With script getting old, Ravens should just tear up the playbook

On the Ravens

October 24, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

Chicago -- Only minutes into his post-game news conference, it seemed as though Ravens coach Brian Billick was conceding the obvious. He seemed baffled and looked perplexed, which was much different from a week ago when the Ravens appeared to climb back into the AFC North race.

But after a 10-6 loss to the Chicago Bears yesterday at Soldier Field, reality seemed to set in on the Ravens (2-4). They're not a very good football team. Actually, they're one of the five worst in the NFL after having lost to the Lions, Titans and Bears.

Oh, my.

"Clearly, we didn't do enough to win the game," Billick said. "That sounds obvious, but we have to do the only thing I know to do. You go back to work and you work your way through. That's what is left of this team right now. What the rest of the year holds for us, we'll find out and we'll see what that means."

Here's another suggestion that might help: For the rest of the season, the Ravens need to burn the blueprint that showed them the road to the Super Bowl in the 2000 season.

Burn it, and then bury it.

Pull it out again next year, or some time later, but it won't work for this team anymore, not against the quality teams coming up in the next month. The Ravens keep resurrecting it, but it doesn't fit. They can no longer depend on their running game to set up the passing attack because the offensive line is too old and not agile.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis was the best player in the NFL in 2000, but he may not even be the best player on the team now. His play has dropped off, and so has the performance levels of outside linebacker Peter Boulware and running back Jamal Lewis.

There are no giant defensive tackles like Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa anymore. The Ravens can't play conservatively on offense and win games because their defense can no longer suffocate offenses.

They can't be conservative on offense because the Ravens are so undisciplined that they can't manufacture 10- or 12-play, 80- or 90-yard drives. The Ravens had 11 penalties for 100 yards yesterday, including two for roughing the passer.

So, if the Ravens are to at least be competitive, Billick should change gears. Open up the offense and wing it. We're not talking run-and-shoot, but we're talking about gambling more. That jump-ball play? Well, put it back in the offense. When you get past your 40-yard line, go for it and take a shot downfield. Split tight end Todd Heap wide on one side and receiver Derrick Mason wide on the other.

What do you have to lose at this point?

Playoffs? Oooh, that's funny.

Those days of daring the other team to stop the running attack are over. After six games, the Ravens can't get it cranked up. Jamal Lewis had only 34 yards on 15 carries against the Bears. Backup Chester Taylor, who has outplayed Lewis this season, had only two carries for 21 yards.

Why doesn't Taylor play? Couldn't he provide a spark? We'll never know because Billick keeps Taylor parked on the bench, getting as much production out of Taylor as he gets out of the running game.

But we know one thing, and that's when Taylor is in the game, teams don't stack the line of scrimmage. The Ravens have to mix it up more because the offensive line is far from overpowering. Any lineman to the right of left tackle Jonathan Ogden is suspect from game to game.

The pass protection is a joke. The Bears sacked Anthony Wright four times, and he was hurried numerous times. How bad was it? Wright's jersey was as dark as the Bears' black ones when he left the field.

One thing Wright doesn't need is to be rushed. He has enough problems when he has time to throw. He is Kyle Boller with a different number, another quarterback who lacks touch and efficiency on short passes. But Wright, if given time, throws a nice long ball. Maybe he'll connect on one or two for touchdowns, which is more than the six points the Ravens scored yesterday.

The Ravens' defense could use the luxury. Opposing teams are wearing them down, especially without injured defensive end Tony Weaver. After rushing for 42 yards in the first half, the Bears' Thomas Jones ran for 97 in the second.

Besides Weaver, there is a good chance the Ravens will be without Reed (high ankle sprain) and Lewis (thigh bruise) next Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This is the perfect time for a change in philosophy.

It's nothing radical, like converting from the Pro-I to the wishbone. But with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh coming up twice in the next five games along with Jacksonville, the Ravens might as well put in some gimmick plays because they can't go toe to toe with those teams. They can't even beat a team with a rookie quarterback, a team that lost to the Cleveland Browns earlier this season.

Right now, the Ravens' top two weapons are Mason and Heap. They have to get them the ball as much as possible to have a chance. Shorten Wright's drop-back. Throw when you're supposed to run, and run when you're supposed to throw.

Do something different.

Why not?

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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