Bouncing ball of blame making Ravens rounds

Gameday

Nfl Week 8

October 31, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

Blame. That's the one word that bubbled to the surface most as Jamal Lewis vented at the Ravens' practice facility last week. Not contract or hurt or prison. Blame.

Why, Lewis asked, is everybody blaming me for what's wrong with this team?

Good question. But there's a simple answer: It was his turn.

Lewis was this week's obvious reason why the Ravens have the worst offense in the NFL. He joins an illustrious (but hardly exclusive group) that includes Kyle Boller, the offensive line, Clarence Moore, Anthony Wright, Jim Fassel and the perennial favorite, Brian Billick.

Because it's all Lewis' fault this week, that means that his backup inherits the accompanying savior role. So, this week, Chester Taylor fixes everything. Here's the funny thing about this group, though: The names are so familiar - Wright, Lewis, the offensive line. Once upon a time, Mark Clayton was in that group, but because of his ankle injury, his membership is lapsing.

In a couple of weeks, it will all come full circle when the savior society welcomes its most unlikely member. The following sentence was actually spoken out loud, in front of corroborating witnesses, at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport one week ago by a Ravens fan returning from Chicago after attending the Bears game: "I never thought I'd say this, but I can't wait for Kyle Boller to come back."

Here's the funny thing about the saviors: So far, they haven't saved anything.

It's not unreasonable to believe that Taylor will make things better if, tonight in Pittsburgh against the Steelers, he gets the ball more. He can't be less effective than Lewis has been so far, for one thing. We might really be seeing a replay of the Priest Holmes situation here, and there's only one way to find out.

But with all due respect to the underused Taylor, if he's the answer to why this offense has been the exact opposite of what we've been sold all season, then we've been asking the wrong questions.

No one player has been "the answer." Not even one coach can be blamed, as fun as it is to rip the guy at the top. Everybody played his role in this. Thus, everybody is justified in saying that pointing fingers at one person or another is insane. This really is a team effort.

Then again, a failure that comprehensive is hard for the layperson to comprehend. The brain can much more easily manage concepts like "Dump this player" or "Start that player." Everyone deserves to be cut some slack on this. The critics can't help themselves, and neither can the players and coaches trying to defend themselves.

Wright has now gotten as testy as Lewis, complaining that the media "wants to try to put it all on me." That isn't exactly accurate, but you can't really blame him for feeling that way. As the preseason wore on and the offense looked worse every week under Boller, the public clamoring for Wright made him sound like some sort of long-lost Manning brother.

When Wright got his chance and proved to be something less - or, more accurately, proved to be no solution for the deep-rooted problems - the public moved on to the next scapegoat, the offensive line. They got snippy as a group, but as time wore on, they didn't get a lot better (or, to get to the root of the problem, any younger).

So, on to yet another scapegoat, one wearing No. 31, with a bad ankle and a truncated preseason and with a contract coming up.

It's easier to label Lewis as "selfish" than to acknowledge that he has been run into the ground over the course of his career, that his tank might be on "E" at just 26 - and that he's right about how much he has been let down by the expectations of having an offense that spreads the wealth and the beatings.

When he talked about how he "gave and gave and gave over the last five years," he told the unvarnished truth. When he followed that with, "Sometimes it's got to be a change. I expect for it to be easier for me sometimes. I expect I don't have to beat up on defenses all the time," he was saying nothing less than the coaches were saying all spring and summer.

The recent shift in emphasis back to where it has always been - pound the ball, control the clock, make it easier for the passing game instead of vice versa, adhere to the "profile" - hasn't even been subtle. Combine that with the big numbers on Lewis' odometer, and you can see why hearing his name used as the reason everything has gone wrong would annoy him.

But Lewis should look on the bright side. The Ravens have a full roster, plenty of coaches and two-thirds of the season to go. Soon enough - maybe after tonight - it will be somebody else's fault.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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