Field-position figures tell sad story

Ravens notebook

Average start for offense against Raiders was its 25

December 16, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Midway through the first quarter of the Ravens' 20-12 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, the Raiders had scored 10 points on 1 yard of total offense.

The statistical anomaly underscores one of the battles the Ravens lost much of the afternoon - field position.

Oakland's first two drives started at the Ravens' 1 and 19. Phillip Buchanon intercepted Anthony Wright on the game's third play to set up the first drive (which ended in a touchdown run), and a 71-yard kickoff return by Doug Gabriel set up the second (which ended in a field goal after the Raiders failed to move the ball).

The trend continued all day. Five of the Raiders' 15 drives started at the 50-yard line or better, and the team's average starting field position was its 43. The Ravens, on the other hand, started just one of their 13 drives in Raiders territory (at the 49); the average start was their 25.

"Their average field-position start was the [43] and ours was the 25," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We are responsible for that - offense, defense, special teams. That's a large hole to climb out of when they're starting at midfield and you're starting around the 25. It felt uphill all day long."

It was a feeling not experienced by the Ravens during their three-game winning streak. In the previous two games, the Ravens' average start was their 37 against Cincinnati and their 47 against San Francisco, both better than their opponents' positions.

The Ravens used turnovers created by the defense or special teams to create good field position during those games, while limiting turnovers and other teams' returns.

"Our coverage teams have been excellent, but there are lapses," Billick said. "All it takes is a subtle mistake on your coverage teams, then it can be a big gash, as it was."

Healthy, anyway

The only good news for the Ravens after Sunday's loss is that the team left the West Coast without any significant injuries.

Seven players were listed as questionable heading into the game, but all except quarterback Kyle Boller played.

"We're healthy," Billick said. "We'll wait until Wednesday, but right now, visiting with the trainers, there is no major concern. So I don't know that anybody will even be questionable going into this game. But that may change come Wednesday."

Picking his spots

Had the game been at home, Billick might have changed his thinking about going for a two-point conversion.

The Ravens closed Oakland's lead to 17-12 with 2:10 left in the third quarter on Wright's 13-yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap. Chester Taylor was stopped short of the goal line on the ensuing attempt for a two-point conversion.

"It depends on the flow of the game," Billick said. "Usually, it's `wait until the second half.' Clearly for us, and the way the game was going on the road, going for two seemed to be the prudent thing to get it into a three-point environment. At home under different circumstances, you might have waited to go for two a little bit later."

Still rest-conscious

Despite the loss, Billick gave his players the day off yesterday and does not plan to overwork them in practice this week.

In fact, the team will continue to scale back the sessions.

"We'll cut it down a little bit this week again to keep a certain amount of freshness and get more perceptual learning from the classroom onto the field because that's where we are at this time of the year," he said.

Thinking about it

Billick chose his words carefully in commenting on Lamont Brightful's fumbled punt return early in the third quarter.

Brightful picked the ball off the ground and took it 7 yards up the sideline before fumbling and losing it to Raiders tight end O.J. Santiago after a hit.

The controversy came seconds earlier when Ed Reed was held and dragged down by his facemask in rushing the punter.

A flag was thrown, but the referee originally announced an infraction on running back Musa Smith before deciding there was no penalty on anyone.

"I'll leave it to them," Billick said. "There was a sequence of events that I think maybe got away from [the officials] a little bit in hindsight. We'll submit it, and they'll come back and tell us what it should have been. I'm not sure it went down the way they thought."

End zone

Linebacker Ray Lewis was the top vote-getter among defensive players in fan balloting for the Pro Bowl. Players and coaches also get to vote, with each counting one-third toward determining the rosters for Feb. 8 game in Honolulu. ... The team will hold its third annual Ravens All Community Team Auction Party today at M&T Bank Stadium from 6 to 9 p.m. Players who have their own foundations will participate in the auction.

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