As schedule gets tougher, Boller out of free passes

On the Ravens

Ravens 20, Bills 6

Ravens Gameday

October 25, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

FUN TIME IS just about over. From this point on, we'll see whether the Ravens are serious contenders, and if they have a good enough quarterback and offense to make it to the Super Bowl.

At this time, you would have to say no to both. It's been fun watching the Ravens' defense pound on the Clevelands, Cincinnatis and Washingtons. Yesterday, the Ravens found an offense worse than their own in a 20-6 win over the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium.

But the Ravens can't keep putting this kind of pressure on their defense. They can't get four interceptions or a punt return for a touchdown every week. Sooner or later, the offense and second-year quarterback Kyle Boller are going to have to step up, and a good time to start would be in six days.

That's when the Ravens travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles, the unbeaten Eagles, the Eagles who have quarterback Donovan McNabb and receiver Terrell Owens. The Ravens also have road games against the Jets, New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, and home games with Dallas and the Giants.

No one wants to rain on the Ravens' parade after they played without tight end Todd Heap and running back Jamal Lewis yesterday, but within the next two months, they're going to have to score some points and gain some yards.

"I'll take it," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, in an obvious defensive mode about yesterday's win. "Would you rather have the other? I'm sure there is a bunch of teams that threw for a bunch of yards, had a bunch of yards and lost this week. You choose. You tell me which one you want."

The old Compu Coach was about to blow a fuse. He's getting tired of having to defend his offense and Boller every week. But the Ravens had only 160 yards of total offense, only 17 in the second half. They had zero in the third quarter, which you almost have to try intentionally to accomplish.

Boller was 10-for-16 for 86 yards in the first half, but failed to complete a pass on three attempts in the second. Take away the 47-yard reception by Travis Taylor in the first half, and Boller was 9-for-15 for 39 yards.

Of course, the Ravens will say they went conservative in the last two quarters after building a 17-3 lead at the half even though most of their plays in the third quarter were passes. They will say they have created this formula for success with great defense, good special teams and a dominating running game (as if no one else had it before the Ravens).

It's a joke.

The Ravens have a dominating running game because they are inept and incompetent in building a passing game. A formula isn't forced, but created. Boller has played so poorly, and thrown so inaccurately, that when he doesn't screw up it's a good day.

On a day like yesterday, he is Mr. Irrelevant. But when the Ravens play a good team, he'll become Mr. Relevant.

"We'll find out next week, won't we?" Billick said when asked about playing the premier teams with the sporadic offense. "We're going to find out next week. Unless you want to call it right now and we don't even need to show up. OK, good, then we'll show up."

If this was any other quarterback, he would have and should have been benched by now. But the Ravens are married to Boller. They used up a first-round draft pick and lots of money to select him in April 2003. There are some who have compared him to former Baltimore Colts great Bert Jones in his first few seasons, but Jones could make the basic, elementary throws.

Boller can't.

He sizzled and then he fizzled, overthrowing and underthrowing receivers. His worst moment came with 4:49 left in the game. Tight end Terry Jones was open in the right corner of the end zone. All Boller had to do was loft it over the head of linebacker London Fletcher at the back end of the end zone, and it would have been a touchdown.

High school quarterbacks can make that throw. Trent Dilfer can make that throw. Heck, Stoney Case could have completed that one. Instead, Boller threw a waffle ball behind Jones that Jones tried to scrape off his knee.

But the Ravens didn't want to talk about that yesterday. They were just happy with the win. Who can blame them?

But, eventually, this offense is going to have to pull its weight. The Ravens can point to their 2000 Super Bowl season and try to make comparisons, but that was four years ago. They tried that last year, too, and it didn't work. The Ravens were one and done in the playoffs because they had, and still have, the worst passing offense in the league.

You can go a long way in the NFL by winning two-thirds of the battles (defense and special teams) because the league is so watered down. A lot of other teams also are having offensive problems, but they don't have schedules as difficult as the Ravens'. They aren't facing Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning, McNabb and Tom Brady on the other sideline.

The Ravens are about to line up against some of the best teams in the league. We'll find out soon enough if this passing offense, and the limited quarterback, are good enough. It's been fun so far with the Ravens at 4-2, but fun time is just about over.

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