Struggles of passing game leave Ravens flatfooted

Improvement still needed in pass-blocking, Boller

August 30, 2005|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel leans back in his chair and appears at ease. Despite the Ravens nearly having to scrape quarterback Kyle Boller off the surface of the Superdome on Friday night, Fassel is calm and confident.

He urges patience as the Ravens try to build a passing offense to complement their running game and increase the protection of a young quarterback who seems to have lost his confidence.

"The bottom line is we're not happy with the results we're getting in the passing game right now," Fassel said. "It's a mixture of things. One thing, though, is that I've been in this situation before, and things have worked out. The first thing you have to have is patience. That's all part of coaching."

Fassel and the rest of the offensive staff huddled yesterday to begin solving a problem that has appeared every year since 1999.

The Ravens can't protect the quarterback. Boller, in his third season, took a beating against the Saints. Ravens quarterbacks were sacked three times, and Boller was hit six times in two quarters. There was plenty of blame to go around.

"Some times, people think protection is just about the offensive line," Fassel said. "It also has to do with running backs, receivers, tight ends, and the quarterbacks as well."

Running backs missed several blitz pickups. For the second straight week, tight ends were beaten off the edge by outside linebackers or blitzing secondary players.

The right side of the offensive line struggled in pass protection. Again. Missed assignments require only minor adjustments. Physical mismatches sometimes alter game plans requiring double teams, or plays where a tight end or running back "chips" on a defensive player to slow him down before going out into the pass rush.

The Ravens need to make some adjustments in a hurry. Philadelphia blitzed the Ravens a lot two weeks ago, and New Orleans had a similar game plan Friday.

Guess what the Washington Redskins are going to do Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium?

But it's not just the blitzing. The Ravens have struggled against three- and four-man pass rushes.

"We've got to make the transition from the practice field to the games," Fassel said. "We practice very well in all areas, and it's good for us because we practice against one of the best defenses in the league."

"I would be more concerned if we struggled in practice and then in games," Fassel said. "It doesn't take much to make it look like you're way off, but we're really not."

Fassel is limited to what he can do on the offensive line, unless the Ravens find some help through free agency, which is doubtful.

But there are options. Depending on the flow of the game, he could take advantage of Boller's mobility and use more roll outs.

He could maximize protection, and keep one or two receivers in to pass block instead of sending them out on routes. Fassel might also cut down on the number of protection schemes.

"If we have to whittle down the protection to the point where we're dead solid with it, then I'll do it," Fassel said. "But at end of day, I don't think we're going to struggle."

The Ravens also have to improve their timing of finding the right receiver once they determine where the blitz is coming from. New receivers like Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton are still in an adjustment period with Boller.

As for Boller, the Ravens are publicly trying to build his confidence, but privately admit he has regressed from the end of last season.

In a little more than five quarters this preseason, Boller has thrown four interceptions, and for only 198 yards in 15 drives against starting defenses.

He looks extremely uncomfortable in the pocket, still stares down his primary target, and very seldom goes to his secondary choice.

Fassel admitted the Ravens have scaled down their offense, partially to build Boller's confidence. Against the Saints, with Boller at quarterback, the Ravens ran a lot of slants or other quick timing patterns.

Fassel also said Boller has to learn to ignore the criticism.

"I'm the counterbalance," Fassel said. "I'm not saying the media is wrong. I've told Kyle he has to prove himself, but I also need to be a support mechanism. I don't want to go soft on him, but I do have to build his confidence."

"We've got to get him back in the mode it took us a little while to get him in last year," Fassel said. "He's got to relax. It's all about rhythm and timing. It took us about half the year to get him into that fluid motion last year, but it can't take that long this season."

It's not only Boller's psyche that is fragile, but also possibly the entire offense. For six years, the offense has been the stepchild of the defense. The offense wasn't expected to win games, just not lose them.

Fassel was brought in to change that attitude.

"We've played against some pretty good defenses," Fassel said. "When you take over where there has been a lack of production, when something goes wrong, there is that feeling of here we go again.

"We're breaking down barriers. Sometimes you have to have adversity before you have success. This is a good test for us."

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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