Offseason agenda has place for hard look at soft running game

RAVENS NOTEBOOK

January 16, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

Stuck in neutral for a good part of the season, the Ravens' rushing attack is expected to undergo an overhaul in the offseason.

Ranked in the top half of the NFL for five of the previous seven years, the running game fell to 25th, four spots below last season.

The problems were highlighted in the Ravens' 15-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC divisional round Saturday, when they rushed for just 83 yards on 20 carries against a defense ranked last against the rush in the regular season.

But coach Brian Billick chose not to analyze Saturday's performance during his final briefing with the media at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills yesterday.

"As much as I will go back and analyze that game as I always do, the obligations I have going forward right now don't allow me to dwell on it real hard," Billick said. "But I will - like every game - and we'll throw it into the mix when we find ourselves in that situation again."

Several players, however, wondered aloud whether the coaching staff had abandoned the running game too early against the Colts.

The Ravens rushed the ball 14 times in the first half, gaining 66 yards, 4.7 yards per carry. The second half had just six attempts for 17 yards, an average of 2.8.

Although the 20 total attempts tied the season low against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 30, the 4.2 yards per carry was the third-best average of the season.

"We were getting it started. We were really setting the tempo," said running back Jamal Lewis, who carried just four times for 11 yards in the second half and finished with 13 carries for 53 yards. "But, hey, that's how things pan out, and like I said, the only thing we can do is go out and try to execute what's called."

Billick praised Lewis but said the lack of punch in the running game will be addressed during the offseason and might involve using the first-round choice on a running back.

"Do we need more productivity out of the running game? Probably so," he said. "And that will be something that will require a great deal of our time and attention over the next few months to see what we can do to improve that."

Billick mum on Mason

Billick said he has not talked to wide receiver Derrick Mason, who voiced his displeasure with his involvement in the offense after Saturday's loss and again on Sunday.

"We will at the appropriate time if he thinks it's necessary," Billick said. "There's a great deal of optimism that this team has going forward, and I expect that to continue on into the offseason when we pick things up. We'll do the appropriate critique of what we did, how we did it and how we can do it better both individually and collectively, and Derrick will be a part of that process."

Mulitalo rehabilitating

Left guard Edwin Mulitalo and linebacker Dan Cody said their season-ending injuries were rehabilitating well and that they would be ready for the team's offseason training activities in the spring.

Mulitalo, who tore his right triceps muscle Oct. 1 against the San Diego Chargers, has been working out at the facility.

"It's not fully healed, but it's not far off," Mulitalo said. "I'm pretty much rehabbed. The injury was four months ago. I'm just hitting this offseason in a sprint and doing the same thing that I did last year - just working my butt off and try to contribute more than four games for next season."

Cody, who partially tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 26, said he has begun lifting weights and running on the knee with no setbacks.

End zone

Billick dismissed the notion that the historical significance of the Colts' return to Baltimore was a burden on the players and coaches. "It was not a hindrance at all," he said. "Nor would - quite frankly, had that game turned out differently - that have healed anything. It wouldn't have. You never have enough. `Let's go beat them again.' You can't beat them enough, I'm sure, is the mentality." ... Billick expressed mild shock that no team with a vacant head-coaching position has requested an interview with defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "Very surprised because I know how capable he is," Billick said of the architect of the league's top-ranked defense in yards, points and first downs allowed and interceptions during the regular season. "But I have no doubt that that will happen at some point." ... Billick praised the fans' vocal effort Saturday night: "That was as loud an environment - indoor or out - that I have ever been in, and it was well-orchestrated and as passionate. The fans were phenomenal."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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