Ravens need to coordinate new ideas for passing game

January 09, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

THERE IS A YEARLY excuse why the Ravens' offense is so poor. The receivers can't catch. The quarterbacks are too old. The quarterbacks are too young. There are too many injuries. A conservative approach is the team's profile.

Enough is enough.

In five seasons under coach Brian Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, the Ravens' offense has finished in the bottom half of the NFL four times. The Ravens have never ended the season ranked higher than 14th.

With Steve Bisciotti taking control as owner and the team set to make a serious Super Bowl run next season, this is the perfect time to implement some changes. Bisciotti should force the Ravens to hire a new offensive coordinator or at least a passing coordinator. This team needs some fresh ideas.

Imagine if the Ravens had an offense this past season in addition to their eight Pro Bowl players. Imagine the serious run this team could make in the next two years with a legitimate offense.

Billick probably has been feeding Bisciotti the usual stuff about his offense: "Schematically, we played within the parameters of our profile. We defied conventional thinking. We discovered our identity. It is what it is."

This is what the Ravens' offense has been and is: pure vanilla. Most of the team's officials know it. But no one wants to confront Billick about making a change. Former owner Art Modell didn't. General manager Ozzie Newsome won't because he likes to play middle of the road.

Billick won't make a change for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's in his contract that he has the right to hire and fire assistants. If he gives in, it would show a lack of leadership to his other coaches. Secondly, his fingerprints are all over this offensive mess, too.

And finally, Cavanaugh serves as his buffer to criticism. If he got rid of Cavanaugh, Billick would assume he is next.

But this isn't about firing Billick or trying to force some kind of standoff. It's about making the Ravens better. Billick has often said he would do anything to make the Ravens better. Well, prove it.

Look at his offense this season: The Ravens had the league's No. 1 rushing offense, but the No. 32 passing game. They set franchise records for fewest yards passing (141.3 per game) and yards per pass attempt (6.07). The Ravens had as many scoring drives of 21 yards or fewer (12) as they had of more than 70 yards.

But this isn't all about statistics. It's about a dumbed-down offense. It's true the Ravens lack a big, go-to receiver, but it wouldn't make much difference because of the pass patterns they run. It's high school football. Well, no need to offend high school coaches. It's recreation football.

The Ravens either throw Hail Mary passes or run 12- to 15-yard comeback routes to the outside receivers. A team that has a 2,000-yard running back in Jamal Lewis should have a great play-action passing game.

Instead, there is no short- to mid-range passing game.

There also were a lot of bizarre third-and-two calls this season when the Ravens opted to pass instead of giving the ball to Lewis. As a fan, those situations had to make you cringe.

Anytime the Ravens got behind in a game this season, they'd panic by throwing the ball and getting away from the running game. It's as though they'd lose focus and the feel for a game.

It was never more evident than against the Titans in the playoffs. Lewis carried a season-low 14 times in a close game. Billick said there were eight or nine Titans in the box and the Ravens couldn't run.

But the Ravens did nothing to get the extra men out of the box. There were no four-receiver sets to spread the field. There were no slant patterns. Nothing.

It was just another excuse.

Maybe Joe Gibbs was watching. You could bet he would have run John Riggins more than 14 times. Teams crowded the box against the Redskins in those days, but that didn't stop Washington from using its trademark running play, the counter trey. Gibbs would show teams different formations but run the same play.

It's called creative thinking.

We haven't seen that in five years in Baltimore. But we have seen 10 starting quarterbacks over an 80-game period. We've seen them fumble snaps and trip over their feet as if they never practice fundamentals. We've seen way too many false-start penalties.

There needs to be some kind of a change, where the Ravens bring in an assistant who can be a dynamic leader. The Ravens keep saying there is a five-year window to win a Super Bowl, but it's more like two. Linebacker Ray Lewis and Jamal Lewis can't keep up their pace for much longer than that.

If Kyle Boller doesn't improve significantly from last season, and the Ravens keep their current coaching staff in place, they could end up in the same position as this season, with a strong defense and running game and no passing attack. It could be one and done in the playoffs again.

Billick owes a change to his team. It's not about Billick. It's not about Cavanaugh. It's about the Ravens. The excuses have to end.

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