Simple and to the point, Billick's game plan scores

October 30, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

New Orleans — New Orleans-- It shouldn't have been that simple. But it was that simple.

Eight weeks, seven games and five wins into the season, the Ravens' offense finally made sense, and only one thing changed from before. The dramatic move produced a dramatic result.

Brian Billick took over Jim Fassel's old job, and the next game the offense came to life. Thank the New Orleans Saints for all their generous gifts, and the Ravens' defense for its contributions, but at the Superdome yesterday, the offense was the star, and its new coordinator shined brightest.

It only took 7 1/2 years to recognize that, just maybe, the answer had been right there all along.

"No, it's not that simple," tight end Todd Heap said in the giddy aftermath of the 35-22 victory. "If you come into our meeting rooms and see how we prepared and how we practiced, you can't attribute it to one guy calling plays.

"Although," Heap added as a quick correction, "it is a different style, and it is Coach Billick calling his offense that he had a big part in creating. You could tell he was comfortable in that element, and you could tell on the sideline that guys had a different feel for things."

Do you agree, Coach?

"I particularly like the play calls of the two interceptions for touchdowns. Those are the hard ones to call," Billick deadpanned.

As he deflected credit toward the players in one room, the players deflected it back. The players have the better argument, although Billick was right on point when he said, "The players deserve to have the best that we can always offer them."

If he always was the best coordinator for the offense but was in no mood to do that plus the head coaching job, that's understandable. There's a reason hardly any coach does that. But certainly this season, the players have proved to be better than the system.

Until yesterday, that is. Whatever Billick did in practice all week and on the sideline yesterday pushed all the right buttons, just when it seemed no button was working and there was nothing left to push - except, maybe, Billick's eject button.

It showed on the Superdome field, against what had been a pretty tough Saints team and in a loud, emotional, composure-shaking atmosphere.

Scoring twice on defense and turning quality players like Drew Brees into mush had never been a guarantee of 35 points before. More like 23 - not three offensive touchdowns, but three aggravating failures close to the goal line, three Matt Stover chip shots and three post-game references to "the profile."

It was the same thing every week, throughout the Billick regime and during what probably was the most teeth-grinding 4-2 start in NFL history. Billick heard the public and private grumbling from his players, did something about it, and put smiles on their faces yesterday, ones they never had even during the streak of four straight wins to open this season.

He even got the grade point average up, finally, in Prof. Derrick Mason's book - a B-minus. Not the honor roll, but far from the weekly flunkings he was handing out.

"Hey, can't give it an A," Mason said with the first mirth heard in his voice all season. "Then there wouldn't be anywhere to go but down. We want to keep going up."

Mason, held without a catch in the pre-bye loss to the Carolina Panthers and left to say football wasn't fun anymore, caught six balls for 67 yards yesterday. He said he had fun. Lots of offensive players said that yesterday. Heap, Jonathan Ogden, Steve McNair (that concussion appeared to have been a figment of everybody's imagination), Jamal Lewis (109 yards and, more shocking, 31 carries).

"We got things rolling," Lewis said. "It's not just me, it's the offense, period. Everybody was confident in what was going on. You could tell that early in the game, even in the beginning of the week.

"This is his [Billick's] offense," he added. "It's his thing. It's what he was put here to do."

The Ravens picked the right time to pound the ball, to spread the field, to send the backs out wide, to keep in the protection. And to make the predictable weapon unpredictable - that was Clarence Moore you saw in the end zone, just not on the fade or lob the entire league had seen coming every time he took the field in the red zone.

Moore's second-quarter scoring catch, by the way, was the first (and still only) touchdown by a Ravens wide receiver on a non-deflected pass this season.

No, it wasn't perfect, but it looked a lot less like the old offense. And it just seemed so ... logical.

"Every team tries to make it simple," Mason said. "You just try to find the mismatch, exploit it, put your offense in a situation where it can move the ball, and that's what we did this week."

Finally.

With a new play-caller who had been there all along.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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