Ravens' silence on offense speaks volumes

Ravens Game Day

Colts 24, Ravens 7

September 12, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

THAT WASN'T a football game the Ravens and Indianapolis Colts played last night. That was two football games, as different as could be.

Whenever the Colts had the ball, the game resembled a scramble operation at a military airfield. Players ran in every direction. Things were loud and confusing on and off the field.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning eschewed huddles and called plays from the backfield, waving and pointing and shouting as the play clock wound down and the Ravens' fans stood and screamed, trying to disrupt his signal-calling. The Colts lined up in cutting-edge formations, sometimes with five receivers and no running backs. Meanwhile, the Ravens' defenders jumped and shifted all over the place before the snap, following defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's bewildering 46 scheme.

On one play, Ravens safety Chad Williams lined up in a three-point stance at the line, as if he were going to rush Manning, then stood and retreated 20 yards before the snap and covered a receiver. On another play, Ray Lewis was positioned outside the defensive end, foreign soil for a career middle linebacker.

The 46 was maddening, unpredictable, different on every play. Blitzes came from unexpected places. Strange lineups (six defensive backs? two down linemen?) were the norm. The crowd never stopped making noise.

The defense did a nice job of keeping the high-scoring Colts out of the end zone for much of the night, but sometimes even the Ravens themselves become confused. On one passing play late in the first quarter, Colts receiver Marvin Harrison suddenly was alone 15 yards behind the defense. Cornerback Chris McAlister had turned him over to a safety, who was headed elsewhere.

Fortunately for the Ravens, the normally precise Manning missed an easy touchdown and overthrew Harrison, who dived for the ball but couldn't reel it in.

The wild, noisy, fascinating game of football chess that unfolded when the Colts had the ball was starkly contrasted by the quiet, predictable, staid game that unfolded whenever the Ravens had the ball.

The Ravens operated traditionally, with quarterback Kyle Boller calling plays in a huddle. Their offense itself was pure vanilla, with two backs lined up behind Boller and most plays resulting in either a handoff to Jamal Lewis or a basic, drop-back pass attempt.

The stadium was as quiet as a library, with the fans dutifully following Ravens coach Brian Billick's orders not to boo Boller. Oddly, the order seemed to take the air out of the home crowd.

You could literally feel a pendulum swinging back and forth as the evening rolled on. The loud game. Then the quiet game. The unpredictable game. Then the vanilla game.

Neither exerted dominance over the other at first. The game was scoreless until just before halftime, a positive development for the Ravens. It seemed their confusing defense would keep the high-scoring Colts from putting many points on the board.

The game was up for grabs, even though it was the Colts who finally broke the scoreless tie and finally put up three points late in the second quarter. Surely even the vanilla Ravens could make it a game, right?

Well ...

Their offensive story was not a pretty one. Lewis had a superb first quarter with 40 rushing yards, but the Colts stuffed him in the second quarter and the Ravens quickly abandoned the running game. Boller threw a few decent passes, but none for big gains. The offense came nowhere near the end zone.

Ravens fans are accustomed to such ineptitude, but they're also accustomed to seeing veteran kicker Matt Stover bail out the offense. How many times have Stover field goals saved the day?

Last night, even Stover was off - wildly so, in fact - missing from 38 yards in the first quarter and then 47 yards in the third quarter and 45 in the fourth quarter.

With the offense typically sputtering and Stover unable to help, the Ravens were back in an all-too-familiar spot - needing their defense or special teams to score touchdowns and save them. McAlister had one in his sights when he stepped in front of a telegraphed sideline route late in the first half, but he dropped the ball.

Of course, there was no chance of the Ravens' defense and special teams keeping up with Manning and the Colts' offense. The Colts eventually broke down the Ravens' defensive machinations, scoring on touchdown passes from Manning to Harrison and Ben Utecht.

With the Colts up 17-0, the Ravens were in a hole too deep for their meager offensive means.

The offense briefly awoke when Boller went out with an injured toe late in the third quarter and Anthony Wright drove the unit downfield with a flurry of passes, but that drive eventually ended with another missed field goal.

By then the stadium was silent when either team had the ball.

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