Dallas Cowboys: Steve Bisciotti

Other Side: Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson

October, 11, 2012
IRVING, Texas – For this week’s episode of The Other Side we check in with Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun for his thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens as they prepare to get ready for Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Archer: Aside from last week's game at KC, it appears as if the Ravens have an offense that can take pressure off the defense. People always ask this nebulous question about the "next step," but has Joe Flacco taken the next step? If so, why? How?

Wilson: What has changed about Joe Flacco is he's been granted greater command of the offense in terms of ability to audible and they implemented a no-huddle offense and have emphasized the shotgun formation, all things he did more of in college at Delaware. His deep-ball accuracy still isn't excellent, but it's much improved. He still has a tendency to stare down his primary read, which is what's happened on virtually all of his four interceptions. While Flacco has definitely improved overall, he still has a tendency to have inconsistency, on the road particularly, and will get into cold streaks where his fundamentals lapse. In Philadelphia, the pass rush of Trent Cole and Jason Babin affected him to the point where he was throwing off his back foot. Flacco seems to still be in the very good category with all the skills and capability to be great and is knocking on the door of getting to that point. He's just not totally there yet despite better personnel outside than he's had in the past. This isn't on Flacco, but his offensive tackle tandem of Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele are holding back the offense a bit. They gave up a total of four sacks and eight quarterback pressures to Kansas City Chiefs edge rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. That could be a problem obviously against DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.

TA: Are we seeing a different Ravens defense? The Chiefs ran all over them. Is Ray Lewis slowing down finally? How much do they miss Terrell Suggs?

AW: The defense is much different, and not in a good way. Traditionally stingy against the run, they were gashed by Jamaal Charles for 125 yards in the first half primarily through the use of the zone stretch play. Dean Pees' halftime adjustment of walking up the linebackers and shifting the defensive linemen wider was an effective strategy as Charles had only 15 yards on 10 carries after halftime. However, middle linebacker Ray Lewis looked slow in his reactions and got stuck to blocks. He had one hard hit, but that was in the fourth quarter on Cyrus Gray. Lewis has had some solid games this year, but he's also 37 years old. And it shows. Although he's lighter at 235 pounds, he's not as explosive as he used to be and doesn't get enough depth on his pass drops, which makes him vulnerable to tight ends' patterns. As tough and smart and great a tackler as Lewis is, he's been getting overpowered at times at the point of attack and beaten to the outside by faster runners like Charles and Trent Richardson. Terrell Suggs is definitely missed. The Ravens had no sacks against the Chiefs. Pees creates pressure by blitzing primarily. Other than Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, one of the most disruptive interior forces in the game, hardly anyone is defeating blocks and getting to the quarterback. Ngata is commanding double-team attention regularly and still getting penetration. Without Suggs, this has become a bend-but-don't-break defense that still excels at getting turnovers and being stout in the red zone.

TA: The Cowboys took Felix Jones in 2008. The Ravens took Ray Rice. Clearly the Ravens made out on that one, but just how vital is Rice to that offense?

AW: Ray Rice is the centerpiece of the offense even though the Ravens are transitioning to a passing outfit. Rice is a dynamic open-field runner who plays bigger than 5-foot-8, 212 pounds. He's also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield and has good hands. This guy is tough, durable and fast. The Ravens are trying to preserve him as much as possible and not wear him out, but he rarely takes a hard hit because he's elusive.

TA: Jason Garrett nearly got the Baltimore job a few years ago. Any idea how close he came to getting it over John Harbaugh?

AW: The Ravens offered Garrett the job, showed his wife the local real estate listings and it was his for the taking with a fairly high salary offer. However, he declined the offer and it seemed like his tour of interviews was just him going through the motions and he had an arrangement or understanding all along with owner Jerry Jones to become the Cowboys' new head coach. The sense many got from Garrett during his visit is that he wasn't enthralled with the idea of coming to Baltimore. John Harbaugh wasn't the Ravens' first choice, but he impressed owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome during the interview process and was vouched for by Andy Reid and Bill Belichick. They liked his personality and leadership qualities and unconventional special-teams background. He was unproven then and had never been a head coach before, but he has made the playoffs every year and won at least one playoff game and made two AFC championship game appearances. Harbaugh had to win over a tough locker room at first, too. The Ravens are happy with how things worked out, but they definitely respect Garrett and held a high opinion of him to give him that offer before later hiring Harbaugh.

TA: The Ravens haven't lost at home in a long time. Is it the team? Is it the venue?

AW: It's loud at M&T Bank Stadium, and the Ravens just seem to play with more confidence at home. On the road, they aren't the same team. They use the no-huddle less. The defense seems more vulnerable. At home, Joe Flacco has been markedly more accurate and efficient. Like most good NFL teams, they seem to thrive on a home-field advantage. It's a matter of intangibles, but the numbers don't lie since they've won 15 games in a row at home, including the postseason.

Power Rankings: Top 10 NFL owners

May, 10, 2011
NFL Power RankingsESPN.com IllustrationThe Rooney family received only first- and second-place votes from our panelists.
There wasn't a whole lot of room for debate at the top.

ESPN.com took its positional Power Rankings series off the field and into the boardroom to rate the owners. None of them are popular fellows these days, but for the purposes of this project, nobody was more respected than the Rooney family.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' owners were listed first or second on all eight of the panelists' ballots.

By any definition, Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II qualify as powerful.

They're winners. The Steelers have played in eight Super Bowls and won six of them with three head coaches. The family's success has spanned such a long time that Dan and the late Art Rooney Sr. were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame 36 years apart.

They're transcendent. President Barack Obama selected Steelers chairman Dan Rooney as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

They're influential. Dan Rooney was behind the so-called "Rooney Rule," which changed sidelines dramatically by stimulating minority hires. When it comes to the lockout, Rooney is a prominent voice of reason and could help broker the eventual deal.

"The Steelers selection is a no-brainer," ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton said. "The Steelers under the Rooneys have been the model of franchise ownership in sports. They are successful, consistent and supportive.

"They don't undergo the constant changes of other franchises. Plus, the family has been so instrumental in doing things that help advance the league, sometimes at the expense of their own franchise. It's no secret that two Rooneys are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame."

Clayton, AFC North blogger James Walker, AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas each had the Rooneys atop his ballot.

"The Rooney family is the perfect combination of tradition, consistency and success," Walker said, echoing Clayton's thoughts almost verbatim. "The easiest thing to point out is they've had the most Super Bowl wins and fewest head coaches since 1969. But they also set trends off the field with things like the Rooney Rule. They're very well respected, and there's a special sense of pride about the Steelers from players and fans that you don't see in many places. It starts at the top."

But the Rooneys were not unanimous choices in our ownership Power Rankings.

What about the power of the people?

The Green Bay Packers' ownership received three of the four remaining first-place votes. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert, NFC West blogger Mike Sando and I all listed the Packers first because of their unique kind of power. Rules governing the other 31 franchises don't apply to them.

The Packers are the only publicly owned franchise. Green Bay Packers Inc. is a nonprofit organization formed in 1922. About 112,000 stockholders own roughly 4.75 million shares of the team. A seven-member executive board oversees the team on behalf of the stockholders.

Packers fans never will have to worry about the team being sold or moving away. The Packers are the only franchise that must open its books.

Oh, yeah. They also just won their NFL-record 13th championship.

Seifert explained why the Packers are special.

"My criteria for this category was twofold," Seifert said. "Do the owners fund the team's operations well? And do they operate the team well?

"I think the Packers' arrangement is currently doing both and has none of the baggage that goes along with single-family ownership. Shareholders don't take dividends, so no one is driven by individual profit. All profits go back into the franchise. In my experience, no expenses are spared in operating the team. People might note that general manager Ted Thompson doesn't sign many free agents, but that's a football decision. He's spent plenty on retaining the Packers' own free agents.

"The executive committee has hired a competent president in Mark Murphy, and after a bumpy start on the Brett Favre departure, Murphy has facilitated excellent work from the GM and coach he inherited.

"Finally, the Packers' ownership arrangement requires Murphy, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy to be more accountable to 112,000 fans than any other NFL official is to his fan base. Shareholders can't make operating decisions, but they have the right to question decisions, to know how money is being spent and to get straight(er) answers than fans of any other NFL team."

Clayton, however, wasn't impressed. He omitted the Packers from his ballot, ensuring they didn't finish second in the Power Rankings despite their three first-place votes.

One gets the impression that if Clayton were to slot all 32 ownerships, he would jot the Packers last.

"I couldn't vote for the Packers because it is a community ownership, not a normal ownership," Clayton said. "It's not as though one owner makes the decisions and has to stand up for the praise or criticism. Assigned the chance to vote for ownership, I felt more comfortable voting for individual owners or family owners."

[+] EnlargeDan Rooney
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesDan Rooney has been one of the most influential owners in the NFL.
As a result, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was second overall. Kraft hired Bill Belichick as head coach and has stayed out of the way of football operations. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls in the past decade and went to a fourth. Forbes estimated the Patriots are the third-most-valuable NFL franchise and the world's 10th-biggest sports brand.

AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky listed Kraft above all. Kuharsky had the Rooneys second and the Packers third.

Kuharsky had the most efficient Power Rankings ballot. He was the lone panelist to vote for all of the owners who finished in the top 10.

"Robert Kraft versus the Rooneys is a close call," Kuharsky said. "I went Kraft because I feel he and his team have done more lately. In many ways, the Patriots -- not the Steelers -- are the standard-setters for the league. And while I prefer the way Heinz Field is in the middle of Pittsburgh, that development around Gillette Stadium has to be the envy of a lot of owners."

New York Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch came in fourth, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was fifth and Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti was sixth.

From there, everybody else on the Power Rankings top 10 was omitted from at least one ballot.

Eclectic Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was able to help land a Super Bowl in a nontraditional locale, came in seventh. Irsay rated no higher than sixth on any ballot, but he didn't make Williamson's top 10.

"I know it sticks out because I was the only one not to rank him, but if he was in the top three, I'd re-evaluate my reasoning," Williamson said. "But I can live with not voting for the No. 7 finisher. To be frank, I never considered Irsay. I considered 14 ownerships in all. Other than his random tweets, Irsay doesn't stick out to me, good or bad."

When it came to voting, money didn't necessarily equal power for some panelists.

I ranked Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones third, higher than any other voter. Sando and Yasinskas didn't rate Jones at all. Jones ended up eighth.

To me, you can't argue with his money or his presence. Forbes ranked the Cowboys the world's fourth-greatest sports brand behind only the New York Yankees, Manchester United and Real Madrid. Their estimated brand value was $128 million more than the NFL average and $15 million more than the Eagles and Giants combined.

Forbes estimated the Cowboys franchise was worth $1.8 billion, nearly $300 million more than the next-closest NFL club, the Washington Redskins.

Jones also serves as general manager. That puts him in control of every business and personnel decision. Sando saw that as a drawback.

"Jerry Jones is more involved in football operations than an owner ideally would be," Sando said. "He has shown questionable judgment in hiring head coaches. His involvement in football operations had made those coaches' jobs tougher. Jones dispatched with Tom Landry harshly and later failed to sustain the success Jimmy Johnson orchestrated.

"Also on Jones' watch, the Cowboys have suffered through the practice-bubble catastrophe, a Super Bowl experience that produced poor reviews and a video purporting to show Jones' drunken antics in a bar. Jones also was part of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee when the league agreed to the ill-fated 2006 collective bargaining agreement. Overall, the team hasn't enjoyed enough success recently to say the ends justify the means."

Yasinskas contended that Jones simply is overrated these days.

"If Jerry Jones had continued the success he had with Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer back in the 1990s, he'd be at the top of my list," Yasinskas said. "But the fact is the Cowboys really haven't been all that relevant for a long time. Part of that is due to Jones.

"He's done some good things and the new stadium is fabulous, but he's been way too hands-on with that franchise and he's run through lots of good coaches and players without any real results."

Let us know what you think.