Offense's problems bigger than Grbac

October 22, 2001|By Mike Preston

CLEVELAND - There is no quarterback controversy, because the Ravens have too many other offensive problems.

Elvis Grbac is beginning to remind me of Vinny Testaverde. The Ravens have two running backs who belong in NFL refugee camps. They have an offensive line that plays patty-cake with defensive linemen and a scheme that hasn't worked in three years.

And then there is an identity crisis. Are they a passing team or a running team? Are they a finesse squad or a team that wants to be physical?

Right now, let's just call them terrible.

Six games into the 2001 season, the Ravens are a bunch of nomads on offense. While they are on a search mission, opponents have found a way to dissect their once-proud, trash-talking defense and turn them into just another ordinary bunch of NFL bobos.

The fall of the defending Super Bowl champions continued yesterday in an embarrassing 24-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

The Ravens had 321 yards of total offense, but also three turnovers. Bright spots? Don't blink. You'll miss them.

No. 2 quarterback Randall Cunningham replaced starter Elvis Grbac for the second straight week and had another impressive performance, prompting speculation of a quarterback controversy, but Grbac's performance is only part of the problem.

The offensive line allowed seven sacks. For punishment, coach Brian Billick should have made each one of them play quarterback a series. Father Time Terry Allen, the Ravens' starting running back, lasted four offensive plays before he was sidelined for the game with an ankle injury. The Ravens need a rescue line and might try to secure some help before tomorrow's trading deadline.

According to a league source, the Ravens had trade talks with several teams last week about acquiring a running back for reserve defensive tackle Lional "Talk Show Host" Dalton and an unspecified amount of money, but the league vetoed the deal because of the money involved.

"No comment. I will not comment about any trade talks," owner Art Modell said last night.

But something has to be done. The Ravens can't win like this. Teams are attacking their defense with four- and five-receiver formations. (Note to defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis: Your stock as a head coach is dropping.) A way to slow those opponents would be for the Ravens' offense to control the ball, but that hasn't happened.

It's not going to happen with Allen. Too old. It's not going to happen with second-year player Jason Brookins, either. Too young and limited. He doesn't have any outside speed, and that's why there have been trade discussions.

It's easy to point a finger at Grbac, because he is such an inviting target. Some quarters he is dazzling, others befuddling, like yesterday, when he completed 16 of 20 passes for 142 yards, but also had two interceptions. He has Vinny moments, like when he can't hold a snap. Testaverde has often been called the great tease, because he could play so well yet perform so poorly throughout the season.

But at this point, you can't put all the blame on Grbac. He left the house all shook up for the second straight week yesterday. Last week, it was a concussion in the second quarter, this week it was a rib contusion in the third quarter. He could barely breathe in the locker room after the game.

Cunningham took a lot of abuse, too, and he might be having second thoughts about coming out of retirement. The offensive line might get better when right tackle Leon Searcy returns this week from an arm injury and left guard Edwin Mulitalo comes back from a case of gout in his knee.

But don't be so sure. Billick still needs to find an identity.

Maybe it's time for Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh to do some self-analysis, possibly stuff that playbook into some bird and animal cages. Billick has basically been immune to criticism about his offense because he won a Super Bowl with an overwhelming defense last season, but the unit hasn't been productive since he has been here.

Oh, he'll point out that the Ravens have spent most of their money on defensive players, but good offensive coaches work around that. Since coming to Baltimore, Billick has been through quarterbacks Scott Mitchell, Stoney Case, Tony Banks, Tony Banks again, Trent Dilfer, Grbac and Cunningham.

Is it the quarterback or the system?

Was it the quarterback who failed to call rollouts yesterday until late in the third quarter, or was it the coaches? The Ravens have decent receivers who can catch the ball, but during the Billick era they have had problems getting open consistently. Tight end Shannon Sharpe has been the only receiver to consistently catch passes in the middle of the field.

The team's two-minute offense has been atrocious, and the Ravens were downright lucky to get Matt Stover's 38-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the first half.

With this offense, Billick is going to have to be more daring, because teams are scoring on his defense. The Ravens can't afford to throw a 2-yard pass in the left flat to fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo on a third-and-goal at the 5, as they did in the second quarter.

"Right now, if the playoffs were to start today, we're not a football team that would deserve to be in the playoffs," Sharpe said. "We've got 10 games left. We've got a long ways to go, but we've got a very short time to get there."

Times have changed. The magic formula - great defense, solid running game and special teams - that sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl last season is gone. This team needs a lot of offensive help, and it needs to find it soon.

The defending Super Bowl champs are in search of an offensive identity.

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