Ravens' air game is still struggling to get off ground

Despite several changes in offseason, passing attack not where it wants to be


August 28, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

From the bruises on Kyle Boller to the countless shots to his confidence, it has become painfully clear that the pressure is on the Ravens to find some semblance of a passing attack before the regular-season opener in two weeks.

In a little more than five quarters this preseason, Boller has thrown for a meager 198 yards. In 15 drives against starting defenses, the Ravens have produced four interceptions, one touchdown pass and a 27 percent third-down conversion rate (the Ravens converted 35 percent last season).

After an offseason in which the Ravens' offense underwent so much change, it seems like nothing is different. Five days away from their final preseason game, the Ravens appear to be going as far as their running backs will carry them.

Where are the new wrinkles from coordinator Jim Fassel? Where is the impact of new receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton?

And can all of this be rectified before they meet the team with the NFL's standard in passing offense, the Indianapolis Colts, on Sept. 11?

"We're getting there," said Boller, the Ravens' third-year starting quarterback. "We still have a lot of work. We have two weeks until the opener, which is a lot of time."

Here's what has been learned of their passing game so far:

Boller still doesn't seem to have a comfort zone in the pocket. He often looks antsy and locks onto his receivers. In Friday's 21-6 win over the New Orleans Saints, it appeared that he threw to his first look on eight of 11 pass attempts.

Despite adding elusive receivers like Mason and Clayton, there remains a big-play void. Boller's yards per attempt is 5.6, essentially the same mark he had last year when he ranked 30th in the NFL. It should help when tight end Todd Heap returns, but he can't be held responsible for fixing it all.

Pass protection has been shoddy in every phase. Teams have gotten pressure off the edge and up the middle. They have reached the quarterback with all-out blitzes and three-man rushes. The Ravens' linemen have been getting pushed back, and their running backs have been out of position to pick up unblocked defenders.

"My quarterback is getting the hell knocked out of him, and that's not good," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We've got a guy getting beat here and a guy getting beat there. The backs struggled [Friday] with protection."

Boller wouldn't place all the blame for the poor protection on his teammates.

"When you see a guy hit me, I might've missed a hot read, and there's going to be a guy because they're bringing too many guys [to block]," Boller said. "We have to continue to iron it out. If they're going to bring seven or eight guys, we're going to do some quick stuff, you have to get the ball out of your hands. There's no way you can block that many guys.

"We have to prepare because I'm sure Indy is going to bring it."

Those lapses in pass blocking affected Boller's performance in New Orleans. He finished 5-for-11 for 53 yards, 31 of which came on a floating touchdown pass to Clarence Moore.

Boller threw his fourth interception in 35 attempts this preseason, when his pass was deflected at the line. In comparison, he had five interceptions in his last nine games last season.

"He did fine," Billick said. "He managed the game. There again, if you want to hold him responsible for that interception, you can. But I can't. The way the game went - the fact that he made the big play down the field in a key situation - was great. All in all, it was good."

NOTES: The players were given yesterday and today off. The Ravens resume practicing tomorrow. ... Heap did not play Friday but took part in pre-game warm-ups. ... Backup quarterback Anthony Wright was 12-for-17 for 87 yards Friday but didn't seem as sharp as in previous games. ... With both kickoff specialists struggling, the Ravens might look elsewhere to fill the job. Bringing back former kickoff specialist Wade Richey could be an option. His most recent tryouts were with the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans. ... The first round of cuts is approaching. The Ravens have to trim their 84-man roster to 65 by Tuesday.

Boller's preseason

Opp. Com.-Att. Yds TD Int

At Atl. 5-9 57 0 1

Phila. 10-15 88 1 2

At N.O. 5-11 53 1 1

Totals 20-35 198 2 4

Next for Ravens

Preseason matchup: Washington Redskins (1-2) at Ravens (1-2)

When: Thursday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/1300 AM, 102.7 FM, 1430 AM, 106.7 FM

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