For those seeking answers to the Ravens' scoring-challenged offense, prepare to be turned away disappointed, much like coach Brian Billick's team in the red zone.
Billick said there isn't a need to be more aggressive with the play-calling, indicating he's satisfied with the chances given to throw deep downfield. He said there isn't an easy solution to the running game's problems, explaining the Ravens have exhausted every play a team can run.
And he said there aren't going to be sweeping lineup changes, other than Chester Taylor returning as the third-down back and Brian Rimpf rotating with left guard Edwin Mulitalo.
The only way to break out of the latest dry spell, Billick suggests, is to simply work harder in practice and execute better in games.
"We're not a good football team right now, but we've got seven opportunities, beginning this week, to change that," a somber Billick said in a postmortem to Sunday's 30-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Ravens (2-7) have been stuck in a four-week free fall because of their inability to reach the end zone. The NFL's lowest-scoring team has scored just one touchdown in the past 19 quarters and none in the past 11.
Critics point out that the Ravens have become too predictable in their game plan and too attached to quarterback Kyle Boller. In his first start since hyperextending his toe in the season opener, Boller threw three interceptions and was sacked four times.
"I'm convinced that Kyle Boller can't play," Shannon Sharpe, a member of the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl team, said on his Sirius radio show yesterday. "I have seen nothing in his mechanics. I've seen nothing in his ability. I've seen nothing that would indicate to me that you can build a franchise around this guy.
"Here's the thing: Kyle Boller plays just good enough to get him cut and you fired - which is a lose-lose situation."
Billick was candid in his assessment of Boller but was optimistic his three-year starter would improve with more playing time.
"Kyle did not play particularly well," Billick said. "He played like a guy that has been on the bench for seven weeks. He was under a great deal of pressure, and he took a heck of a beating. He forced the ball in a couple places trying to make some plays that didn't turn out [well]. [But] he tends not to come back and make the same mistakes."
Jaguars cornerback Terry Cousin, who intercepted Boller twice, said the problem wasn't necessarily Boller as much as the Ravens' tendencies. He said it was easy to scout the Ravens because they constantly throw to tight end Todd Heap or receiver Derrick Mason, who have accounted for 48.5 percent of the team's catches.
"We watched it on film and coaches and everyone were saying it is the Todd Heap-Derrick Mason show," Cousin said.
The frustrating part for the Ravens is that they envisioned their offense being more than a two-man show. They invested in five first-round picks (Boller, Heap, running back Jamal Lewis, left tackle Jonathan Ogden and receiver Mark Clayton) and added two significant free agents (Mason and right guard Keydrick Vincent) this offseason.
The result has been seven touchdowns in nine games. Eight players in the NFL have scored more touchdowns than the Ravens.
In fact, taking away three meaningless fourth-quarter scores, the Ravens' offense has managed four legitimate touchdowns while giving up three touchdowns off interception returns.
"It comes to a point where you know you have the talent, but talent without results doesn't mean anything," Mason said. "That's where we're at right now: talent without progress. You could have all the talent in the world, but if you don't make any progress, it's nothing."
One of the biggest questions after the Ravens' season-worst offensive effort Sunday was the absence of Taylor in the offense. Billick said the Ravens couldn't risk playing Taylor after he missed all of last week's practices for personal reasons.
"We thought it would be a lot to put on Chester to be thrown in there with no practice and no preparation," Billick said. "He'll be back into a steady rotation and be a big part of the game plan this week."
After losing four in a row for the first time under Billick, the Ravens now must find a path to the end zone against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have won four straight to gain of share of first place in the AFC North.
"What this team is dealing with right now is the confidence in itself and being able to turn, or maintain, a certain amount of momentum," Billick said. "We are in the process of painstakingly going through [the film], trying to look at what can we do to change the outcome."
Steelers@Ravens Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Off the board