If Boller can't make Bills pay, benching should be next step

October 12, 2004|By Mike Preston

THE RAVENS should take off the training wheels, cut the baby talk and give second-year quarterback Kyle Boller a taste of reality. With two weeks to prepare, they should put him on the bench if he continues to falter in the next game against Buffalo.

This doesn't have to be permanent, but it could give Boller a chance to sit, watch and study the game, and hopefully refocus.

It's not punishment for Boller for the offense's abysmal performance in the Ravens' 17-10 win against the Washington Redskins on Sunday night, but a possible chance to nurture a player who is inexperienced and immature, and has regressed in recent weeks.

There is a lot of blame to go around for the continued failure of the passing offense, which managed only 81 yards against the Redskins. The Ravens lack a big-play receiver, the play calling is terrible, the scheme is bad, the pass blocking poor. The Ravens should start looking at New Orleans' Mike McCarthy and Mike Sheppard and Philadelphia's Marty Mornhinweg as possible replacements as offensive coordinator next season.

But that's all in the future. They can deal with Boller now.

The Ravens players are off this week, giving Boller time to regroup. The bye week also gives the Ravens additional time to prepare for the Bills. And if that doesn't rekindle the kid or put a slight spark in the offense, then the Ravens might as well replace him with Kordell Stewart or Anthony Wright, if available, for the game against Philadelphia on Oct. 31.

It can't hurt. It can only help, because regardless if it's Stewart or Wright, the basic profile of the Ravens as a running team won't change. Maybe, just maybe, Stewart or Wright might be a spark for this team. After all, the goal is to keep getting better, not just survive week after week.

You can see the disappointment of Boller's play through the slouching posture of his teammates after failed drives. You can see the stress in Boller's face, as well as his body posture. Sometime in the next week or so, coach Brian Billick should bring him in and talk to him about sitting for a game or so if he doesn't play well.

They should make it clear that they aren't giving up on Boller like they did Chris Redman a year ago. The Ravens have invested a lot of time and money in Boller, and there is some potential. It's way too early to give up. But this is a young guy who had a mental meltdown in preseason when he played poorly. He has been on the same crash course from Day One as a rookie as John Elway and Peyton Manning without nearly the natural instincts or mechanics.

The most disturbing aspect about Boller's game has been his lack of accuracy. It's a problem that can be helped by improved mechanics, but never totally overcome. Boller was nine of 18 for 81 yards against the Redskins with three interceptions, two of which were his fault.

He overthrew Kevin Johnson on a slant in with 1:15 left in the first half, leading to a Washington touchdown. Even the pass earlier in the second quarter that tight end Daniel Wilcox popped up in the air and was picked off by cornerback Fred Smoot was Boller's fault.

Wilcox was only 10 yards from Boller. Instead of throwing the 95-mph fastball, Boller should have delivered an off-speed pitch. It's called touch. Boller doesn't have it. He underthrew receiver Clarence Moore by about 10 yards on a deep pass in the first half, and overthrew him by about 15 yards on another deep pass in the second. Boller was so bad that he hit fullback Alan Ricard in the foot with a swing pass in the right flat.

Boller couldn't have hit the ground if he had dropped the ball.

"Kyle needed to play better, along with a couple of the players in a lot of different situations," Billick said. "Kyle needs to play better. Kyle will play better. Kyle is our starting quarterback."

It's logical for Billick to be defensive about Boller. He wanted Boller even more than Jacksonville's Byron Leftwich in the 2003 draft. He keeps talking about Boller's upside, and it would serve no purpose to be critical of him at this point.

But to sit him for at least a game would be a reality check. If you don't produce in the NFL, you lose your job. It's helped a lot of other quarterbacks refocus, including the two backups of Wright and Stewart, as well as a former league Most Valuable Player named Kurt Warner, now with the Giants.

The Ravens want to be a Super Bowl-bound team, and they know they have to develop a passing game and become productive at the quarterback position to get there. Billick owes it to his team to find the right player and not waste another great season by a defense whose star player, Ray Lewis, is showing signs of slipping.

Right now, Boller is showing some signs of his own. He has completed only 62 of 109 passes for 650 yards. He has trouble reading blitzes. He scrambles without a reason, not trying to make plays like Cleveland's Jeff Garcia, but running scared without a clue. He is the fourth best quarterback in the AFC North, behind Garcia, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer.

Boller can't make enough plays to win games, but he can create enough turnovers to lose them. It's all part of the growing process, according to the Ravens, but a process the Ravens can slow down by possibly sitting Boller down for a game or two if he fails again in two weeks.

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