Grbac alters error attack

Picked-off Raven says he'll shorten passes, be more conservative

Billick again voices support

QB echoes Dilfer, asks ball control, defense

January 01, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

A week before a pivotal final weekend in the NFL, Elvis Grbac is sounding like the Ravens' quarterback of the past rather than the one of the present.

Deflated over his critical mistakes, Grbac has vowed to take a conservative approach that was a winning formula for his predecessor, Trent Dilfer, yet seems out of place for a quarterback once known for delivering big plays. But Grbac has seen a career-worst 18 interceptions this season turn into 52 points for opponents - including three returned for touchdowns - forcing a change of philosophy.

"We can't make these mistakes," Grbac said. "We just can't do it. We're not explosive enough to say two to three plays later we can hit a bomb or hit a guy on a slant that takes it 90 yards. That's not our offense.

"We have the talent to do it. It's frustrating. You almost get that mind-set that if I make that one mistake it can cost the team the entire game. That's what our offense and what our team is like. Ball control, field position, defense, not make mistakes. That's something that you have to get used to."

Although he appeared in postseason play two years as Steve Young's backup in San Francisco, Grbac is looking to be the starter for a playoff team for just the second time in his nine-year career. The Ravens (9-6) can clinch a playoff berth before the first Monday Night Football game in Baltimore in 23 years if Seattle or the New York Jets lose on Sunday.

The defending Super Bowl champions, who are currently seeded fifth in the AFC, still have a shot at the fourth seed and playing host to a first-round game. The most likely scenario for that happening is the Ravens, New England and the Jets all winning coupled with Miami losing to Buffalo by less than 25 points.

But under whatever scenario, the Ravens are committed to Grbac for their playoff run.

"I have confidence in him, this team has confidence in him," Ravens coach Brian Billick said, "and he has confidence that he can do the things that he has to do to help us get into the playoffs, go deep into the playoffs and possibly to the Super Bowl."

Before Saturday's 22-10 loss at Tampa Bay, Grbac had seemingly cut down on his poor decisions. In his previous four games, he had only thrown three interceptions on his previous 155 passes. But on Saturday, he was intercepted twice in the first half and had two other potential picks dropped.

Grbac's biggest mistake came in the second quarter when he stared down Shannon Sharpe over the middle and Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks read his eyes to make the interception. Brooks ran it back 53 yards to the Ravens' 1-yard line to set up a game-changing touchdown.

"When he does things like that, that bothers me and that bothers him," Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "Those are the things that will get corrected."

Cavanaugh estimated that Grbac is responsible for 60 to 65 percent of the interceptions because of misreads or trying to throw into tight coverage. The rest of the blame goes to him getting hit upon release, balls getting tipped at the line and his own receivers deflecting passes in the air.

Despite the problem with turnovers, the Ravens don't plan to tailor plays or simplify the offense.

"He doesn't need to be that limited," Cavanaugh said. "What he needs to learn and I need to help him learn is we don't have to force the ball and we don't have to stick it into tight spots."

Grbac's struggles are not typical of his career.

His current quarterback rating of 71.9 - which is 26th in the NFL -is far below his career mark of 81.7. Coming off a Pro Bowl season last year, he has thrown 18 interceptions through 13 starts while never getting picked off more than 15 times in his previous other eight seasons.

Last year, the Ravens threw only 18 interceptions as a team, and Trent Dilfer was picked off 11 times in eight starts. While the Ravens hear the clamor over the off-season move not to bring back Dilfer, who kept Seattle in the playoff race with a win over San Diego Sunday, they remain firm on the stance that Grbac is the better quarterback for the long haul.

"We made the right decision," Cavanaugh said, "and I still believe that."

Coming to the Ravens, Grbac carried a big-play reputation.

In 2000, he produced 55 passes or 20 yards or longer, which was third-best in the NFL. This season, he has totaled 34, with only four over his past three games.

But the absence of the long ball isn't considered a problem by the Ravens. The bigger concern is Grbac's efficiency. He has completed 58 percent of his passes when the coaching staff projected him to be in the 62-63 percent range.

"That's what has got me more bothered," Cavanaugh said. "That's where I think we're down. That's my biggest off-season study is what am I not calling enough of that allows him to complete more passes?"

For Grbac, reducing his mistakes may help the Ravens extend their season.

"This is an opportunity that you do not get too many times," Grbac said. "Just get into the tournament and let it fly from there. Let it loose. Once we get in, who knows what can happen? I think that's the mind-set we're taking."

Ravens' playoff scenarios

The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth with:

A loss by Seattle or New York Jets on Sunday.

A win or tie by the Ravens over Minnesota on Monday.

The Ravens can secure the AFC's fourth seed and a home playoff game if:

The Ravens win, New England wins, the Jets win, and Miami loses to Buffalo by less than 25 points.

The Ravens win, New England wins, the Jets lose, and Miami loses to Buffalo by more than 25 points.

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