Tipped TD passes not enough to force change at quarterback

Panthers 23 Ravens 21

Ravens Gameday

October 16, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

Before a quarterback controversy begins, let's put an end to it. To have a controversy, you need to have two good quarterbacks, and the Ravens don't have one yet.

You want to know how bad the quarterback situation is in Baltimore? Fans at M&T Bank Stadium gave Kyle Boller an ovation when he replaced the injured Steve McNair with 2:29 left in the first quarter after McNair had gotten bounced around like a pinata. These are the same fans who applauded Boller's toe injury during the season opener against Indianapolis last year.

You can see where this one is headed. Boller completed 17 of 31 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns. His quarterback rating was 97.0. McNair's numbers: 2-for-4, 4 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, one concussion and a quarterback rating of 16.7.

But coach Brian Billick should heed these words: Don't change quarterbacks.

Before the season, one of the major concerns among front-office personnel was that McNair would get hurt, Boller would play well for a game or two and then Billick would stick with his protege, Boller.

But let's dissect Boller's performance yesterday. Two of his touchdown passes were tipped and should have been intercepted; instead, they ended up as gifts from the football gods, including the 62-yarder by Mark Clayton that was hit at the line of scrimmage. The 7-yard scoring pass to tight end Todd Heap on a fade route was a beauty, but Boller still threw behind receivers and off his back foot.

In other words, he played like McNair, except Boller was more elusive. But the bottom line is that McNair won two games in the closing minutes earlier this season, and a change now would affect this team. The players still have faith in McNair.

Give McNair two aspirin, plenty of rest and water, and start him against the New Orleans Saints in two weeks.

Any more comparisons between this Ravens defense and the great one in the 2000 season?

Sorry, folks, this group is good, not great. The Panthers took the Ravens apart for 414 yards of offense, including 356 through the air. Cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister couldn't match up with receivers Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith, and they got little help from strong safety Dawan Landry.

Where was free safety Ed Reed? He was a no-show most of the afternoon, and should have been over in the middle of the field to give Rolle support on Smith's 72-yard touchdown catch with 4:15 left in the game.

Also, if this defense was as good as the 2000 group, wouldn't it have shut down Carolina during the Panthers' last two possessions? Instead, the Panthers scored a touchdown and controlled the ball for the final 2:13 of the game.

Running back Jamal Lewis had 41 yards rushing on nine carries. He looked good, ran hard and showed great acceleration getting to and around the perimeter. He delivered some vicious blows to the Panthers, and then took a couple of shots at the Ravens' offensive coaching staff after the game - and rightfully so.

Lewis ran for 17 yards with 6:44 left in the third quarter, and after one more carry, he disappeared faster than Houdini, even though Carolina had only a 13-7 lead. He was replaced by Mike Anderson, who had 7 yards on six carries.

But wait a minute. Didn't the Ravens want an offensive profile of about 35 rushes and 20 passes? Didn't they want to find the hot runner? Lewis was just starting to sizzle.

"You get a 17-yard run and then they take you out," Lewis said. He added later: "When you hear things about who's hot or who's not or whatever ... a lot of that I just feel like it's smoke being blown. What can you do about it?"

Nothing. This is what happens when your offense is ranked 29th in the league.

NFL coaches love to overcoach their teams, and Carolina coach John Fox was working on a masterpiece yesterday. The best way to beat Boller and McNair, especially if you can get pressure on them with your front four, is to not blitz.

Both passers are inaccurate. You just sit in a zone and force them to make tight throws in space. McNair used to be accurate, and Boller ... well, you know. But Fox kept coming with the blitzes and Boller kept hanging it out there. As in previous games, the receivers made some great catches to bail out the quarterback.

The Ravens showed great character despite the loss. They didn't quit, though they had every reason to do so. They had a short week of preparation after playing on Monday Night Football, and have played three straight tough games against San Diego, Denver and Carolina.

Of course, the Ravens had some luck yesterday, getting two touchdowns from tipped passes, but for the most part, they played hard. The Ravens are a good football team, but they were overrated after opening with four straight wins.

One of the key battles wasn't on the field, but up near the press box when a Carolina coach started screaming at Ravens fans after Smith's touchdown. Apparently, a fan or fans had gotten under the assistant coach's skin during the game.

It caught nearly everyone's attention in the press box. Even some of the local media that have cheered embarrassingly loud for the Ravens this season stopped to watch.

Second-year guard Jason Brown, starting his second straight game, learned a tough lesson. The Panthers have one of the strongest defensive lines in the league, and Brown got to meet Panthers tackles Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu up close and personal.

"They usually don't make guys that big and that fast," Brown said. "I'm learning as you go along, and experience is the key. You can practice all you want, but until you get out there and get experience, you don't know how fast this game really is."

The old Billick appeared at his post-game news conference. He seemed annoyed when a reporter asked about the coverage on Smith's touchdown. "I imagine somebody was supposed to stay with him. Most defenses are designed that way," Billick said sarcastically.

Maybe he should tell his players. mike.preston@baltsun.com

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