Give Grbac the hook, and give Cunningham a look

November 19, 2001|By MIKE PRESTON

RAVENS COACH Brian Billick needs to forget about the investment the team has made in Elvis Grbac, put aside his ego and start Randall Cunningham on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars while a playoff berth is still obtainable.

Cunningham, 38, probably isn't the answer either, but this team needs an offensive spark. He can't do any worse than Grbac, who threw four interceptions - two that halted touchdown drives and two that led to Cleveland touchdowns - in the Ravens' 27-17 loss to the Browns yesterday at PSINet Stadium.

Grbac also lost a fumble. Heck, he even got a procedure penalty for an illegal head bob.

Grbac should have been given the hook at halftime. Instead, Billick endorsed him as the starter for another week. Last week, the coach blamed rust from a two-week injury layoff for Grbac's ineffective performance. But there were no excuses yesterday.

Grbac was sorry, and so was that offensive line. Again.

Of the team's 25 turnovers this season, Grbac has committed 17. He has been given every opportunity. Now, it's time to reinsert Cunningham, who is 2-0 as a starter.

"Elvis is my starting quarterback," Billick said after the game.

Huh? What about those 13 interceptions this season?

"I think our best chance to win is with Elvis Grbac," Billick said.

This isn't the Grbac who threw in the preseason. He's gun-shy from the beatings. He doesn't step into passes. Sometimes he doesn't complete his follow-through. Fear does that to a quarterback. A tear was in his eye after the fourth interception.

But Billick won't replace him, because he is being stubborn again. He wanted quarterback Stoney Case over Tony Banks, a passing game instead of running back Jamal Lewis, and running back Terry Allen over Jason Brookins.

In those cases, the winners turned out to be Banks, Lewis, Brookins and, ultimately, the Ravens. Without Lewis, the Ravens wouldn't have won the Super Bowl last season.

That's where the focus should be. Ten games into the season, the Ravens don't have an offensive identity, and another AFC Central loss next week might drop them out of contention. But, instead, Billick wants to be hard-headed.

The ego is working. He came to Baltimore from the Minnesota Vikings with the reputation of being a quarterback guru, and all he has produced is a carousel. Another failure, and Billick doesn't look like a guru. This team needs a spark, and Cunningham should play now before it's too late.

"Billick made a classy move. He didn't take him [Grbac] out," said Browns cornerback Corey Fuller. "The team might be able to develop some character from that. You can't yank a man you gave $30 million to."

Grbac came with a heavy price tag of six years for $35 million. Cunningham makes the league minimum of $475,000. Neither the front office nor coaches wants to look bad, so they'll give Grbac as much time to hang himself as possible.

That's unfortunate. Morale and player confidence should be the keys. "I'm the No. 1 guy who is frustrated in my play and what we're going," Grbac said. "Don't worry about the confidence in our locker room. I've got the total confidence of my teammates and the coaching staff, and we'll be fine."

Billick agrees, but they are both wrong. Dead wrong.

Players won't go public with their preferences, but confidence in Grbac is waning. If Billick can't see that, then he is fooling himself. When a Grbac pass was intercepted and returned 43 yards for a touchdown with 8:09 left in the second quarter, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden threw his helmet off the field and screamed at offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.

If Billick heard tight end Shannon Sharpe's post-game comments yesterday, he would know it's time for a change. "We've got to do a better job of protecting him, and he's got to do a better job of protecting the ball," Sharpe said. "I don't know if Elvis is down; he can't go any lower. He was brought here to do a job, and the job is not getting done."

When asked if the players had lost confidence in Grbac, Sharpe paused for about 10 seconds.

"Brian is going to do what is best for the team," Sharpe said. "He's not going to make a quick decision. Yeah, we won a couple of games with Randall, but there's a reason Brian went out into the free-agent market and paid Elvis. He's the guy who can pull the trigger and make it happen. Ten games into the season, it hasn't happened the way we'd like it to. I'm very disappointed. I can't really say what I truly feel."

He said enough. To be honest, I don't believe Cunningham is going to make that much of a difference in the offense. He has more elusiveness than Grbac, but the Ravens have serious problems. The offensive line can't pass protect, and neither can the running backs. They can't pick up blitzes.

No quarterback in the league has taken more of a severe beating than Grbac. At times, it borders on cruelty. At age 38, how many beating can Cunningham survive?

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