No longer are the Orioles presumed to lose games and end with losing records. They’ve shed that distinction that has haunted them for over a decade & half.

This began back in 2012 when they finally broke their playoff-less drought and reached the postseason. Also, they did have a great wild card win as well.

At 73-52 with a 9 game lead over both the Yankees & Blue Jays, the O’s are almost certainly winning the division with the magic number now down to 29. They’re 9 games away from clinching their third straight winning season. This looks to be the season of destiny for the Orioles to take the World Series.

However, at this point in the season, with 37 games left to play, is the enthusiasm down? Sure, the attendance numbers have been some of the highest seen in many years, especially in a big football town. Yes, now one can wear their Orioles gear wherever they want, whenever they want, without worry or care. Writers had been writing about the Orioles’ positive attributions for the current 2014 season and have universally acknowledged that they are a force to be reckoned with, even if they don’t fully understand why. (especially with how the pitching has suddenly improved and lowered the team ERA drastically)

But, honestly, think back to 2012: weren’t we more excited then? Every win that brought us closer to at least finishing with a winning record was met with much fanfare. Making the postseason was just the icing on the cake (and I guess the wild card win was the cherry on top). “Orioles Magic” had returned as being the go-to answer to the question, “How are the Birds going to win this one?” A long dormant fanbase was reawakened and found reason to follow baseball again with as much enthusiasm that they could muster.

Of course, a Super Bowl win that followed 4 months after a postseason exit trumped all of the excitement.

Right now, the questions that Os fans are thinking of are:

1) Is Manny’s ankle ok?

2) Would we have any trouble against the Athletics/Angels in the postseason?

3) Would a 2nd seed be enough for Buck to win AL Manager of the Year?

The ‘winning games’ part isn’t an issue anymore. We now know that the Orioles will win games, and we’re just waiting for October for the real games to start.

Speaking of issues, the Ravens are still enduring through injuries as the preseason drags on. They will face the Redskins on Saturday night without many of their starting cornerbacks, including our top guy Jimmy Smith who was hurt last week.

However, there is much faith placed on general manager Ozzie Newsome’s shoulders that he’ll solve everything before the season starts. His whole career has shown Ravens fans that we all should “Trust in Ozzie”. Just about every offseason, the Ravens have to go through some sort of personnel changes. Whatever changes occur, the Ravens come out either enduring it or are better suited for the long run.

One giant change in the past that hasn’t been talked about much was the changeover from Chuck Pagano to Dean Pees at defensive coordinator. In his first year, Dean Pees had brought the Ravens to one of its lowest defensive rankings of all time. Yet, his defense still assisted them in winning the Super Bowl. His “bend-not-break” style is much different from previous coordinators (majority of whom had left for head coaching jobs). The defense did improve statistically last year, but definitely underperformed during certain games.

The Ravens had partially addressed the problem with defense last year by drafting highly at safety & middle linebacker after losing Ray Lewis & Ed Reed. This year, they did it again by drafting for middle linebacker, defensive tackle (replacing Arthur Jones), and safety. All that is left is for the defensive unit to coalesce and be primed to return to it’s dominant standing among the NFL.

The philosophy used by Pees for his defense may be beneficial in the long run as well. With more and more teams going to a pass-happy offense, with quarterbacks throwing for 4,000 & 5,000 yards more than ever in NFL history, defenses need to adjust to the onslaught from offenses.

Most teams have taken notice of the Seahawks’ formula of favoring tall cornerbacks and their physical play. However, the pool of cornerbacks who are at least 6’2 is extremely limited. Colleges have been putting into practice of putting a lot of their best athletes on offense as they feel that offense sells tickets. If a player is skinny and 6’5, he’ll more than likely play wide receiver.

At this point in the NFL, wide receivers have lost their dominant, diva attitudes and are offered much less compensation for their efforts, despite being a big reason for the passing increase. At the same time, defensive coordinators are freaking out and the demand for top cornerbacks has increased dramatically. This shift in attitudes may result in colleges eventually putting the tall, skinny players at cornerback to reflect the demand & necessity. (I expect things to even out again in at least 3 years from now. Maybe we’ll see a resurgence in running backs?)

For the Ravens’ part, they haven’t succumbed to the (above) frantic trend that other teams are desperately trying to emulate. Instead, their solution appears to be, in fact, Dean Pees’ “bend-not-break” defense!

Consider what it is: it’s a defense that is designed to give offensive allowances to opposing teams but clamping down when needed to stop/slow down scoring. Given how passing offenses are becoming more and more dominant and high scoring affairs are more likely to occur, the defense should prepare to limit the damage rather than go for the all out shutdown.

If a strong defense (for example the Cardinals) is able to shut down a prolific passing offense (lets say the Packers) for 3 & a half quarters and the score is within a field goal, the threat of the strong offense pulling through is very likely to end the game.

If, however, one prolific passing team with a weak defense (ex. Cowboys) is in the midst of a shootout with another similar team (Saints), the defense of one should be able to handle itself at the end to prevent an upset, as it has had more practice in facing strong passing attacks than a team with a strong defense that focuses on making statements early rather than late.

Of course, only preparing for a passing offense can hurt a team if they don’t get a huge passing attack to respond to. For an example of that, look no further than the Broncos-Seahawks Super Bowl.  On the blog post I wrote before the big game, I did refer to the fact that the bigger matchup would be between the Seattle offense & Denver defense, as their rankings aren’t near the top like their counterparts are. The game result was a well rounded attack by Seattle against a Bronco team that appeared one dimensional, in that offense was its only strength.

The talking point repeated over and over by sports media was that the Super Bowl result was because of the tall, physical cornerbacks of the Seahawks. This discounts the rest of their defensive players, with their very good defensive linemen & linebacker corps. Also, a good running team can improve the defense by retaining the time of possession, which allows the defense to rest and have fewer opportunities to lose the game.

The point of all of this, is that the majority of NFL teams have overreacted when they got caught up in the tall cornerback trend. The Ravens’ smart decision to rely on designed schemes & execution rather than physical attributes will be shown in the long run.

We should get to see how our defense will stand up on Saturday against Washington, as the third preseason game is when the starters are in the majority of the game (about 3 quarters). I should expect to see a defensive back or two standout in this game and make the team and/or the starting rotation.

Enjoy your weekend, and go Ravens & O’s!

-CW

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