Page out of the playground needed when anemic offense in red zone

Ravens Gameday

Bengals 21 Ravens 9

November 07, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

Here's an idea. The Ravens should send Derrick Mason down to the parked car, hang a left at the bumper, run a banana route around the trash can and curl at the clothesline. If that doesn't work, then run a fly pattern down to Marvin's Motors, look up and try to bring down the Hail Mary pass that was launched from Edward's Supermarket.

That's the only suggestion left for the Ravens this season.

After failing to score a touchdown again in losing 21-9 to the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens need to go playground. Burn the offensive playbook, especially the section on red zone scoring, because the system stinks.

The Ravens have tried just about everything to jump-start this offense. They fired offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh at the end of last season and promoted Jim Fassel. They added another offensive guru during the offseason by hiring Rick Neuheisel as quarterbacks coach.

Some gurus.

The Ravens have scored seven touchdowns in eight games, worse than the Chicago Bears, worse than the Houston Texans. One of the few times the Ravens showed any offense yesterday was when Anthony Wright sprained his ankle, and Kordell Stewart replaced him for a series.

The Wishbone was back.

It was Kordell left. Kordell right. Kordell out for a pass. Tricky, tricky. At least the Ravens were creative. They went 50 yards in 13 plays before bringing on the team's Most Valuable Offensive Player since 1999, Matt Stover, who kicked a 31-yard field goal.

We all knew it was going to end that way. Stover starts warming up as soon as the Ravens cross midfield.

But now that the Ravens are pretty much out of the playoff picture and closing in on having the No. 1 draft pick in April if they aren't careful, they might as well open the offense up. Let's have a write-in campaign in which fans can call in plays or design the offense for a week. If they can tell head coach Brian Billick what to do with his beard, they might as well tell him what to do with his offense.

OK, keep it clean folks.

Anything has to help.

"It's frustrating, especially when you move the ball all the way down there," Ravens tight end Todd Heap said. "To get [in the red zone] and not get points is disappointing. We only had nine points on three field goals, and you're not going to win too many games in that fashion."

You can win about two out of eight, one if the Jets had a real quarterback. But you're not going to beat the Bengals, who have one of the league's best passing offenses. The Ravens weren't awful yesterday, but they got beat by a better team that scored touchdowns instead of field goals inside the red zone.

What do the Bengals have that the Ravens don't?

Try a playmaker at quarterback. The Bengals have Carson Palmer, who completed 19 of 26 passes for 248 yards, including touchdown passes of 8 and 3 yards. He's poised, calm and seldom leaves the pocket, partly because his pass protection is so good. The Ravens had Kyle Boller, and now his clone, Wright, who completed 19 of 30 passes for 153 yards. Wright panics, stumbles around in the pocket and is indecisive. Faced with a second-and-goal at the Bengals' 4 with 2:41 left in the game and the Ravens behind 21-9, Wright was sacked for a 10-yard loss.

This isn't the first time it has happened. He made a similar mistake a week ago in crunch time against the Steelers.

But Wright is only part of the problem. The Ravens can't figure out how to score. They just keep making excuses, which is what losing teams do.

"Once we started to get in the red zone, they started playing a lot of `red two' [two safeties in the middle of the field inside the red zone]," Wright said. "They defended the goal line and did not allow us any chances to get into the end zone. They made it difficult for us to get into the end zone and that is something that has been causing us problems. Defenses are taking away the end zone."

That's strange. All these years, and I thought you got an escort or a motorcade into the end zone complete with balloons and a band. The Bengals didn't have any trouble finding the Ravens' end zone, not once, not twice, but three times for touchdowns. They ran when they were expected to throw, and threw when they were expected to run.

They also attacked the middle of the end zone, which the Ravens seldom do. The Ravens like to keep their receivers to the outside, making the end zone easier to defend. The Ravens allow other teams to dictate policy. They have no creativity. On their first series inside the red zone they tried two runs and one pass before sending out old faithful, Stover.

That's a great strategy if you're playing the Bears, but these were the Bengals. They score touchdowns like the Ravens go through quarterbacks. On the Ravens' last pass attempt of the game, to Heap, the Bengals were sitting and waiting because they knew the Ravens were either going to go to the fade route, or Heap was going to try to post up the outside cornerback.

Heap really never got into the route. End of game.

There must be changes. If not, teams like the Bengals or Rams are going to score touchdowns, because sooner or later they're going to complete 48-yard passes to receiver Chad Johnson, or have running back Rudi Johnson rush for 97 yards.

The Ravens' defense played reasonably well yesterday, downright punishing at times. But the offense has to score, especially when playmakers like middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are sidelined with injuries. The Ravens have tried just about everything this year.

They've gone from a Pro I team to more of a true West Coast offense. They've tried three quarterbacks, two right tackles, five tight ends, three fullbacks and five receivers.

It's time to draw plays up in the dirt.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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