Billick's message has grown stale, so Ravens need a fresh approach

On the Ravens

Ravens Gameday

Ravens 16 Texans 15

December 05, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

There were about 14 minutes left in the game, and the Houston Texans were about to send their field-goal unit onto the field for a 22-yard field goal that would put them ahead by two points. Before the Texans jogged onto the field, thousands of Ravens fans started exiting M&T Bank Stadium. They weren't entertained, they weren't excited, and they had given up hope.

That's my position on the Ravens and coach Brian Billick. Enough is enough. Billick has won a lot of games in Baltimore, including a Super Bowl title in the 2000 season, but he doesn't provide any confidence that he can lead this team in the future.

During the past year and a half, we've all debated whether Billick should stay or go, but barring a great turnaround in the last four games, the Ravens need to make a change.

It's great that the Ravens rallied for a 16-15 win yesterday, and the comeback does a lot for third-year quarterback Kyle Boller's confidence. Yippee!

But these were the Texans (1-11). They had the league's No. 31-ranked offense and the No. 30 defense. They blew a 21-point lead to the St. Louis Rams and a rookie quarterback from Harvard named Ryan Fitzpatrick last week.

The Ravens had only 238 yards of total offense, including 73 rushing. Go ahead, jump up and down. Break out the champagne glasses and roll out the red carpet. You can get excited about a win against a Texas team that will fire coach Dom Capers soon, but this game was as ugly as some in the preseason.

The most encouraging sign is that the Ravens haven't quit, a testament to some who are willing to play and fight for Billick and their own jobs.

But look a little deeper, and you'll see a coach whose shortcomings in the X's and O's and such things as clock management and talent evaluation have become clearly evident. And these are obstacles the Ravens can no longer overcome because their great players have gotten old.

For years, Billick's deficiencies were hidden behind the greatness of his players. No one can question he led the Ravens to the Super Bowl. He gave them direction, motivation and a swagger they desperately lacked.

But Billick didn't build that team. It was put together by Ozzie Newsome and former coach Ted Marchibroda. Between the draft and free agency, the Ravens had a collection of talent that was overwhelming, with players like Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson, Chris McAlister, Jonathan Ogden, Michael McCrary, Sam Adams and Jamie Sharper.

But some of those players are gone. Others have gotten old. Billick has become unmasked. His offenses, inadequate and inept since 1999, are still that way even with a new offensive coordinator this season in Jim Fassel. Passing plays are poorly designed and lack creativity. The running game is one-dimensional and predictable.

Clock management has been atrocious. Do the Ravens ever call two plays at once in the huddle? Timeouts are often wasted, like the one the Ravens used late in the fourth quarter yesterday that stopped the clock for Houston.

The Ravens have the worst two-minute offense in the league, and poor decision-making costs them two or three games a year. Yesterday, Billick decided to go for two points instead of one after outside linebacker Adalius Thomas scored on a 20-yard interception return with 7:16 left in the game to put the Ravens ahead 13-9.

If the Ravens had kicked the extra point, they would have been ahead 14-9. Even if the Texans had scored a touchdown, a Ravens field goal later would have won the game. But after the two-point conversion failed, if the Texans had scored a touchdown, a Ravens field goal would only have tied it.

You get the picture. Luckily, the Ravens were playing the Texans.

Meanwhile, the penalties keep mounting. The Ravens had eight yesterday for 71 yards. Houston had 11 for 93. Undisciplined and losing teams have a lot of penalties. The Ravens had 21 against the Detroit Lions earlier in the season.

Billick had discipline and respect when he arrived here in 1999. He also had a roster with older players who wanted to win a Super Bowl ring more than earn another big, fat contract. The team has changed, but not Billick. The soft training camps and lax curfews worked then, but not for this group.

The old group didn't mind Billick's boastful and blustery style, but this team is tired of it. As a matter of fact, Billick's abrasive style has exhausted a lot of people at the Ravens' complex.

In some ways, Billick has tried to reinvent himself, but basically he is too stubborn to change. During the offseason, he tried to weed out some of the malcontents he had in the locker room because this team started falling apart in the middle of last season. But the problem is a lot deeper than even he suspected, and it involves some of the team's most prominent players.

So if you're owner Steve Bisciotti, whom do you choose -- the players or the coach?

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