Ravens' offensive system badly in need of overhaul

January 21, 2002|By Mike Preston

PITTSBURGH -- When January arrives and the postseason begins, the major weaknesses of NFL teams that are pretenders instead of contenders are exposed, and the Ravens were undressed yesterday in a 27-10 AFC divisional playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A crowd of 63,976 at Heinz Field and a national television audience watched the Ravens' maligned offense unravel completely, as linemen couldn't pick up blitzes and running backs who have no outside speed failed to block outside linebackers. They saw quarterback Elvis Grbac get rattled early again and receivers drop numerous balls.

Was there anything else?


Coach Brian Billick, who did an excellent job of holding his team together despite numerous injuries, needs to take a look at his system and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh in the off-season. If it's broke, fix it, and the Ravens' offense hasn't been productive in the three years he has been in Baltimore.

The Ravens produced false hopes a week ago when they gouged the Miami Dolphins for all those rushing yards, and then puffed out their chests like they had rediscovered the magic formula from a year ago. That was fraudulent. The Dolphins were ranked No. 17 against the rush.

It was going to be different against Pittsburgh, because the Steelers were going to shut down the run and force Grbac to make plays. He didn't get it done, and neither did his offensive line or receivers. And neither did this offensive system, which hasn't produced a solid passing game in the past two years. Only three plays were for more than 10 yards yesterday.

The Ravens' offensive identities are created out of failure.

Billick had to be pushed into using running back Jamal Lewis last season, and he had to commit to a running game late this season because his passing attack and Grbac were hurting the team with turnovers. Too many times receivers Travis Taylor and Qadry Ismail have disappeared out of the offense and can't get separation from defensive backs.

Too many times running backs are getting into mismatches with defensive ends because of offensive slide protections on blitzes. It's one thing for the Ravens' offensive line to get beat physically, but there are times it doesn't have a clue about where blitzes are coming from.

Here is the most glaring problem: The Ravens have been through five quarterbacks in three years, and this team still can't develop a consistent passing game. There are problems deeper than just personnel.

It's time for the Ravens to start looking in the offensive mirror.

Pittsburgh has a great defense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL. The Steelers have good speed, especially on the perimeter, but they shouldn't be able to hold the Ravens to 150 yards of total offense. The Ravens were 1-for-12 on third-down conversions and didn't get a first down until there was 3:03 left in the second quarter.

Pittsburgh controlled the ball for 40:45, and it wasn't just because the Steelers have a solid, ball-control offense.

"I'm not going to say that we were turning the football over. They were turning us over," said tight end Shannon Sharpe. "The score really wasn't that close. It was worse than what happened in Baltimore [26-21 loss on Dec. 16]. We didn't show up, and that disappoints me. It could have easily been 40-10, 45-10. We didn't have the personnel in all areas to get the job done. There are a lot of areas that we need to shore up."

In the off-season, the Ravens have to find a running back who is both an outside and inside threat. Lewis' knee injury is probably a two-year deal, just as it was for Denver's Terrell Davis and Atlanta's Jamal Anderson. Terry Allen ran hard and provided some spark to the offense this season, but he wasn't going to outrun Pittsburgh outside linebackers Jason Gildon and Joey Porter to the corners. The Ravens had 22 yards rushing yesterday.

Without a running game, the immobile Grbac is easy prey. Pittsburgh set the tone on the game's first series when Grbac was hit and he underthrew Travis Taylor on a pass that was picked off by Chad Scott at the Pittsburgh 38, and eventually led to a 21-yard field goal by Kris Brown.

Grbac has a fragile psyche and a low threshold for pain. He was done for the day, as he completed only 18 of 37 passes for 153 yards, and threw three interceptions, one into double coverage intended for Sharpe that was picked off in the end zone by safety Brent Alexander with 38 seconds left in the first quarter.

There was no way backup Randall Cunningham was going to play yesterday, even though he is more mobile and may have provided some spark. Grbac is the man, win, lose or getting knocked out of the playoffs, according to Billick.

But if, as already stated, Billick brings Grbac back, please toughen him up. Put some gunpowder in his chow. Make him scream at receivers who drop passes and run the wrong routes. And make upgrading the offensive line a priority.

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