Billick keeps lid on attack - and title

August 05, 2001|By Mike Preston

REMEMBER THE date of July 31, 2001. That's when Ravens coach Brian Billick remained committed to the dark side about the coming season.

"We're not going to be reckless. We're not going to throw the ball all over the yard 45 times in any given game," Billick said Tuesday.

Beautiful. Let's start clearing another spot for a possible second Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Those were the words a lot of us have wanted to hear ever since the Ravens signed quarterback Elvis Grbac in March. They ensure that Billick isn't going to play mad bomber this year, and that the team's formula will basically remain the same as last season when it won the Super Bowl: Give the ball to halfback Jamal Lewis, and let the defense beat the hell out of people.

It's a major relief, even if the statement comes early in the season and is from a coach whose first words as an infant were probably "vertical" and "explosive plays." He is talking the talk. We'll see if he walks the walk.

"The 1984 49ers had a good equation if you can get it," Billick said. "We want to play great defense, get an early lead, make great plays downfield, be efficient in the first half, and then pound the ---- out of them in the second half," Billick said.

Ooooh, I love when he talks like that. Goose bumps appear.

After almost a year and a half on the other side of the fence, the coach with the West Coast offense still has the East Coast mentality. Hallelujah.

The dark side still prevails.

Even with Grbac throwing some really nice balls at training camp and young receivers like Travis Taylor and Brandon Stokley snatching up every pass within arms' reach, Billick is fully aware that his defense and field position will continue to win games.

Now don't get the impression that the Ravens are going to be the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s. They didn't bring in Grbac to hand off a la Trent "I Finally Found a Job" Dilfer. But Grbac gives the offense some balance, and just the fear of him throwing opens up the field.

The Ravens have another dimension.

"We're going to be assertive in what we're going to do depending on who we're playing and what we have working at the time," Billick said. "We want more completions, more big plays, more offense, but we still want to win games, that's the bottom line. We don't have to have X amount of completions and big plays; it just has to be an increase in productivity."

It all makes sense. The Ravens can't go into the season leaning heavily on their passing game because there are still too many questions. When will Grbac finally be comfortable? Can Stokley and Taylor maintain their present performance level? Can the two-tight end formation be effective with a rookie in No. 1 draft pick Todd Heap?

But the Ravens know about their running attack. Lewis rushed for 1,364 yards last season. Sam Gash is the best blocking fullback in the NFL. Jonathan Ogden is the best offensive tackle in the league.

There are absolutely no questions about the defense. It was the best in the league last season. Ten starters return. They all reported to training camp on time, and look quite fit and hungry, especially the two big guys, tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa.

The only problem may occur once and if the passing game becomes effective. Billick hasn't met a forward pass he didn't like. He once admitted that he would pass every play if he could.

That's when this all will become interesting.

Billick came to Baltimore with the reputation of being an offensive genius. But instead of becoming another Sid Gillman, he has become Barney Fife. He hasn't pulled the trigger on a passing offense because the team hasn't had any ammunition.

His best and most consistent receiver in two years has been Qadry Ismail, who is inconsistent. The team hasn't found a regular starting quarterback in two years. But in Elvis, the Ravens have the real deal. He has the touch that Tony Banks couldn't master on short passes, and a tight spiral that Dilfer never had on any passes. Grbac has been impressive in training camp, especially finding secondary receivers. He is more agile than expected.

The Ravens will have a more varied passing game this season. There will be more patterns than just a slant, thank goodness.

"We're doing things I'm more comfortable with, and with the talent we have, we have implemented some new plays," Grbac said of the passing attack, ranked No. 22 last season. "A lot of the things they did last year, it's still in the playbook. We're just getting to it. We're working on our passing game, trying to get guys more focused, more involved. We can't be going to Shannon [Sharpe] all the time. We have to complement our running game with the passing game, so the entire offense can become more balanced with the defense."

You see, they are all on the same page, talking about the same approach. The Ravens won't be the Minnesota Vikings or the St. Louis Rams this season, and that's fine because they don't need to be. There might be times when Billick becomes too infatuated with the passing game this season, times when that high-octane mind of his won't slow down. It might cost him a game or two.

But if there is one thing Billick loves more than any high-powered offense, it's a Super Bowl title. He proved that last year when he took the air out of the ball, and put the game in the hands of his defense and the arms of Jamal Lewis.

He hasn't forgotten. There was a big reward for being on the dark side.

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