McNair can't pass blame for problems with offense

October 11, 2006|By RICK MAESE

Steve McNair has got to go.

I mean, did you see his statistics? How do you keep him in the starting lineup for another week? What kind of team owner would dare let McNair go back in there?

Of course, last I checked, Ravens coach Brian Billick runs a real NFL team, not a fantasy one. He doesn't watch games with three laptops, a satellite dish and a scientific calculator, so there will be no lopping off of fantasy quarterback heads this week.

While Billick must stick with McNair, in the back of his all-knowing head, do you think he wonders whether the Ravens saved that receipt from when they plucked their savior off the shelves a few months ago?

The team's record is the one statistic that matters most, but it's all those other numbers that we use to predict the future - and give us reason for concern. Through five games, McNair has essentially had five spectacular minutes and many, many more mediocre ones.

Just look at the numbers. Out of NFL quarterbacks who've played in at least two games:

Twenty-eight are averaging more yards per game than McNair

And 28 have better passer ratings

And 26 have posted better completion percentages

And only five have thrown more interceptions.

In years past, it'd be easy to look at quarterback ineptitude and spread the blame to the offensive line. We aren't seeing that in the early part of the current season, though. In fact, 16 quarterbacks have been sacked more times than McNair. Sure, he's taking some hard hits, but he has also had some time in the pocket, made some terrible passes and bungled some key decisions.

For all of the comparisons we've been making to the 2000 Ravens, it's worth noting that this year's running game is at least a notch or two worse. But the receivers and tight ends are at least a notch or two better. What all this means is that McNair is the one player in prime position to receive the majority of this year's blame or praise.

Thus far, his performance has gone the way of many of his passes - falling far short of expectations.

Forget the play-calling and the offensive line and the running-back-by-committee scheme; the biggest singular problem with the offense is the one man who's in charge of it.

By now, it's not unreasonable to expect McNair to be familiar enough with the playbook and with his teammates. It's not absurd to demand better results five games into the season. If we're going to give McNair credit for wins over the Browns and the Chargers, then we must also fault him for Monday's loss to the Broncos (his final numbers: 165 passing yards, zero touchdowns, three interceptions).

Whenever a big play was needed, McNair might as well have been serving drinks up in the club suites. The underthrown interception at the end of the first half was boneheaded and the two in the fourth quarter were crippling - one leading to a Broncos' touchdown and the other leading the Ravens onto the team bus.

In fairness, McNair had thrown just three interceptions in the previous four games, but his accuracy has been suspect all season. In fact, it's worth noting that both Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright had better passer ratings last season than McNair has now.

Now, that's not to suggest that there should be or will be a quarterback controversy. Far from it. The difference in McNair and so many of the other quarterbacks in this league is capability.

McNair has the potential and the ability to do wonderful things in a Ravens uniform. He just hasn't shown it yet.

No one is going to doubt that McNair brings the intangibles into the huddle. He inspires confidence and eases worries. If that were enough, though, Oprah would be an All-Pro quarterback. To be a successful in the NFL, you also have to be able to get the ball to your wide receivers, and through five weeks, not a single Ravens wide receiver has caught a touchdown pass.

There's so much talent around McNair - particularly on defense, in case you haven't been paying attention - that the future is limitless. And despite his early shortcomings, McNair should still be considered the missing ingredient. The Ravens front office targeted the right quarterback in the offseason. (Anyone heard from Kerry Collins, Daunte Culpepper, Joey Harrington or Aaron Brooks lately?)

But the reason you like him in purple now is the same reason you liked him before he arrived - because of what he might be able to do. We're entering Week 6 now. A good team with a good quarterback doesn't talk about mights and maybes. They should be able to point to McNair's successes - and that list really should be longer than a pair of drives.

When we talk about saviors, we're really talking about faith and belief. The Ravens - their players, their fans and their coaches - could use a little boost in the faith department right now.

We know his teammates trust him. We know he's healthy and he's physically capable. We know it's possible for McNair to lead this offense down the field.

But if we're to keep believing he's the answer, at some point, he's going to have to actually provide a bit more evidence.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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