Ravens' best bet: Don't gamble with Boller

On the Ravens

Ravens Gameday

Browns 20, Ravens 3

September 13, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

CLEVELAND -- For the Ravens to be successful in 2004, or at least in the first half of the season, they have to bore other teams to death offensively. Forget the balance theory until at least Game No. 9, and just run Jamal Lewis.

And when he gets tired, run Musa Smith. And then for a change of pace, pull out Smith and insert Chester Taylor. The Ravens have to become the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s and Miami Dolphins of the 1970s until second-year quarterback Kyle Boller matures enough to become a significant part of the offense, or gets replaced.

It's way too early to give Boller too much rope, or you get yesterday's result: a 20-3 opening loss to the Cleveland Browns.

It's only the first game, and there is no time for panic despite the Ravens losing to a team they pushed all over the field twice last year. But they did panic yesterday.

They got away from their game plan in the third quarter trailing only 3-0 at the half. They started breathing hard. Anxiety starting setting in. Impulsiveness replaced common sense. And once the Browns went ahead 10-3 with 24 seconds left in the third quarter -- oh my God -- the Ravens turned Boy Quarterback loose.

Instead, the Ravens should have played like the Browns, who kept running halfback William Green, and then they brought in James Jackson. And after the Ravens went into a near coma, the Browns twice caught Ravens safeties Will Demps and Ed Reed napping for big plays, one resulting in a 46-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Morgan.

"You want to be balanced, and we have been for the most part," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "You knew that they [Browns] were going to stack up against the run, so we knew we had to be balanced against it, but still not abandon the run. Nor did we."

Hmmm...

The Ravens had 38 pass attempts and 26 rushing attempts. It should be the other way around. Lewis had 20 carries for 57 yards. Between Lewis, Smith and Taylor, they should combine for at least 30 carries a game, and grind the opposition down.

You can see what Billick wants to accomplish. He knows he should have enough special teams and defensive talent to get into the postseason, and that the development of Boller and the passing game will probably dictate how deep the Ravens go.

But Boller is so young, so unsure of himself. He is also so erratic and inaccurate. His numbers looked decent yesterday. He was 22-for-38 for 191 yards, but he overthrew a wide-open Travis Taylor on a post pattern for a possible touchdown with 2:58 left in the half.

He overthrew a wide-open Terry Jones in the right flat on a third-and-two from the Cleveland 42 with 10:51 left in the third period. One of his two interceptions came with 13:44 remaining in the game when Boller's bomb intended for Kevin Johnson at the Browns' 7 was short, and intercepted by cornerback Anthony Henry, who had inside position on Johnson.

But you can't just point a finger at Boller. Before Henry picked off Boller's pass, Lewis had runs of 5, 6, 6 and 5 yards. He was starting to wear down the Browns. But because Cleveland had eight in the box with a safety in the middle, leaving both cornerbacks one-on-one, the Ravens went long.

"We were trying to make a big play," Boller said. "It was there."

It was a trap sprung on the Ravens on a first-and-10 at the Cleveland 41, the same one Tennessee laid for the Ravens last season in the AFC playoff game. Teams know about the Ravens impulsiveness to gamble. They know about their desire for going vertical.

The Ravens gambled on a similar situation when Boller overthrew Taylor late in the second half.

"If we complete that, it was a good throw," Billick said. "If Travis can open up and get that, it's a brilliant play and a brilliant call."

But it didn't work. And if you're making that call on third down, you might as well go for it on fourth. Worse yet, it's a good call if you have Joe Montana going to Jerry Rice, but it's an erratic quarterback throwing to a receiver who can't catch consistently.

There was no reason for the Ravens to get away from their profile so early yesterday. It was a defensive and field-position game. The Ravens should have stayed conservative for most of the game because they were playing with a somewhat patchwork offensive line, and without tackle Jonathan Ogden, the game's best offensive lineman.

In the future, the Ravens need to slow things down because the game is still too fast for Boller, who was hurried often yesterday. The key is patience, both by the coaching staff and the quarterback. Stay conservative and ugly, even as ugly as the Browns' offense yesterday.

Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia is erratic, too. Yesterday, he was just Kyle Boller grown up. His receivers dug more balls out of the dirt than Cal Ripken did when he was with the Orioles.

But even though the Browns were boring and ugly, they won. That's what counts, right?

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