Billick's plans hit reality after Mitchell takes a seat

September 20, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

It goes without saying that Stoney Case should start at quarterback Sunday against Cleveland.

But why is Tony Banks in exile? Why did the Ravens blow two draft picks on Scott Mitchell? Why won't Brian Billick stick with his running game?

Those are the relevant questions in the wake of yesterday's 23-20 loss to Pittsburgh at Three Rivers East, otherwise known as PSINet Stadium.

Case struggled initially after replacing Mitchell in the third quarter, but recaptured his preseason magic by producing 10 fourth-quarter points to tie the score with 1: 22 left.

He could have challenged Martin O'Malley for mayor if the Ravens had won. But let's not kid ourselves. Such an outcome would have been inconsistent with the entire tortured history of this franchise.

The Stone Age is upon us, but the Case isn't closed.

The case is never closed with this team.

Stoney probably isn't a long-term solution. He might not even be the best short-term solution. And the second-guessing can begin now that Billick has done a backward flip on Mitchell after asking fans to join him in a leap of faith.

Surprise, surprise, Mitchell isn't going to be the next Jim McMahon, Warren Moon or Randall Cunning- ham. Surprise, surprise, Billick isn't going to rehabilitate a quarterback who can't move, can't hit a wide receiver, can't even complete a pass in the flat.

Oh, Billick made the right call changing quarterbacks after the first series of the second half -- Mitchell completed seven of 16 passes for 48 yards and two interceptions; Case completed seven of 15 for 130 yards and one touchdown.

Billick's mistake was trusting Mitchell in the first place -- trusting him so much, he pushed the Ravens to acquire him for third- and conditional fifth-round picks on March 16 rather than wait for him to become a free agent on June 1.

The Ravens then traded fifth- and seventh-round choices for Banks, who is now their No. 3 quarterback. That's four picks -- more than half a draft -- for two quarterbacks who have fallen out of favor by Week 2, fallen behind a player who was dumped by Arizona and Indianapolis.

Hello?

Mitchell lasted only two weeks as the starter last season in Detroit and eventually dropped to No. 3 on the depth chart. The same scenario could happen -- and should happen -- in Baltimore. Banks would be preferable as the No. 2, and Billick owes it the organization to attempt to salvage the trades.

Billick hinted that Case earned the backup role by preparing better and playing more within the system than Banks. Sounds reasonable, but the coach's rationale for playing Case could just as easily be his rationale for elevating Banks over Mitchell.

It's the big water buffalo theory.

"We changed the quarterback because we needed a guy with Stoney's ability to move around and make things happen," Billick said. "That's not particularly Scott's strength. Things weren't happening for him, things weren't happening around him."

Case received minimal work in practice last week, and it showed in his first two series. First, he threw two incompletions and took a delay-of-game penalty. Then, he lost a fumble after failing to read a blitz.

"It took me too long to get going," Case said, but if the preseason proved anything, it's that the fourth quarter is Stoney Time. Yesterday was no different, with Case completing six of nine passes for 106 yards in the final period, including a 19-yard TD.

Again, he deserves to start, no matter how many picks the Ravens traded for their other quarterbacks. But if Billick is looking for mobility, then Banks certainly should re-enter the equation -- prominently.

Let's assume the worst about Banks, that he's a poor leader, an erratic passer, too much of a free-lancer. Would he be that much different than Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart, who passed yesterday for only 138 yards?

Even when his arm fails him, Stewart can make plays with legs, as evidenced by his 51 yards rushing on eight carries. Banks offers a similar type of threat. Without question, he's quicker and faster than Case.

But enough quarterback talk.

Billick's best intentions aside, the Ravens can't win with a vertical game, not with these quarterbacks, not with these receivers.

Consider Mitchell's second interception yesterday, a long pass intended for Jermaine Lewis on the left sideline. Maybe Randy Moss catches that ball. But Dewayne Washington outleaped the 5-foot-7 Lewis, who is the Ravens' most talented receiver.

Lewis, Ismail and Justin Armour had their moments yesterday, but the Ravens need to reduce the burden on their quarterbacks and receivers, need to rely more on their running game, feeble as it might be.

They actually had success running the ball yesterday, rushing for 95 yards in the first half, 80 by the exhumed Errict Rhett. But the Steelers stiffened in the second half, and the Ravens ran only 12 times for 30 yards.

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