Billick hopes Ravens will stay passionate

October 16, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

If Ravens coach Brian Billick can have his way once this season, emotions will be running high at M&T Bank Stadium today and it will have nothing to do with the sentimental return of Trent Dilfer.

A week removed from his team's jaw-dropping outbursts, Billick believes the best chance for the Ravens to beat the Cleveland Browns (2-2) today, claw out of last place in the AFC North and rally from a 1-3 start is to play with their trademark, in-your-face intensity.

"At this point, I am less concerned about the players carrying their passion too far," Billick said. "I think we have a very clear set of parameters as to what that looks like. I am concerned that they may reel it back too much."

The mind-set of these division rivals has changed dramatically a quarter of the way into the season.

Under new coach Romeo Crennel, the Browns are playing under control and with a purpose. The Ravens are the ones in the midst of a crisis.

Their offense looks worse than ever. Their defense isn't delivering game-changing plays the way it did in the past. And their coach is under fire.

Billick has been sharply criticized for not punishing his players after the 21-penalty debacle in Detroit that included two ejections. He also has repeatedly denied that he has lost his grip on the team.

"There are those - rightly so, to a degree - who want their pound of flesh," Billick said. "That's fine and they can take it off me if they choose. The only true answer is how we conduct ourselves going forward. That's the real litmus test."

While Billick has built up the team's first division game as a passion play, there are a few players who consider it a character test.

"I think what we have to prove is that we're a smart team and we won't make the same mistakes that we made last week," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "That was an embarrassment."

Cornerback Chris McAlister, one of four players fined by the NFL last week for their actions last Sunday, said he expects this experience to bring the team closer together.

"We're not going to stop being passionate," he said. "We don't know any other way to play. That's who we are."

According to running back Jamal Lewis, the Ravens will only be unified once the offense starts pulling its weight.

The Ravens are averaging 11.8 points, second worst in the NFL. They are the only team in the league not to score at least 20 points in a game this season.

Putting up points on the Browns isn't as easy as it used to be. The Browns rank 13th in scoring defense (18.5 points), allowing just one touchdown in their past seven quarters.

"We just have to put this offense together," Lewis said. "We're playing good on defense. And it's kind of an imbalance. Once we get the running game going with the passing game, that's when we'll actually be a team. That's when we'll be on our way. I think it's coming."

The first step for this offense is to stop beating itself.

The Ravens have had more drives end in turnovers (12) than points (nine). They have the worst turnover margin in the AFC at minus-9.

Cleveland, on the other hand, has forced a turnover in a league-high 17 straight games.

"We've got to get that fixed," offensive coordinator Jim Fassel said of turnovers. "Otherwise, it doesn't matter how much improvement we'll show. It'll always be our nemesis."

While the Ravens' offense deals with familiar problems, their defense confronts a familiar face.

Dilfer, who quarterbacked the Ravens to the January 2001 Super Bowl, will make his first start against his former team. Only 10 players from that championship team remain on the Ravens, including three defensive starters.

"I don't really know much about Baltimore's defense because it's changed so much since I've been there, but I know Ray Lewis," said Dilfer, who has won 28 of his past 36 starts, including the playoffs. "This is going to be one of the great challenges of this young football team and my career."

Dilfer has had to take command of a makeshift offense. The Browns are without their top receiver (Braylon Edwards), tight end (Kellen Winslow) and running back (Lee Suggs).

Despite these losses, Dilfer is the 11th-rated passer in the NFL, throwing five touchdown passes of more than 28 yards this season. In contrast, the Ravens have completed a total of two passes longer than 25 yards.

"Coach Crennel said it perfectly this week when he said that we are very average right now," Dilfer said. "The way we feel offensively is we haven't been as good as we need to be in some crucial situations. The one thing is that we have a great togetherness as a football team."

With Dilfer, the Ravens enjoyed their best run of success. Now, they have sunk into their worst rut in seven years under Billick.

The Ravens have lost seven of their past 10 games by an average margin of 13.6 points. Their only victories in that span came against novice quarterbacks: Eli Manning (fourth career start), Sage Rosenfels (first start) and Brooks Bollinger (first start).

Equally disturbing, two of the Ravens' three losses this season have been against teams without winning records.

"This is a game we have to get back on track," tight end Todd Heap said. "We've left a few games out there we believe we should have won and we didn't get the job done. This is definitely one of these games that we have to win."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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