Avoiding imminent collapse a must for free-falling team

ON THE RAVENS

October 29, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

The Ravens are at a point where if they aren't careful, they could fall apart.

There are signs of decay. Team chemistry isn't as bad as last year, but the Ravens aren't the Brady Bunch, either. Morale isn't high. Key players aren't happy about contract negotiations. You have Jamal Lewis admitting he isn't running as hard as in the past because he might get injured and hurt his value on the free-agent market.

You have quarterback Anthony Wright saying he is tired of the media trying to put all the blame on him, and Lewis hinting that he has become a scapegoat as well. Apparently, some veterans want to have input in the defensive game plan and play, too. Linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed and defensive end Tony Weaver probably won't play because of injuries against Pittsburgh on Monday night, which is the beginning of a five-game stretch that includes Pittsburgh (4-2) and Cincinnati (5-2) twice and Jacksonville (4-2).

Is the word collapse on your lips?

"I know [the media] wants to try and put it all on me, but it's not all on me," Wright said. "We have a lot of other guys who put in a lot of work and do their jobs. If they do their job and I do my job, then we work as a team and we'll win."

Wright needs to do a better job. His 62.5 percent completion rate is misleading because his receivers are often making catches on passes overthrown or thrown behind them. Lewis has 326 rushing yards on 113 carries, but you can't blame him for being disenchanted with an organization that likes to double talk.

The offensive line? Let's not get started.

After seven years of having an inept offense, it appears the frustration level is at an all-time high, and you can see it on the faces of several defensive players.

Isn't that right, Ray Lewis?

In the past, the defense has bailed out the Ravens, but the 2005 version isn't as dominating. Actually, the Ravens have come full circle from when Billick became head coach in 1999.

Remember when the Ravens had a lot of Pro Bowl players, but they couldn't produce a winning season? Now, they still have a lot of Pro Bowl players, but a lot of them are past their prime.

Calling Mark Clayton, calling Mark Clayton.

The rookie hasn't been heard from much during the first six games, and has been injury prone since his arrival in Baltimore. Clayton runs good routes, accelerates going in and out of breaks, and can make yards after the catch, but he doesn't get on the field. Clayton has started three of six games but was inactive last week with a calf injury.

There's always an injury.

After the Ravens drafted Clayton in April, he missed portions of several camps with multiple leg injuries, and then held out of training camp for nearly a week because of stalled contract talks.

Billick brought him along slowly to work him into the starting lineup, but Clayton has only 12 catches for 95 yards. It has to be a major disappointment coming from Oklahoma, where he had 83 catches for 1,425 yards in 2003 and 66 catches for 876 yards last season.

Just as disappointing has been rookie offensive tackle Adam Terry. The Ravens gave up a third-round pick to move up and take Terry in the second round. Terry, from Syracuse, has been inactive for all six games, and that speaks volumes considering the Ravens are weak at the right tackle position.

Here's a prediction on Monday night's game:

Despite those people who think the Ravens will lay down against the Steelers, it won't happen. The game is on national TV, and the Ravens have too much pride.

If the Ravens can manage a touchdown early (yes, miracles still happen), gain some confidence and get the crowd out of the game, then they have a shot, or at least can keep the game close for a half, maybe three quarters. But in the end, the Steelers' running game will wear down the Ravens.

Pittsburgh dominated the Ravens with its running game last year with Ray Lewis in the lineup, so imagine what it will do without him. Replacement Bart Scott can handle the Steelers' physical style inside, but if the Ravens start Tommy Polley instead, they'll have trouble. Polley's strength is his speed. He's not capable of going toe-to-toe with the Steelers, and neither is starting defensive end Jarret Johnson, tipping the scale at 285.

There has been some discussion about Ray Lewis quitting last week when he went to the locker room midway in the fourth quarter with a thigh injury. Some folks believed he should have stayed on the field to cheer on his team.

The Ravens already have a cheerleading squad.

Lewis isn't a quitter. How can you question a man who has given so much to a team? A better term might be frustrated because he has had to play and lead a team that hasn't been able to score points for nearly a decade.

One of the reasons, besides failing to get a new contract extension that Lewis doesn't talk to the media is because he might vent some of those pent-up frustrations, especially about the offense. We're not talking about something small, either.

Is it Baghdad Bob or Baghdad Billick?

As usual, the coach put his spin on by suggesting that Ravens defensive end/outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had become a marked man throughout the league after Suggs was called for another roughing-the-passer penalty last week against Chicago.

Truth be told, Suggs, in his third season, lacks maturity. He's a nice kid but needs to grow up. He can't keep putting himself or his team in jeopardy to lose games.

Instead of taking shots at officials, Billick needs to find a way to cut down on the penalties, a sign that his team lacks discipline. But as usual, the Ravens find excuses for their mistakes instead of solutions.

It's just like there wasn't a war in Iraq, according to Baghdad Bob, even though there were explosions going on around him.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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