Playing a transition game

Offense: Jamal Lewis' absence figures to speed up the Ravens' reliance on the passing game, but the team is confident it can produce points behind its well-armed quarterback, Elvis Grbac.

Nfl 2001 -- The Ravens

September 07, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

There will come a time early this season when Brian Billick will face the biggest temptation of his Ravens coaching tenure.

Should he ride new quarterback Elvis Grbac's arm until it falls off? Or does he rely on the running game, field position and defense, an old-fashioned philosophy that garnered the Ravens a Super Bowl title?

Here's one suggestion: If Grbac gets hot, Billick could just let it fly.

"That's not a bad idea," Billick said, laughing.

If this season's offensive options put Billick in a good mood, it may be because it's such a welcome change. In Grbac, the Ravens have put the zing into their passing game with a quarterback capable of regularly registering 300-yard games.

There were none by Trent Dilfer or Tony Banks last season. In fact, the team's last 300-yard game was by Banks in December 1999.

Grbac had five last season with the Kansas City Chiefs, including a 500-yarder at Oakland. Kansas City's record in those games was 2-3, though. Still, when he is on, Grbac can put on an impressive air show.

"We're not going to arbitrarily throw it up 50 times a game," Billick said. "We'll wait and see how the game goes. We're prepared to do that if we have to. But if we can run the ball 35, 40 times a game, we'll do that. And there are going to be some games where we'll probably be able to do that."

That may be a little optimistic, especially with star running back Jamal Lewis out for the season. The reality is that the Ravens may stand a better chance at winning via Grbac's arm than by trying to force a running game with Moe Williams, Terry Allen, Jason Brookins and Obafemi Ayanbadejo.

And if the Ravens' defense performs at a level comparable to 2000, a couple of explosive passing plays could produce the same result.

"The idea of the efficiency we talked about, the explosiveness, which was a nice adjunct to the running game, is going to have to deliver now more out of a sense of need and urgency than if we would have been able to maintain the same running profile," Billick said.

It is hard to imagine that last season's prehistoric offense could take on a whole different personality this year. But the Ravens' coaches are taking a "whatever is working" approach, and if that means relying heavily on the passing game, so be it.

"If we're running the ball, just pounding it, we'll keep doing it," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "Until the defense shows they are going to find a way to stop it, we'll keep on. And we're not afraid to do that throwing the ball. If that becomes our mode of moving the ball and scoring points, we'll do that. We just tend to think it's going to have to be more balanced than that. But there's no question if one player in the game gets hot, then you just ride it out until somebody stops him. And [Grbac] has the ability to do that.

"I think people will find we're not going to be the same week to week. We may come out one week and throw for a lot of yards. We may come out the next week and be a little more ball control. The game plan has to change from week to week."

The weeks the Ravens do air it out, they may not win the time of possession battle they seemed to dominate much of last season. The Ravens had the ball more than their opponents in six of the final seven regular-season games last year.

Can the defense hold up as well if it is on the field longer? It proved it could last year in the playoff win at Tennessee, where the Titans held the ball for more than 40 minutes, yet produced 10 points.

What about having to defend a shorter field because of turnovers, usually another byproduct of a more wide-open attack? That may not be a major factor considering Grbac threw just 14 interceptions in 547 attempts last year. By comparison, Dilfer threw 11 in 226 attempts."[Time of possession] was important last year," Billick said. "You don't get any points for it. They don't award you the game for it. Like any other statistic, it's relative. But the way we play defense, with our profile last year, it was important. We are capable of that still to a certain degree. But now I'd rather rely more on production and points than on time of possession."

Grbac threw for 4,169 yards, 28 touchdowns and made his first Pro Bowl with offensive talent, especially at receiver, near the same level as the Ravens'.

He and the Ravens' receivers looked good at times during the preseason. Grbac's most impressive showing came in the second game, against the Carolina Panthers, when he was 11-for-18 for 113 yards and a touchdown.

On one drive, Grbac did just about everything right. He spread it around, drilling a couple of passes to Patrick Johnson while displaying touch on other passes, dissecting the zone defenses.

"In our passing game, we've got to be consistent," Grbac said. "And we have to make the plays. We're doing it so far."

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