Hello, bye: It's here just in time

ON THE RAVENS

October 17, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for the Ravens. All teams like to enter the week with a win, but the Ravens arrive with a bitter taste in their mouths after losing to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, their second straight setback.

The week away will give the Ravens an opportunity to correct some defensive problems and hopefully establish an offensive identity. The Ravens also need some time away from each other because they are showing signs of serious frustration, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

That's not good, especially this early in the season, but it's clearly visible. It's not an offense vs. defense kind of thing. It's coming from a bunch of offensive players who believe they clearly have enough talent to be successful, but don't have the strategy or philosophy in place to succeed.

You see and hear most of the frustration coming from players like offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, wide receiver Derrick Mason and running back Jamal Lewis. They know they are near the end of their careers and want to go out on top. They see their hopes slipping away with another year of poor offensive football, game by game by game.

"Football isn't fun right now," Mason said after Sunday's game. "I shall see you in a week. Right now, [to heck] with football."

The Ravens need this break. They've played three of the NFL's best teams the past three weeks, and fatigue had started to show. Against Denver and Carolina, the past two opponents, the Ravens' defense got pushed around in the fourth quarter and couldn't come up with big stops when they were desperately needed.

Despite a 4-2 record, the Ravens have only proved they are an average to good team. Let's put it another way: The Ravens are the best of the worst teams, and the worst of the good teams, if that makes sense. They have enough talent remaining in their veteran Pro Bowl players to beat most teams, but not enough dominating players to beat the good teams.

During this break, the Ravens must find a way to get this team over that proverbial hump against quality opponents. The Ravens' defense had been playing well, but coordinator Rex Ryan has to make adjustments after the Panthers had 356 passing yards. That game film has become the blueprint on how to beat the Ravens and is now being passed around the league.

Opposing teams are going to go after cornerback Samari Rolle, and fellow cornerback Chris McAlister has become a victim again of double moves by receivers.

Safety Ed Reed used to be a playmaker, but he no longer makes plays. With a tough schedule remaining, Ryan has to get both defensive ends, Trevor Pryce and Terrell Suggs, to step up their games against quality opponents if this team is to climb up among the elite.

The frustration is so much higher on the offensive side of the ball. The Ravens have no identity and have spent the first six weeks double talking. They say they want to be a running team, then hint they may want to be a passing team. And then a quarter later, they want to be balanced.

The play calling has been absurd. You thought the Ravens had hit the pinnacle of bad play calling a week ago with the attempted fade pass to Clarence Moore at the end of the first half against Denver. No, sir. On Sunday, they attempted a swing pass into the left flat to Musa Smith on third-and-12 at the Carolina 32 with one second left in the third quarter.

Smith lost 2 yards on the play. It would have been better just to run Lewis up the middle for a couple of yards and send Matt Stover out for a field-goal attempt. Instead, backup quarterback Kyle Boller, who could have just thrown the ball away, threw it to Smith, and the Ravens were taken out of field-goal range.

It's these kind of plays and calls that are driving some of the veteran players wacky.

There are other issues that need to be addressed as well. Boller played reasonably well as the backup, but was miffed as to why he doesn't get any repetitions with the first team in practice. Lewis wants more carries, and he basically called out the coaching staff after the Panthers game on why he didn't get the ball more despite playing so well.

Apparently, one of the players to agree with Lewis is Ogden, who has been seen several times on the sideline clearly irritated by the team's refusal to run the ball. Mason has been the team's most vocal critic, and it seems only a matter of time before he explodes again.

Yep, this was the perfect time for the Ravens to regroup. They need to work out some quarterback issues with Steve McNair, and clock management should be high on the priority list as well. Teams like to play when they're on a winning streak, because they're hot, and winning becomes contagious.

And it works the other way when you start to lose. The Ravens were struggling, and fatigue had set in. The offense was in disarray, and the defense just had its ego smashed. The Ravens were starting to fall apart, but now have a chance to regroup before heading to New Orleans.

This was the perfect timeout.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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