Behind Billick, revamped offense now looks organized, energized

October 30, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

NEW ORLEANS -- The Ravens scored three offensive touchdowns. Jamal Lewis rushed for 109 yards, and the offense had close to 300 yards and more than a 13-minute advantage in time of possession. But the Ravens weren't getting too carried away yesterday after beating the New Orleans Saints, 35-22.

They all kept it in perspective, from coach Brian Billick down to the players. The Ravens were solid and effective, but they weren't Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. And the Saints aren't the current Chicago Bears on defense, either, allowing an average of 306.9 total yards, including 122.1 rushing per game, and giving up numerous big plays.

"We got off to a good start," Ravens left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said about the team's first game since Billick fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel and took over the play-calling. "This is at least more like what we're capable of offensively. We've got a ways to go. We played well in the first half, but need to make some improvements from the second."

True. Four of the Ravens' touchdowns were scored after turnovers, and they had only one long touchdown drive, 80 yards early in the second quarter. But there were a lot of things to like. Billick changed quarterback Steve McNair's launching point, allowing him to throw more off the edge or perimeter. The Ravens are using more play-action passes, with McNair throwing on semi-rollouts.

McNair went downfield more often yesterday, especially in the first half when he completed passes of 12, 17, 30, 14 and 22 yards. The Ravens established Lewis for the first time this season, and didn't go exclusively with a power formation that includes two tight ends and a fullback. The Ravens were able to spread the field and run out of three- and four-receiver sets.

But, most important - more than adding wrinkles or calling the right plays - the Ravens seemed organized. That plays to Billick's strength, because he is organized to a fault at times.

"Everybody knew when we were going to pass, why we were going to pass and what play we were going to call," right guard Keydrick Vincent said. "We toned things down a lot in practice. We had only four or five different passes, but we repeated them a lot in practice. We've had two different coordinators with different styles. There is a different energy."

The energy was to be expected, especially because the players forced the change in coordinators. If they had performed poorly, they would have really looked bad. But as Billick keenly pointed out, it's important to ride the momentum into the coming weeks, not just for a week.

Rookie running back Reggie Bush epitomized the Saints' effort yesterday. The Ravens came into the Superdome and shoved the Saints around, and Bush quit in the second quarter.

With 7:36 left in the half, Bush took a handoff off the right side, ran about 5 yards and hit the brakes hard before diving to the ground. Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis was about to remove Bush's head from his body, but Bush went down like he was taking a dive.

"He's just a guy, simple as that," Ravens outside linebacker Bart Scott said of Bush. "What did he get this week? He played like a kid who got chased from school."

Saints quarterback Drew Brees had his nervous moments, too. How about that shovel pass he threw when there was no one within 5 yards of him? You think Brees heard footsteps, too?

If there was a downside to this game, it was the Ravens' secondary. Brees threw for 383 yards, though he had no other choice because the Saints fell behind so early. But there were times when receivers were wide-open and the Ravens looked confused about the coverage.

The word is out on cornerback Chris McAlister. He has trouble stopping short passes, and he'll bite on the pump fake on out-and-up routes. Fellow cornerback Samari Rolle had his share of problems, too, and the safeties seem slow giving them help on the long ball. The Ravens can play sloppy and get away with it against the Saints, but that can't happen with the Cincinnati Bengals coming to town Sunday.

Emotion is a big part of sports, especially football, and it was evident yesterday. Both teams were coming off bye weeks, and the Saints seemed to have everything going their way.

But the Ravens, coming off two straight losses, seemed reborn, and the Saints looked like the old "Aints" with 10 penalties for 68 yards. Passes bounced off their helmets and were returned for touchdowns, and they couldn't even get any home cooking when McNair seemed to fumble a pass attempt that the Saints recovered at the Ravens' 40 with 7:43 left in the half and trailing 14-0.

Upon further review, McNair's fumble was ruled an incomplete pass, and four plays later Ravens cornerback Ronnie Prude intercepted a pass by Brees and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown.

Oh, by the way, the officials blew the call.

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