Team's effort to jazz up passing game gets warm reception

Ravens

August 12, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

THERE IS AN excitement among Ravens players about the team's offense that hasn't been there for years. They have motion, shifts, orchestrated routes, play-action passes and clearing patterns.

The Ravens are even trying to get mismatches with their receivers and Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap on the inside instead of throwing outside all the time.

Wow! A real NFL offense.

Ravens fans will see more of a true West Coast offense, rather than the hybrid the team has run for five years. Instead of being vanilla, the Ravens will have more variety. Instead of chucking it up and throwing long down the sideline, there is more thought and planning.

"Whew, it's different from a year ago. It's totally new, all the motions, all the shifts," said receiver Travis Taylor. "The routes are different. Now, the routes are shorter. It's more of guys going across people's faces. The passing game is designed to increase our efficiency."

Said coach Brian Billick: "They'll be subtle changes. They'll be more subtle than dramatic."

Anything different has to help. A year ago, the Ravens had the NFL's best running game and worst passing game. You could point the finger at rookie quarterback Kyle Boller, but the passing offense lacked creativity and was inept before Boller's arrival.

The Ravens brought in former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel to tutor Boller and offer suggestions on how to spice up the passing game. They have returned the West Coast offense to its roots. The shifts and motion will keep opposing defenses thinking and might lead to some big plays if the receivers can produce yards after the catch.

"We're trying to get mismatches," Taylor said. "Last year when we ran routes, we just ran them no matter who the defenders were. This year, we can single out certain people."

Receiver Kevin Johnson pored over the Ravens' game film from a year ago but was relieved when told about the change.

"To me, it was a blessing in disguise," Johnson said. "That's what I have done most of my career is work underneath, the middle. ... I come in here and they're doing a lot of things I'm accustomed to.

"Obviously, I've got a smile on my face. If you can get a wide receiver lined up on a linebacker or safety, then the wide receiver should win every time. That's the beauty of all the motion."

It's smart of the Ravens to change the face of their passing game. Their receiving corps is average, consisting of a lot of No. 2 types at best. The Ravens lack a proven long-ball threat.

They have two good tight ends in Heap and Terry Jones, though Jones isn't much of a threat as receiver. But the two-tight-end set and the muscle it provides for the running game also will force the Ravens to stay with the short passing attack.

And then there is the Boller factor. The kid is still erratic, even on the long ball, which was supposed to be his forte coming out of college. You wonder why the team used a first-round pick on a quarterback who can't make all the required throws. It's one thing to not be able to read defenses, but another when there is such inconsistency with throwing. He hasn't been overly impressive in training camp.

So, basically, the Ravens are asking Boller and the offense not to lose the game.

"One of our main goals is to keep the defense off the field and give them some rest by moving the chains with more high-efficient passes," Heap said. "Last year we were last in the league in passing offense, and hopefully we can get a lot better.

"Kyle is more mature, less wide-eyed and more of a leader than a year ago. He has more of an understanding of our offense as well as the defenses he will see."

Two players delighted with the change in the passing game are Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 2,066 yards last season, and cornerback Gary Baxter.

If the Ravens stay healthy, they should have one of the top three defenses in the league. Typically, the Ravens have had some of the league's top special teams, which means they usually win two phases of most games.

But last year, even when the Ravens were scoring, they had a lot of quick-strike touchdowns (see Seattle), and the defense was back out on the field again.

"I see more of the short stuff, the quick game," Baxter said. "They got certain routes going to Kevin Johnson, Todd Heap, and still have the running of Jamal. This should give us time to catch our breath."

Lewis can't hide his emotions. He took a pounding last season when teams put seven and eight players near the line of scrimmage. The Ravens didn't have much of a play-action game, but they've got one now. They also have more misdirection plays and counters in the running game, and the offense's bread and butter will continue to be run Lewis first, pass second.

"We're not just dropping back and throwing passes," Lewis said. "We're spreading the field. It's a faster-paced passing game. The receivers are in and out of their routes faster. ... There is more play action, and you had to have more of that because everybody wants to shut the running game down first. This is going to be a lot more fun."

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