The garbage has a familiar smell

PRESTON: Ravens just another bad football team in watered-down NFL


The Baltimore Ravens will huddle shortly after the season to determine what went wrong in 2015.

NFL owners need to do the same to solve current problems that could become bigger ones.

Top league officials might ignore some of the issues because the NFL is a money-making monster gobbling up billions every year, but the on-the-field product has dropped in quality.

A lot of games have lost appeal. Officiating has been horrendous and seems to get worse every week. Injuries continue to mount, especially to star players who are disappearing as fast as the fundamentals.

So on Sunday Ravens fans had a choice of spending $75 or more for a ticket to watch two of the worst teams in the NFL, or maybe stay home, rake some leaves, wash the car or cut the grass one last time before winter.

Seriously, only five of 16 teams in the AFC have winning records and the top teams in the AFC South are the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans at 3-5. The NFL would like to call it parity, but it's just bad football.

Comedy of errors: With 32 teams, the talent is watered down and there has been a breakdown in fundamentals like tackling. Watching the Ravens play San Diego on Sunday had to make any purist of the sport chuckle. The Chargers had trouble with the exchange from center to quarterback and the Ravens were even worse.

What was more surprising was Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco admitting he barely took snaps from backup center John Urschel in practice even though Urschel was the backup who later filled in for injured starter Jeremy Zuttah late in the third period.

Truly unbelievable.

It's a comedy of errors in a lot of cities every week where cornerbacks run and don't turn around to make a play on the ball. There are frequent penalties on defensive players who simply line up offsides even before the ball is snapped. Or how about return specialists like San Diego's Jacoby Jones, who after nine years in the league still doesn't know when to fair catch a punt.

Is this the NFL or Pop Warner?

Officiating embarrassing: The officiating has reached the point where NFL owners and the league's players association need to hire full-time referees. Games are supposed to be decided by the two teams on the field, not by poor officiating.

It used to be that the good teams, especially in nationally televised game, got the best crews, but not anymore. Everyone is complaining, even Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

The Ravens have had their share of bad games. Go ahead, pick one. If you thought the game against Arizona was poorly officiated, the game against San Diego was even more of a debacle.

No one knows what pass interference is anymore. It changes from week to week, from crew to crew. The officials missed one on Ravens receiver Kamar Aiken and then made up one against cornerback Kyle Arrington.

The worst no-call was when Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson was two or three yards offsides in blocking an extra point, and then almost pulled it off again later in the game.

The officials are so incompetent now that they can't even make the right call with the help of instant replay.

It's pathetic. It's time for further review. This time, the league needs to clean up its own officiating mess.

But at least something can be done with the officiating which won't require drastic measures.

Injury epidemic: Cutting down on the injuries won't be as easy.

The Olympic mantra is "Faster, Higher, Stronger," but in the NFL it's "Faster, Bigger, Stronger." The collisions are more violent now than ever.

At least 10 players were helped from the field in Baltimore on Sunday.

Each week, more stars are going down. Tony Romo. Dez Bryant. Terrell Suggs. Le'Veon Bell. Finally, Steve Smith.

Does this league need a weight limit?

The NFL will never be able to get away from concussions because those injuries are just as much a part of football as the blocking and tackling. But it's those Achilles tendon and other muscle tears that might be avoided.

Maybe teams can reduce the stress and fatigue in muscles by eliminating some of the minicamps and virtual year-round training sessions. Maybe they should emphasize more stretching and flexibility for longer and leaner muscles instead of pumping weights to add mass or bulk. One thing's for sure, something has to be done.

It took a while for the league to deal with the steroid issue and then domestic abuse. As long as the blinders are on as it rides the path to more money, the NFL is in no hurry to deal with the poor quality of play, lackluster officiating and mounting injuries.

Not easy to watch: But it's not easy to watch these games every Sunday. It gets harder when the officials affect the outcome and you have to study a roster to find out who are the team's top stars.

But without change, there will come a time when football isn't as fun anymore. And yard work becomes more important, and reasonably priced than tailgating.