Reusing 2000 plan risky for older Ravens


September 12, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

As much as the Ravens promote change, their formula for success on the field hasn't evolved much.

They've brought in strong-armed quarterbacks such as Elvis Grbac and Kyle Boller. Both were supposed to put the vertical passing game into the offense. The Ravens brought in Jim Fassel to replace Matt Cavanaugh as offensive coordinator and put some life into a predictable offense.

But so far in the preseason, and in the 27-0 season-opening win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the Ravens' blueprint looks exactly like the one laid out during the 2000 season when the Ravens won the Super Bowl. They want to dominate with a run-oriented offense and a speedy, big-play defense. They want to win the field-position game with special teams, and a quarterback who doesn't need to be spectacular, but just manages the game efficiently.

Quarterbacks Trent Dilfer and Steve McNair could simply swap jerseys from years ago.

But will it work again? Can the Ravens pull it off in the next two years before their salary cap situation forces them to clean house and get rid of some of their top players? The Pittsburgh Steelers have a playing style like the Ravens', and the Steelers were the champions last season. When the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, they looked a lot like the Ravens.

But the New England Patriots, who have won three of the past five championships, have a much more balanced offense than the Ravens, and the last two runners-up, the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles, were also more wide-open offensively.

It's certainly a gamble banking on this formula, especially since the Ravens have missed the playoffs the past two seasons. The reasons were obvious. The defense has played well, but hasn't been dominating, certainly not racking up a lot of turnovers last season. Boller, in his fourth year, hasn't developed fast enough. Running back Jamal Lewis has been incarcerated, injured and disenchanted with his contract the past two seasons, while his offensive line has been only average at best.

But some of these scenarios have changed this season. McNair has replaced Boller. Lewis appears healthy and ready to go again. Both safety Ed Reed and middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who missed extensive time last season with injuries, are back in the starting lineup.

Against Tampa Bay, the Ravens turned three turnovers into 17 points, and held the Buccaneers to 142 total yards, 26 rushing. The Ravens had 271 total yards including 103 rushing, and one 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to open the game that lasted 9 minutes, 16 seconds.

"We don't have to worry about the offense anymore as long as No. 9 [McNair] is out there," Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle said.

"Ravens football, it's Ravens football," Ray Lewis said after the game. "Ravens football is back."

No question, but is it good enough? Several of the top teams in the AFC can get the ball downfield, including New England and Indianapolis. And then there is Cincinnati. The Bengals averaged more than 30 points during the preseason, and put up 23 in a 23-10 win against the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday.

At last glance, the Bengals were in the AFC North with the Ravens.

There's more.

Back in the old days, if you will, Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis and Jonathan Ogden were still young. Players such as Tony Siragusa, Sam Adams, Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary were still on the roster. They're gone now, and both Lewises and Ogden are older and not as dominating.

The X-factor in this seems to be McNair. Questions remain about his arm strength. There were two occasions Sunday when he put zip on the ball like the old McNair. And then there were times when his arm strength failed, or the ball simply slipped out of his hands, falling short of intended targets.

McNair is still learning the offense, and the passing game might improve with his knowledge.

Before Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, the Ravens were already intriguing. They were basically the same cast from a year ago that finished 6-10. But after the lopsided victory against the Buccaneers, they have become even more interesting. With the league being so balanced, it's nearly impossible to predict how this will turn out, but it's going to be fun to watch.

The Ravens are attempting to use the blueprint for success at least one more time. All the parts are back in place, but they're just older.

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