On offense, tonight's episode figures to look more like rerun

Conservative approach cuts down on mistakes, depends on defense

The Ravens

January 28, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

TAMPA, Fla. - For high-risk excitement, skip the Ravens' offense and tune in after Super Bowl XXXV for "Survivor: The Australian Outback."

During the three-plus hours before that, it will be the same boring and brutal conservative attack that has become the defense's carry-on item throughout this journey to the Super Bowl.

The offense doesn't win games, but it doesn't cause the Ravens to lose them, either. There are these rules: Don't make mistakes, run the ball and ... don't make mistakes.

It's a winning, yet scrutinized formula that prompted many to debate whether the Ravens are the worst offense in Super Bowl history. But the Ravens defend their ugliness, which is the beauty of it all.

"Let me put it this way: When we win, I think I'm going to sit back and say to myself, `Ahh, I have a ring on my finger and I couldn't care less what other people think because they can never take what I did away,' " receiver Qadry Ismail said. "So, if you want to sit there and analyze, and overanalyze, and make me feel like I haven't done anything or this offense hasn't done anything, that's fine."

The last team to win a Super Bowl without a top-10 offense was the 1990 Giants. The Ravens ranked 16th in the regular season, and the offense has crawled to Raymond James Stadium.

In three playoff victories, the Ravens have managed just five touchdowns on offense, 23 completed passes and 31 first downs. They have had 17 drives without a first down. They are averaging 4 yards a play and 218 yards a game.

It's a stubborn attack in which the Ravens have run the ball 65 percent of the time.

"I don't want to be misunderstood here. I'm not saying this is the greatest offense since the invention of the forward pass, but when this offense needed to go 80 yards in the game at Tennessee, it did that," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "So far, this offense has done what it has needed to do to win. If we need to get into [a high-scoring] mode, this offense is prepared to do that."

Said left guard Edwin Mulitalo: "It's like heavyweight boxers - it may not be pretty, but someone has to deliver that knockout punch. At the end of the game, it's mostly been us."

The Ravens truly only ask for one touchdown out of their offense. The team is 15-0 when it scores seven or more points.

After the Ravens get a lead, they go into full shutdown mode. Once the Ravens went ahead 7-0 at Oakland in the AFC championship game, they ran on 37 of their final 45 plays and put their trust in the defense.

"We're smart enough to know that our defense is not going to give up a lot of points," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "We don't go out being reckless at any time."

In the postseason, the Ravens have committed two turnovers and produced three plays - all from tight end Shannon Sharpe - covering more than 33 yards. The Ravens prefer to control the field-position battle than take a big-play gamble.

It's a trade-off that the Ravens probably cannot afford to make in the Super Bowl.

"Is it going to take more than one big play to win it? I'm sure it is," Cavanaugh said. "But I think we're capable of getting more than one big play."

The players, however, want to keep the same basic mentality.

"We're not going to break away from what's gotten us here thus far," right tackle Harry Swayne said. "There's not going to be any surprises. Billick can't pull anything out of his sleeve right now. We've got to do what we're good at."

It may be ugly. It may be criticized. But the Ravens' offense is playing for the rings, not ratings.

"The only thing I want to prove is when the clock strikes zero, we have more points than the Giants," Ismail said. "If we do that, then we're OK."

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