Billick: Ravens measure up at 5-3

Coach draws comparisons to Super Bowl squad, says team primed for 2nd half

November 04, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

On a playoff path that feels like memory lane, Ravens coach Brian Billick says this year's team is taking a higher road.

The Ravens have reached the halfway point of the season at 5-3, the same record they parlayed into the franchise's only two playoff appearances. But unlike their more veteran predecessors, these Ravens are standing at the top of their division as well as at the head of Billick's class.

"I feel very good about this 5-3 team," Billick said. "We've been here before. I think this is the best 5-3 team that I've had. That's saying a lot."

That vote of confidence comes before the AFC North leaders embark on the toughest part of their schedule.

The next two games, on the road against the St. Louis Rams (5-3) and Miami Dolphins (5-3), are expected to test the Ravens' mettle. The Ravens' five wins have come against teams with a combined 13-28 record (.317), including Sunday's 24-17 victory over the one-win Jaguars.

In fact, the Ravens have played only two teams with current winning records, and both have been at M&T Bank Stadium, where they fell late to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs and beat the banged-up Denver Broncos.

"These are two huge games for us," center Mike Flynn said. "Whether we win two or lose one, I don't think it'll make or break us. But this is an important stretch because we're playing two good teams. I guess we'll see what we're made of over the next two weeks."

Billick said this year's team is in better shape to handle the second half of the season than his Super Bowl team, basing his comparisons on calculations and confidence.

During their championship season in 2000, the Ravens reached the midpoint in the midst of a touchdown drought and a quarterback change. This year, the Ravens have finished the first half by winning three of their past four games.

In comparison, this year's Ravens have scored more points (184-134) and produced more yards (2,421-2,194) than their Super Bowl team. Conversely, this year's defense has allowed more points (149-89) and surrendered more yards (2,305-2,011) than the history-making 2000 group.

But Billick said the talent level matches up with the defense that set the NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season.

"Defensively, it's obviously ambitious to compare it to the 2000 team," Billick said. "But this is a more athletic team that has a bigger upside at this point than that team did."

Another link to their Super Bowl past has been the Ravens' inability to find a more consistent route to the end zone.

The Ravens rank last in the league in red-zone offense, scoring only seven touchdowns in 24 possessions inside the 20-yard line (29.2 percent).

Their ineffectiveness to punch the ball in has been magnified by a recent rut. After scoring touchdowns on four of their first nine times in the red zone, they have cracked the goal line only three times in their past 15 trips inside the 20.

Settling for field goals instead of touchdowns probably won't keep pace Sunday against the Rams, who rank first in the NFL in offense and sixth in scoring.

"When you play a team that has the potential to score, you'd better get points when you have the opportunity," Billick said. "You can't miss opportunities down in the red zone like we've had."

In their past four games, the Ravens have come away with more penalties (four) than touchdowns (three) inside the red zone. Over that same span, they have been 6-for-16 passing and have averaged 2.6 yards per rush when working inside the 20.

"It's really just execution," Flynn said. "When you have a chance to step on the opponent's throat, you have to get it into the end zone. I think it will be something that we have to focus on. Believe me, we're just as frustrated as anybody."

Still, it's hard to be frustrated when the Ravens hold a two-game advantage over the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. In the franchise's eight-year history, the Ravens have never won a division title.

"I feel a 5-3 record is awesome," quarterback Kyle Boller said. "How we handle that [pressure] is going to really dictate what kind of team we are."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (5-3) vs. St. Louis Rams (5-3)

Site: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

When: Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 24, ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Rams by 7

Halfway home

A look at the Ravens' records at the halfway point of the season, their final records and division finishes (*-made playoffs):

Year First 8 Final Place

1996 3-5 4-12 5th

1997 4-4 6-9-1 5th

1998 2-6 6-10 4th

1999 3-5 8-8 3rd

2000 5-3 12-4* 2nd

2001 5-3 10-6* 2nd

2002 3-5 7-9 3rd

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