Ravens in rush to fix offense

Eight turnovers, lack of ground game are key to slow start

`We're going to get better'

Task takes on urgency with Broncos, Titans, Packers on deck

September 25, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens returned home only to find themselves in unfamiliar territory.

Their running game is stumbling. Their offensive line is crumbling. And everyone is fumbling.

In the aftermath of their first loss in 11 months - Sunday's 21-10 shocker to the Bengals in Cincinnati - the Ravens are looking in the mirror and not really recognizing themselves these days.

Their stringent philosophy of run first and protect the ball at all times appears to have left along with star running back Jamal Lewis. But while the Ravens' offensive habits have changed, coach Brian Billick is banking that the defending Super Bowl champions' resiliency has not.

"In pro football, there's absolutely nothing redeeming about losing," Billick said. "How we respond to it is going to be the key. But we have a lot of experience in that. This team has handled adversity."

The Ravens (1-1) need to mend their mind-set as well as the gaping holes in their offense in a hurry.

The Ravens are only two games into the season, but the direction of their season should become clearer over the next three weeks with games at unbeaten Denver (2-0), against chief division rival Tennessee (0-2) and at Green Bay (2-0).

"You can see the focus already," quarterback Elvis Grbac said. "The guys are already talking about moving on and learning from our mistakes and getting focused in what we have to accomplish this week. This is almost like a must-win situation for us. We've got a stretch right now that we really have to be focused in on."

But Grbac cannot survive the stretch alone.

The Ravens have watched their running attack plummet from fifth last season to 29th in the 31-team league. They have run the ball only 29 percent of the time, and running back Terry Allen has just 98 yards on 37 carries (2.6 yards per attempt).

"It's a long season and don't put everything into one basket and say we don't have a running game," Grbac said. "We'll get a running game, don't worry about it. We believe in the coaching staff and we believe in the offensive line and we're going to get better."

Heading into the season, Billick described the Ravens' plan as a running back by committee, but he has instead relied solely on Allen in the first two games.

Billick has yet to get Jason Brookins into the mix and has limited Moe Williams to passing situations. And there are no plans to change the depth chart for now.

"If you do, you're saying Terry Allen is the reason we're not running the ball as effectively as we like, and that's not the answer," Billick said. "Terry is running hard. It has to do with the offensive line and has to do with how much we're running. So, it's a total team thing. I'm not going to arbitrarily say, `Oh, this will fix it and I'll put somebody else in.' "

The struggles of the running game can be traced back to the ineffectiveness of the offensive line.

Although the Ravens prepared for the Bengals' various stunts and blitzes, they couldn't hold off Cincinnati's penetration.

Allen routinely was hit in the backfield and had to battle to get to the line of scrimmage. Of his 17 carries, 11 resulted in gains of 2 yards or fewer and four were for losses.

"I don't think we played very well as a unit," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said.

While Ogden and Mulitalo will anchor the left side of the line and Mike Flynn will remain at center, the right side has undergone some changes.

Bennie Anderson, the first-year guard out of Tennessee State, likely will make his first NFL start at right guard against the Denver Broncos. He played most of Sunday's game after Kipp Vickers was benched.

At right tackle, Sammy Williams could return from a knee sprain and may rotate with former Dallas Cowboy Erik Williams.

"We'll adjust it this week as we see accordingly," Billick said.

The other problem surrounding the Ravens cannot be fixed with a lineup switch.

The Ravens, who led the NFL in turnover ratio last year, have gone to the opposite extreme. In two games, they have turned the ball over eight times, including five fumbles by five different players. In 20 games last season, they gave up the ball 28 times.

Most of the turnovers can be blamed on the lack of focus. Case in point: Before Patrick Johnson fumbled the kickoff to open the second half, he ran through Corey Harris' signal to stay in the end zone for a touchback.

"There's reasons for turnovers," Billick said, "and we're trying to address those."

In their journey back to the Super Bowl, the Ravens find themselves at a crossroads.

"When you hit those bumps in the road, you have to have the resolve to try to re-institute that confidence that can only come from winning and production," Billick said. "You're not going to talk yourself into it."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Denver Broncos

Site: Invesco Field at Mile High, Denver

When: Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Broncos by 3 1/2

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