Blackhawks

Playoff prognosis: Ravens at Chiefs

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Playoff prognosis: Ravens at Chiefs

Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011
12:10 AM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

One more time around for Ray Lewis.

The Baltimore middle linebacker has willed his teams to epic heights in the past and the best guess now is that hell do it this one more time.

Hell have help.

Joe Flacco burst on the NFL with a splash in 2008 and has been a winning quarterback in at least one playoff game in each of his first two seasons. His passer rating has improved significantly every year, from 80.3 as a rookie to 88.9 in 2009 and 93.6 this season.

But the key to the offense has unquestionably been running back Ray Rice, and in a game against a Kansas City team with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, the role of Rice in keeping the Chiefs offense off the field looms even larger.

When Ravens got away from Ray Rice, they broke down, said ESPN analyst Herman Edwards. When you do that, it hurts your defense. Your defense is built to play so many plays and you dont want to be stopping the clock when your offense is on the field.

We always say its a passing league but heres the deal: You pass to score, you run to win.

The surprise will be if the Chiefs can run against Baltimore well enough to win. Flacco and Matt Cassel are a virtual wash at quarterback, with Cassel holding a slight edge in TDs and INTs. Charles finished No. 2 in the NFL with 1,467 rushing yards and a stratospheric 6.4 yards per carry. No other rusher in the Top 20 averaged more than 5.2. Jones added 896 yards.

No team rushed for more than the Chiefs 2,627 yards and their 4.7 yards per carry is second only to Philadelphias 5.5 among playoff teams.

But four of the five best teams against the run (Pittsburgh, Chicago, Jets, Baltimore) are in the playoffs for a reason. No team allowed fewer than the 5 rushing touchdowns given up by the Steelers and Ravens.

Four of Kansas Citys six defeats were by double digits, including blowout losses to division rivals Oakland and San Diego in the span of the final four games.

Baltimore 17 Kansas City 14

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

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AP

Stan Bowman explains how Blackhawks may utilize extra cap space

The Blackhawks had cap space to use this summer but elected to shore up their depth rather than make a splash when free agency opened up on July 1. Perhaps a large reason for that was because Marian Hossa's $5.275 million cap hit over the next three years complicated what they could do exactly in the short term without jeopardizing the long term.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman admitted Tuesday that they had had discussions about moving Hossa's contract for a year now. But it finally reached a point where they simply needed to get it off their hands, even if it meant giving up Vinnie Hinostroza as a sweetener.

"We tried to make that deal work in every other way possible but they obviously said he had to be in it," Bowman said of including Hinostroza.

That's how important it was to free up even more cap space. By trading Hossa's contract in a nine-piece trade with the Arizona Coyotes, it created more options for the Blackhawks and financial flexibility going forward.

"It was a difficult trade from a sentimental perspective, because we'd love to not have to do that," Bowman said. "But on the practical matter, it was becoming challenging to try to operate with that contract here. It necessitated us trying to make the move that we did make. You don't know when those opportunities are going to come to try and make that type of a move. ... When this presented itself, we talked it through and got to the point where we thought it was something we had to take advantage of."

The problem for the short term is, it's mid-July and the big-name free agents are off the market. There's not much the Blackhawks can do to improve their roster externally unless they make a trade, which would require dipping into the pipeline.

And it's unfair to put a grade on the Hossa trade as a whole without seeing how they utilize that extra cap space. Could that be before the 2018-19 season starts?

"It's an option if we can find the right player or the right situation," Bowman said. "We certainly have more options now than we did before. I wouldn't say we have to do something. Having cap space is an asset in and of itself, so things will come along maybe in the summer or maybe in the beginning part of the year where teams have a couple players that make their team unexpectedly and that makes some other players more expendable. In the past we probably haven't really been a good match for those types of situations because we didn't have the cap room at that time, so now we're going to be in the mix for those types of things.

"Whether we use it right away or whether we use it during the season, I think the nice thing is we have the flexibility now going in to the coming years where we're going to need cap room, all that and more, to sign the young players."

It doesn't sound like there's much urgency to pull something off between now and when training camp rolls around in September. At least for now.

That doesn't mean there won't be once the market picks back up again. 

"Each year teams have surprises, good and bad, in camp," Bowman said. "Our team’s the same way. You have ideas on how your lines are going to look or how your players are going to be ready. Sometimes guys surprise you in a good way, sometimes it’s not what you think. There’ll be some adjustments around the league, but probably not a lot of activity.

"If you look back the last couple of seasons, late July and August are quieter as far as transactions. But there are some arbitration cases coming up around the league; those may get settled ahead of time. But if they do go to arbitration, if the number's not the way the team likes it, they may look to do something. There’s the possibility of moves, but probably closer to training camp is more when changes may happen."

Motivated Markese Jacobs seeks national acclaim before senior year at Uplift

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USA TODAY

Motivated Markese Jacobs seeks national acclaim before senior year at Uplift

NORTH AUGUSTA, SC. -- Markese Jacobs doesn't have to impress college coaches during the July live evaluation period since he's already committed to Kansas. But the Uplift rising senior point guard is still motivated to make a strong impression during his final summer on the grassroots circuit.

Playing with a healthy and rejuvenated Mac Irvin Fire roster that includes Morgan Park's Adam Miller and former city players like Terrance Shannon (Lincoln Park) and Kahlil Whitney (Solorio), Jacobs is running an offense with a lot of talent around him the next few weeks. His ultimate goal is to make waves with national talent evaluators to improve his stock and overall ranking.

"We're extra motivated because we didn't get to play with each other fully healthy. We were missing guys some sessions. Some players weren't playing. Now our thing is, now that we're healthy, let's finish strong and accomplish what we want to accomplish," Jacobs said.

"My goal is to at least get top 50. They've got me in the 90s and 100s and I feel disrespected. My whole thing is coming out strong and breaking the top 50."

Since Jacobs doesn't have to worry about collecting scholarship offers since he's been pledged to the Jayhawks for over a year, he is focused instead of making sure that his point guard ability continues to grow. Jacobs also wants to continue to improve his perimeter shooting since defenses will collapse on him regularly next season.

"I have to show that I'm not only an athlete. I can play defense, score the ball and get the ball to my teammates," Jacobs said.

"Over these next couple months, my whole thing is getting off the dribble and hitting open shots. Going into my high school season, pretty much everybody in Chicago is going to be gunning for me. I'm going to get double teamed and stuff like that. So the opportunities that I get, I have to make the best of them."

Jacobs is encouraged by how things are going at Uplift entering next season -- especially now that he is a team leader. In the past, Markese could rely on leadership from his older brother Demarius, or Toraze Dobbs. Now, those guys have graduated and it's his time to shine as a team leader for the Titans.

"It's actually very different. I have to be the one talking now. I can't take a couple plays off like I normally can. So now, it's just, I have to come with it every game," Jacobs said.

Uplift will continue to develop its Class 2A rivalry with conference opponent Orr as both teams always feel like they're on a collision course during the postseason. This season, Jacobs has made it clear that a state title is his goal as he feels as though Class 2A is underrated in Illinois. 

"I'm trying to win state. That's my only goal. City is going to be what city is going to be. But my whole thing is winning state,' Jacobs said.

"Two A is actually pretty tough because it's the same two teams every time: us and Orr. For us, it's about finishing once we get to that game. We do pretty good up until that game, and then we fold. So my thing is just finishing and playing all the way through."