Losing balance key to gaining footing

September 17, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

THE RAVENS ARE offensive nomads. They have an idea of what they want to be, but not the resolve to complete it.

It's an identity crisis.

Coming into the season, head coach Brian Billick said that despite the additions of receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, the Ravens would have a run-oriented offense.

Then in the season opener against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, the Ravens became pass happy. Billick points out that the Ravens had to throw the ball because they fell behind 17-0, but the Ravens came out throwing to open the second half despite only trailing 3-0.

Of the first 13 plays in the third quarter, running back Jamal Lewis touched the ball only once against an undersized Indianapolis team that stayed in a four-man front. In a span of less than four minutes in the third quarter, the Colts scored twice and the Ravens went on to lose, 24-7, as they managed only 77 yards rushing.

The question for tomorrow's game in Tennessee is: Will the Ravens try to run against a Titans team that allowed Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Willie Parker 161 yards rushing last week, or will they try to be balanced?

The Ravens should forget the balance business, and try this equation: Less balance plus running the ball more equals a win.

You don't know if the Ravens are the New York Giants or the Ravens. Offensive coordinator Jim Fassel has tweaked the passing game with more motion and formations (they actually ran a set with three receivers to one side of the field), but the Ravens still have the same power running game as a year ago. Quarterback Kyle Boller's favorite receiver was Clarence Moore (who knows why?) while current starter Anthony Wright prefers Mason.

It just goes to show that the Ravens are still a team in offensive transition, but they were built to run the ball. Now, they just have to remember it.

The Ravens signed quarterback Kordell Stewart as a backup this week after Boller suffered a turf toe injury Sunday night.

Stewart wasn't impressive in his only action as a quarterback during the preseason last year when he threw three interceptions and led only one touchdown drive. He apparently wasn't any better during brief workouts before the team signed him Wednesday.

According to a team official who witnessed the workouts, Stewart threw well but only if Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Yao Ming were his receivers. But since he was familiar with the offense and the team had to move quickly, the Ravens offered Stewart a contract.

There was mention that the team had interest in former Cleveland Browns quarterback Tim Couch, but the Ravens were basically throwing his name around so that Stewart wouldn't stick them up for a lot of money.

Unfortunately for the Ravens, as bad as their offensive line blocks, they might have to revisit with Couch and several other quarterbacks before the season is over.

Anybody seen Stoney Case?

Several defensive coordinators that the Ravens have to face this season said they would prefer to face Boller than Wright.

None wanted to be identified, but they basically said Wright creates more problems because he throws better on the run, and also throws a better long ball. Two said Wright was more polished and played with a lot more confidence.

Like Boller, teams will force Wright to win the game with his arm. The key words for Tennessee will be "lane integrity."

Two years ago against the Ravens in the playoffs, the Titans' defensive line did a great job of staying in its lanes and going up field as opposed to making initial contact, and then quickly turning and pursuing running back Jamal Lewis.

That strategy eliminated Lewis from cutting back, a major weapon in the Ravens' running game, and forced Wright to pass.

Uh oh, if I were Boller I would be a little nervous.

Billick gave him a vote of confidence Thursday, proclaiming: "Kyle Boller is the quarterback ... of the future, and now, of the Baltimore Ravens."

Billick once made that statement about Elvis Grbac during the season, and Grbac retired before the start of the next season after the Ravens demanded he take a pay cut of a million or more dollars.

Boller better be looking over his shoulder for more than just defensive linemen.

The Ravens might consider making some changes in the future, and No. 1 is allowing backup running back Chester Taylor more carries until Lewis is healthy.

Taylor performed well in the preseason and just looks quicker getting in and out of holes. With both of them running, they could easily wear down the Titans.

Here's some other changes to think about:

The Ravens might have to move left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden to the right side. Ogden is still better than most tackles in the league, and he won't have Dwight Freeney-like problems against any other defensive end in the league except Simeon Rice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But since the Ravens signed him to a contract extension last season, they might prolong his career by moving him to the right side, and then hoping rookie Adam Terry of Syracuse can replace Ogden on the left side.

The Ravens have drafted athletes who can run on defense, but need to apply that same philosophy on offense - especially on the offensive line, where they seem to draft for bulk. This current group doesn't run well, and it limits the type of plays the Ravens can run.

Stop creating a Watergate type situation looking for the person who told about the recent altercation between Billick and Fassel. Psst, but his real name is ...

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