Reflect on Ravens' QB woes, and problems mirror NFL's

October 09, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

It's time to stop hyperventilating over who's playing quarterback for the Ravens. Not because the position has become less than it's cracked up to be, but because the Ravens are in the same boat as, literally, half of the NFL.

That includes all of the Ravens' opponents between now and the Halloween night faceoff with the Steelers in Pittsburgh. They get the Lions today in Detroit, the Cleveland Browns next week at home, and the Bears in Chicago the week after that. Yes, our Super Bowl hero is part of that group. More on that later.

This helps enormously - the schedule and the barren-landscape scenario. Whether it's happening now more than ever or not depends on how selective your memory is, but the truth is that on any given Sunday this season, chances are you won't get a Manning vs. McNabb showdown. You'll get what we have today: Anthony Wright vs. Joey Harrington.

As angst-ridden as the locals are about the eventual choice to be made between Wright and the returning Kyle Boller, the Lions would love a choice like that. Detroit fans are about done with Harrington, and the Lions themselves might be, too - except that coach Steve Mariucci would never let on that anyone's thinking that. Yet the whispers persist that he wants very badly to insert Jeff Garcia, who made him look very good with the San Francisco 49ers a few years ago and who came to the rescue in the offseason to wait on-deck.

Problem is, Garcia has a broken leg. Yeah, say many of the Lions' faithful, so what's your point?

Back East, New York Jets fans gaze enviously at the Lions, wishing they could have a young bust and a one-legged veteran instead of Vinny Testaverde, plucked from the unemployment line 10 days ago. Out West, 49ers fans think about how lucky the Jets are to have the has-been Vinny, instead of the never-was Tim Rattay and the new starter, hasn't-done-squat-yet Alex Smith.

In Buffalo today, J.P. Losman steps aside for Kelly Holcomb. Makes you nostalgic for Rob Johnson, doesn't it?

On the Ravens' upcoming schedule, we look forward to Kyle Orton, a rookie starting in desperation for the Bears, and the aforementioned leader of the Ravens' Super Bowl champion team, Trent Dilfer, who has gotten more mileage out of that half season of glory than in the underachieving seasons that preceded it.

Getting the picture?

It's hard to tell whether this is because there just aren't as many good quarterbacks around these days, much the way there aren't as many good big men in basketball. It could be that it's harder to develop a great quarterback now, that the position is harder than it has ever been. You'll get a lot of coaches who will admit to that, and if they don't, their quarterbacks' struggles tell the story they won't.

It's easy to climb all over Brian Billick, for example, for being unable to find that rare gem - and yes, the list of flameouts is comically long. Realistically, though, very few teams are getting them, and a lot of them get them by luck. Not even top-pick luck (Tim Couch, for example), or first-round luck (the aforementioned Losman, among others). More like Kurt Warner and Tom Brady luck.

The trick, then, is to beat everybody else to the no-brainers. Eli Manning's arrival with the New York Giants was as clumsy as any in the past quarter century, this generation's John Elway mess. But it worked out for the Giants. And for the San Diego Chargers, as it turns out, not because of Philip Rivers, but because of Drew Brees. Serious luck involved there.

Does Boller become Brees next year or even later this year? Billick and the Ravens had better hope so. Does Harrington? Maybe - but if the Lions had thought so, they wouldn't have bought Garcia insurance.

More important, though, does it matter?

The Ravens, again, are betting that it doesn't - and they might be right. Not just because of the legendary "profile," but because there are only a few teams that have that special player at quarterback, the proven difference-maker. A conservative count from here says that 13 of the 32 teams fit that description, six in the AFC. It could be higher, if you're sold on Jake Plummer's judgment or Kerry Collins' consistency.

A liberal count, though, puts the number of teams in deep trouble under center at 11. Again, is Dilfer's ring scaring that many opponents? How soon before someone catches that impostor posing as Mark Brunell? Are the Miami Dolphins even using a quarterback this year?

It might not be easy to swallow what Billick and the Ravens are feeding us. But all things considered, it might be smart to do so. Unless you've got any better ideas.

Or quarterbacks.

Points after -- David Steele

Bookstores in the city are selling officially licensed Orioles 2006 calendars. Clearly, the calendars had an early print date. The featured player for January is ... Sidney Ponson. Featured in future months are Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Larry Bigbie. Note to early holiday shoppers: Wait a few months.

You know the calendar is outdated because Palmeiro's not wearing earplugs in his picture.

Every year it's hard to decide whether to laugh or cry at baseball playoff time when we get to hear Jon Miller calling games every day.

Not to contradict a colleague, but manager interviews in the dugouts during playoff games have even more allure now. Anything that pairs Ozzie Guillen with a live microphone is must-see TV. We'll find out before long whether the networks are using a seven-second delay.

Why being around the Ravens is so much fun: You get to hear the coach of a 1-2 team lecture the fans about when to cheer and boo and lecture the media about how they do their jobs. If the Ravens win in Detroit today, will he suggest what colors we should use on our redesigned pages?

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