy Reid has a simple rotation. He’s going to play the first unit in the first quarter, the backups in the second and the third-string in the third with the rest of the players fighting for roster spots finishing up in the fourth.

Watch preseason games LIVE online in HD. Get the Back to Football special at
Vick won’t have starting wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson just reported to camp on Monday after holding out. Maclin still remains sidelined by an undisclosed illness. Several others won’t play, including defensive tackles Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws. Patterson had a seizure during practice last Wednesday, and was later diagnosed with a brain condition.

Veteran Jason Avant and second-year pro Riley Cooper will start at wide receiver in place of Jackson and Maclin.

“I’m comfortable with those guys and we’re going to go out and try to put on a good performance,” Vick said.

The game marks the debut of several newcomers, including Pro Bowl cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, quarterback Vince Young and running back Ronnie Brown. Young will play the second quarter.

Considering the lengthy NFL lockout and the new rules for practice, this won’t be a typical preseason opener. Players have been at training camp less than two weeks and free agents only started practicing last week.

“I think for the short period of time that they’re in, they’re going hard,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “They know they don’t have a lot of plays. They’re going to get in and try to show, and I think for those younger players, or the veteran players trying to make the team, or a team, you get an A-effort for wherever they’re at right now condition-wise and knowledge of the offense or defense-wise. Everybody is going to play in this game, so that gives them an opportunity, if they don’t make this team, then at least they have some tape out there and some work they’ve shown on tape that they might be able to get picked up by another football team. So it’s important that they give it their best shot.”

Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo will coach his first game since switching from the offensive side, where he coached the linemen for more than a decade.

“I don’t think anybody really game plans a game,” Castillo said. “It’s more of we’ll go in and do the things that we’ve been practicing and then try to match up their stuff. Really, they have not watched any tape; we really don’t game plan. All we want to do is really what it allows us to do is kind of refresh and go through all the coverages and blitzes we’ve been practicing. Kind of like little review, really.”

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

New Haven Register Sports Writer Will Be Missed

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dave Solomon, the Register sports columnist, died Saturday evening in a one-car accident. He was 59. His wife, Judy, requested that his column run today.

I was thinking:

While Osi Umenyiora and the Giants continue to fuel a tense situation with terse words and actions, we need to examine Umenyiora’s charge that NFL teams have no contract loyalty to the players. Umenyiora asks why players should be held to a higher standard of loyalty in long-term contracts than the owners.

We have no argument that Umenyiora is being underpaid at $7 million for the next two seasons combined. And surely we don’t know what Giants GM Jerry Reese said, or promised Umenyiora behind closed doors back in April of 2008.

But as to the loyalty issue, the players showed little inclination in collective bargaining to change a system that not only permits teams to cut players in the later years of their contract (when no guarantee money is owed), it financially encourages that practice as good business sense.

The lack of guaranteed money to players has been a major problem in pro football for years, yet if the players won’t fight to change a system that encourages the Bengals to say “take it or leave it” to Carson Palmer, and for the Giants to renege on giving Umenyiora the freedom to work out his own deal, then why should we feel sorry for them?

Most of the guaranteed money paid out by the clubs is front-loaded — as the players want it. But don’t come running back in years three, four and five, complaining that the contract signed in good faith years ago suddenly pales in the current marketplace.

The players had their opportunity to take a strong stand on this issue and never attempted to make changes to a system that year after year leads to an angry cadre of football players around the NFL.

‰Can you think of two coaches who are more polar opposite than the last two Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinators — currently Rob Ryan, and Paul Pasqualoni in 2010?

‰I offer this public service to global IWT readers as an aid for the upcoming NFL season — particularly in the early weeks.

Smart money favors the veteran teams across the board — and double up when a veteran team is facing an opponent with a new coach/new system.

With the lockout keeping football in gridlock for nearly five months, rookies and free agent signees just learned hours ago where the men’s room was located at their respective training camps. Moreover, new coaches and new systems are at a huge disadvantage in this abbreviated preseason and voided offseason. Everything’s coming at the new players in a hurry and it’ll be reflected on the field.

Consider that the last good advice I’m likely to give.

‰Join with me in a hearty snicker over the “commitment” of Andy Roddick to the upcoming Winston-Salem Open — which most recently was the men’s Pilot Pen tennis tournament in New Haven. In the six years that the men’s tournament played alongside the women in New Haven, Roddick failed to show up even once, telling tournament organizers without fail that it didn’t suit his preparation for the U.S. Open the following week.

Now, all of a sudden, it feels right to play the week before the Open?

Our skepticism, put in question form to New Haven Open CEO and International Tennis Hall of Fame nominee Mike Davies, resulted in the following response:

“Well, what do you think it’s all about?” laughed Davies, knowing the answer as well as I. “What can I say? Either he really needs to practice the week before the U.S. Open, or somebody’s making an offer he can’t refuse.”

New Haven, under either the Pilot Pen or its current multi-pronged corporate umbrella, has always drawn a line in the sand when it comes to paying appearance fees.

Davies acknowledged that the proliferation of appearance fees is worse outside of America, but in regard to Roddick’s commitment the week before the Open, Davies said, “My first reaction was, ‘Well, somebody opened the coffers or made some deal that is obviously very attractive. That’s about all I can say.”

‰To paraphrase a once-great basketball player:

Alex Rodriguez was playing poker. We’re talkin’ about poker, man. We’re talkin’ about poker. When you come to the ballpark and see him play, you see him play right, you see him give everything he’s got. But we’re talkin’ about poker right now, man. We’re not even talkin’ about the game, when it actually matters. We’re talkin’ about poker.

‰New Haven’s Tony Sparano, head coach of the Miami Dolphins, could use a mulligan for publicly allowing himself to be goaded by the fans who chanted Kyle Orton’s name as an indictment of Dolphins starting quarterback Chad Henne in practice last week. Sparano said the chanting “made him sick.”

You know what really ought to make him sick? The fact that the team didn’t rectify an unacceptable situation at quarterback for the second straight year. Good luck against the Pats and Jets.

‰We’re reminded by IWT sentinel of New Haven sports lore, Joel Alderman, that a precious piece of New Haven and Yale football history passed away last week. Dr. Len Fasano, a teammate of the immortal Levi Jackson at Hillhouse, Yale and in the Army camp at Lee, Va., passed away at the age of 84 on July 31. Through the years, Fasano became a vigilant spokesman against the segregation and prejudice that Jackson faced though his playing years and tour of duty in the armed service. Jackson was Yale’s first African-American football captain in 1949.

‰The only thing that could possibly be of less interest than an NBA lockout would be a UFL lockout.

‰We’re glad to see that the Governor gave the student-athletes at the vo-tech schools a reprieve. It was wrong to include them in his political fight in the first place.

‰The moment we suggested in this space last week that Robby Cano completely screwed up his swing during the All-Star Game’s home-run derby, he puts together a seven game stretch (through Friday) in which he’s hitting .462 with an on-base percentage of .533 and a slugging percentage of .807. We don’t take the credit for his resurgence, just the mortification for suggesting he was tumbling fast.

‰After last year’s big-time non-league schedule, maybe my expectations were too high for the 2011-12 UConn men’s basketball schedule. But on paper, this year’s non-league lineup leaves us completely underwhelmed. In addition to the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas, with a field including UConn, Harvard, Florida State, Utah, UMass, Central Florida, the College of Charleston and UNC-Asheville, UConn will play, Columbia, Wagner, Maine, Coppin State, Arkansas, Harvard, Holy Cross, Fairfield and Tennessee.

You can’t spin gold from that list, hard as some people may try.

‰How many zeros at the end of a blank check will it take for Tiger Woods to quash the proposed new tell-all book by his former caddie Steve Williams? Here’s hoping we get to read the juicy details.

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