Ravens' offense passes on receivers

Chances slim for Sanders, Robinson and T. Taylor

Pro Football

October 01, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Of the 65 offensive snaps in Sunday's 17-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens say they lined up in a two-tight end, two-running back, one-receiver formation well over 50 percent of the time.

The Ravens call it their "U package," and it's a formation that essentially X's two of their major free-agent acquisitions, receivers Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson, out of the picture.

Those two were supposed to bring a degree of productivity and explosiveness not seen in the Ravens' passing game since Vinny Testaverde sprayed passes to Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander in the late 1990s. Instead, the duo has a combined seven catches for 88 yards and no touchdowns through four games.

And starter Travis Taylor, who annually faces questions about his production around this time of year, can expect much of the same this season after catching 11 passes for 90 yards and one touchdown so far.

The numbers can be partly attributed to the fact that the receivers, thanks to the Ravens' new favorite formation, are simply not on the field, and running back Jamal Lewis is being featured in the offense more than ever. Then there is the rookie quarterback, Kyle Boller.

"I appreciate my time in the league to where I can understand without being a frustrated rookie or a frustrated receiver," Sanders said. "I remind myself on the sideline because I do think, `What are we doing?' Then there is something inside of me that says, `Hey, it works, and they can't stop it.' Coach knows what he's doing. And I tell the young guys that.

"Yeah, Marcus and I talk about it. We're like, `They brought us in here for what?' But at the same time, it works, so why change it?"

Taylor, for one, had a number of goals heading into the season, but the idea of him reaching 1,000 yards and 80 catches this year seems far-fetched.

"Those were my personal goals, but my No. 1 goal was to win games," said Taylor, who had 68 catches for 869 yards and six touchdowns last season. "Whatever it takes to get there, I'm all for it. The biggest thing is the wins and losses. This is not where I thought I would be at this point. But at the same time, you want to win football games. If Jamal is rushing for 140, 150 yards a game, why stop it?

"If you remember my first six games of last season, I probably had like 15 catches. So I'm on the same pace I was last year."

Actually, Taylor had 17 catches through six games (though he and former Ravens quarterback Jeff Blake meshed as the season went on), but he had nine through four, so his pace has actually increased.

And the reality is Sanders and Robinson are doing about the same as they did a year ago with the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, respectively. Through four games, the two had six catches each, with Sanders' 43 yards 3 more than Robinson's.

What has decreased are the chances. Both started games last year.

"They both understand why we are doing what we are doing," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said. "Does that mean they would prefer to be in `U'? Probably not. They want to be on the field.

"I made a comment to them [Monday] that I know you are frustrated because the opportunities aren't there. Most people are going to judge receivers by their number of receptions. But we are going to judge you on how many games we win. And if we think [U] is the best personnel group for us to win, then we are going to do that. So what does that mean? That means your downfield blocking has to be a premium, and it has been."

So is the criticism, fair or not, getting to the receivers?

"We see the articles in the paper and the cartoon character of what the receivers need: stickum, gloves, safety net, anything to catch the ball," Sanders said. "I told Travis we don't play for that, and we don't have to prove nothing to nobody. We'll just go out and play our game, and if it's two catches or one catch, that's it.

"I told the guys, take your gloves off, tape your fingers up, put your elbow pads on and let's block. That's just how it has to be right now. I know fans are like, `We got this guy, we got that guy, why aren't we throwing the ball?' But you have to be patient, and when we need it, we'll use it. If we need to pass the ball, we will."

And what happened to Robinson becoming the deep threat? It was something the Ravens tried to establish during the preseason, but Robinson's longest catch is 14 yards. Boller has thrown to Robinson downfield less than a handful of times.

"It's tempting to say [Robinson] hasn't made the big plays for us," Cavanaugh said. "But he hasn't had a lot of opportunities. It's been limited balls going his way, so it's tough to be critical of him. What he has done is work his tail off and be effective in our run blocking. He's dropped one or two, and we'd like to see him catch those.

"I don't think either one of them came here thinking this was the St. Louis Rams, that we were going to go three wide, use a bunch of crazy formations and throw the ball 40 times a game."

Ideally, the Ravens want to throw the ball 25 times and have tight end Todd Heap pull in six catches, Lewis around four and the rest split up among the receivers.

That number, though, could increase depending on Boller's development and the makeup of certain games.

"They'll come," Cavanaugh said. "I really believe there's going to be games pretty soon on our schedule where we'll have to get the balls to those guys."

Few and not far

A look at the Ravens' receivers' production through four games:

Rec Yds Avg TD

Travis Taylor

at Pittsburgh 5 33 6.6 1

Cleveland 2 27 13.5 0

at San Diego 0 0 0 0

Kansas City 4 30 7.5 0

Totals 11 90 8.2 1

Frank Sanders

at Pittsburgh 0 0 0 0

Cleveland 1 25 25 0

at San Diego 2 20 10 0

Kansas City 0 0 0 0

Totals 3 45 15 0

Marcus Robinson

at Pittsburgh 1 14 14 0

Cleveland 1 10 10 0

at San Diego 1 10 10 0

Kansas City 1 9 9 0

Totals 4 43 10.8 0

Combined 18 178 9.9 1

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