For Boller, time is now

Ravens QB under pressure to produce in final 5 games

December 04, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

In today's chilly matchup of two of the worst teams in the NFL, the heat will be on the quarterbacks, the Ravens' Kyle Boller and the Houston Texans' David Carr.

The symbol of the Texans' painful 1-10 season, Carr will try to survive a desperate Ravens pass rush behind the league's most porous line.

There is a different pressure awaiting Boller at M&T Bank Stadium, one that comes from a challenge laid out by Ravens coach Brian Billick.

"Now, it's time. His preseason is done," said Billick, referring to Boller's three games played since coming back from a severe toe injury. "This is a pivotal five games for Kyle to get into that rhythm that can be a springboard for him into next season. Regardless of what we decide to do in the offseason in terms of augmenting the position, these next five games are huge for him."

This final stretch run likely will determine whether Boller will return as the Ravens' starter next season or force the Ravens to look elsewhere to solidify the position. That's all the drama remaining for the Ravens (3-8), who have no hope for the playoffs or a winning season.

The remaining schedule appears to be favorable for Boller. Four of the five teams have defenses that rank in the bottom half of the NFL, starting with the Texans' 30th-ranked defense.

Boller, who missed seven games with a hyperextended toe, has struggled mightily in his return. His quarterback rating (60.5) and interception rate (5.6 percent) rank last among current starters.

"The one thing I need to do is put it together for a full game," Boller said. "There's no doubt that I feel like I can play in this league and be a starting quarterback. The main thing is, I need to be consistent."

Last Sunday in Cincinnati, Boller looked clumsy in going 4-for-12 for 37 yards in a miserable first half. After halftime, he let loose by completing 14 of 20 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns.

If Boller has his way for once this season, he will pick up where he left off.

"Things didn't go as planned in the first half last week, but I did some good things in the second half. I have an opportunity Sunday to move forward and take that next step," Boller said. "I've got to be confident. I've got to show my guys I'm up for the challenge."

The most disturbing part of Boller's game has been his questionable decision-making.

In Jacksonville, Boller locked onto tight end Todd Heap and was intercepted in the red zone. Against Pittsburgh, he fell to his knees inside the Steelers' 5-yard line and still tried to pitch the ball to running back Jamal Lewis with his left hand.

And in Cincinnati, he slipped twice on pass attempts and fumbled three times (losing one).

"We know he can do it. There can be no doubt in anyone's mind, because we've seen it," Billick said. "Now, can it be consistent from game to game? That's part of the criteria. We've seen all you need to win out of this guy. We've seen it all: the athleticism, the checks, the great throws, the running around and making plays."

What will help Boller is the resurgence of the Ravens' running game.

Lewis, who is coming off his first 100-yard performance in 11 games, should once again receive most of the workload with backup Chester Taylor still not a full strength with a foot injury.

And Lewis could do some damage against Houston, the NFL's worst run defense. The Texans have given up 100 yards to eight running backs, including 211 to Kansas City's Larry Johnson and two in the same game (Seattle's Shaun Alexander and Maurice Morris).

"That's the game of football: You have to take advantage of the other teams' weaknesses," Lewis said.

The Ravens' secondary is where their defense is most vulnerable, with three starters missing all or some portion of practice last week.

Safety Will Demps is out, cornerback Chris McAlister (thigh) is a game-time decision and safety Ed Reed (ankle) is expected to play despite not being fully recovered.

That's why the Ravens have to find a way to rattle Carr, who has been sacked an NFL-high 50 times.

"[The pass rush] is more important this week than it's ever been because we got a lot of guys down," defensive end Terrell Suggs said. "We got to turn it up. It's that simple."

The path for Boller appears equally as clear. Beginning today, he needs to validate the Ravens' unwavering faith in him.

"Where he is in his career and where he is in his contract, he will be on this football team next year," Billick said. "We have one thought process: Kyle Boller is going to perform the way we have anticipated over the next five games and he will be the quarterback going forward."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Texans@Ravens Today, 1 p.m., Ch. 13, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Ravens by 8 1/2

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