In run game, Ravens must stay grounded

On the Ravens

August 26, 2005|By Mike Preston

NEW ORLEANS - Run, Jamal, run. That's basically all I had wanted to see tonight when the Ravens play the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.

Now that the star running back isn't playing because of a bone spur in his left foot, I want to see Chester Taylor run and run some more. And when he's not the tailback, I want to see Tellis Redmon running all over the place.

Anybody, just run.

But before we go any further, let's address Jamal Lewis. A bone spur isn't the only issue keeping him out. Two team sources have said the Ravens want to designate him as the team's franchise player, and Lewis isn't real happy about it, so he's protesting a little, even though he'll play once the regular season begins.

Lewis, about to enter the last year of his contract, wants a multi-year deal with a big signing bonus. Because of his troubled past, the Ravens are concerned about the guaranteed money up front.

At least from the Ravens' view, it makes sense. If Lewis gets the franchise tag, he'll make the average salary of the top five players at his position, and if he stays trouble-free for a year or possibly two, he can get the lucrative contract.

But we all wanted to see him run left and run right tonight. We wanted to see him tap dance with those little, itty-bitty steps into the line of scrimmage, then come roaring into the secondary with those massive thighs pumping.

We wanted to see Lewis turn the corner on the perimeter, and then see if he could again put fear on the faces of diminutive cornerbacks.

But because Lewis isn't going to play, I'll settle for Taylor, Redmon or anybody else filling in. I just want to see the Ravens establish a running game. Period.

They need to re-establish themselves as a running team tonight because the third preseason game can set the tone for the season. Forget the preseason finale next week against the Washington Redskins. It has no use.

But if the Ravens can run tonight, then we can all feel a bit more secure about the regular season. If they can't, then we might have to cancel Christmas.

Football life as we know it won't be the same.

Almost everyone, me included, thought the passing game would be better this season. The Ravens brought in Rick Neuheisel as the quarterbacks coach. Jim Fassel replaced Matt Cavanaugh as offensive coordinator. Veteran Derrick Mason was added as the vertical threat, and Oklahoma rookie Mark Clayton was supposed to turn short passes into big gains.

What have we gotten? Just 145 passing yards from quarterback Kyle Boller in two preseason games. It would be foolish to think the passing game won't get better, but even the staunchest supporters of Boller are starting to waver.

His current blunders of handing off to decoys, throwing off the back foot, staring down receivers and not being able to go through progressions are unforgivable for a third-year quarterback.

The boos Boller heard last week at home against the Eagles weren't all personal. It was just the frustration of fans who have had to watch a carousel of bad quarterbacks for almost a decade.

Coach Brian Billick shouldn't pull Boller anytime soon, but he should stop dismissing backup Anthony Wright as a possible option. Wright played well in training camp and has outplayed Boller in the preseason.

Now Fassel is starting to sound like Billick, saying Wright has played well but still has some rust. Translation: Wright doesn't know the offense. Response: If Wright doesn't and has outplayed Boller, then what does that say about your starter?

Boller can't make big plays. It's essential that he does, especially inside the 20-yard line, and in the playoffs. But you can't put all of it on Boller.

The offensive line still has trouble pass-blocking. It's an old problem, and it's not going to get much better. Right tackle (Orlando Brown) and center (Mike Flynn) are still trouble spots, and right guard Keydrick Vincent, signed as a free agent in the offseason from the Steelers, hasn't played as well as expected. And neither has rookie tackle Adam Terry, who was expected to relieve Brown at times this season.

So, until proved otherwise, the new Ravens are the same as the old Ravens. Just run the ball, baby, and let the defense win games. They've got to knock teams off the ball because that's what they do best, and they're limited at this time in other areas. At least go into the regular season with a foundation to build on.

Unlike Cavanaugh, Fassel is smart enough to pound the ball and stay with it. Hopefully, Lewis returns healthy, and the Ravens will use him like Washington once used John Riggins and the Miami Dolphins used Larry Csonka.

We need to see some of that tonight.

"We have to get back to playing Ravens football," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We got to give Jamal Lewis or our running game 40 carries a game, and we need to have at least 600 carries this season, much like the Steelers last year.

"We have some weapons on the outside on offense to open it up for Jamal, but we're still built a certain way. That's just the way it is."

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