Modell: Ravens offense will have to hold its own

On the Ravens

December 11, 2004|By MIKE PRESTON

AS THE RAVENS left M&T Bank Stadium after a 27-26 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the frustration was not only on the face of the players, but also the person who owned the franchise for the previous 42 years.

Art Modell, the former-majority-turned-minority owner, watched from his stadium suite as the Ravens allowed 24 fourth-quarter points in the stunning upset.

"It was a very disparaging day, about as disparaging of a loss as I've seen in many years. I won't forget that one for a long time," Modell said. "But we'll see what happens now. There is great interest in this ballclub."

Modell, 79, occasionally attends practices and stays in constant contact with general manager Ozzie Newsome. He believes the franchise has a bright future, but has some concerns about the balancing act of second-year quarterback Kyle Boller's development, the aging of star players and an offense to complement a good defense.

"An aging club is always a concern and yes, I must confess, there has been some thought about it," Modell said. "[Outside linebacker Peter] Boulware is out for the season, and hasn't done a thing. [Offensive tackle Jonathan] Ogden gets hurt, and he's never been hurt before. But I think overall we have a good mix of young and veteran players. Age is not an overriding concern, but something you always keep an eye on."

Modell is more concerned about the offense. The defense, ranked No. 8 overall, has played reasonably well, but the offense continues to struggle as it has in the past.

But in the past two games, against New England and Cincinnati, the Ravens' defense has wilted in the second half, getting pushed around by the Patriots on the ground, and then surrendering 382 yards to the Bengals through the air.

At the beginning of the season, the Ravens expected their defense to carry them as the unit did in 2000, when the team won the Super Bowl. Modell didn't criticize anyone in his organization, but said it's a mistake for anyone to try to duplicate the past formula.

"This group is a good one, but not as powerful as the one in 2000," Modell said. "It might or might not have been due to the absence of Marvin Lewis [former Ravens defensive coordinator, now Cincinnati head coach]. He was a great one, and continues to be impressive with the job he has done in Cincinnati.

"But you can't go into a season thinking the defense is going to bail you out time after time," Modell said. "Rarely does that happen. What we had in 2000 was so dominant, so special. To be a wild card, and then go on the road in Tennessee and Oakland, that may not ever happen again. You've got to have balance. We have to get more out of our offense."

According to Modell, the key to this franchise's future is Boller. He has been inconsistent and inaccurate for most of the season, but in the past four games has become more steady and able to manage games without committing numerous turnovers. Modell has liked the way the coaching staff has handled Boller, but knows one day he'll have to start winning games regularly instead of trying not to lose them.

He'll have to become a real quarterback like some of his young counterparts in Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Cincinnati. Boller has completed 189 of 311 passes for 1,811 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. The Ravens have remained conservative on offense partly because of the lack of confidence in Boller and his receivers. The play-calling could use an upgrade, too.

`The success of this offense and organization depends on how quickly Boller will develop," Modell said. "Look what has happened in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger and Cincinnati with Carson Palmer. It can be done if he has the right ingredients."

"I believe the young man has made some strides," Modell said. "As with most young quarterbacks, there is going to be a step backward every now and then. Hopefully, you get him to the position where the steps backward become less and less. But the kid is smart, has a strong arm, is a fast learner and I think he is going to be a good quarterback in this league."

When?

"Patience. It takes time," Modell said.

But the clock is running. You can see the cornerstones of this team starting to slip. The play of Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ray Lewis has declined the past two seasons. Ogden has missed extensive time with ankle and hamstring injuries. Boulware couldn't overcome offseason knee surgery.

The Ravens have some outstanding young talent, including safeties Ed Reed and Will Demps, cornerback Chris McAlister and tight end Todd Heap, but will that be enough?

Can Ray's team become Kyle's team?

"I've always been a big believer in Ozzie Newsome, and I believe this organization has a great front office staff," Modell said. "Eventually, soon, they're going to have to stand up and say we made the right decision or we made the wrong decision on certain players.

"They're going to have to re-evaluate each other and see if they have the right coaching staff in place. They're going to have to be honest with the fans. I believe they will do the right thing when it comes to that time."

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