Unit needs new approach to make forward progress

ON THE RAVENS

January 16, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

To no one's surprise, the Ravens named quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel the offensive coordinator yesterday. No offense to Neuheisel, but after Saturday's poor offensive performance against Indianapolis, there was hope the team might move in another direction.

What this team doesn't need is another "yes man" for head coach Brian Billick, but a coordinator who'll move this offense in a different direction, someone who is creative, daring and bold enough to move away from a system that is too bland and simplistic.

That sounds like Neuheisel when he was the head coach at the University of Washington and Colorado. His offenses were innovative, fun and entertaining. We could use that same approach here in Baltimore, but it won't happen.

"Rick Neuheisel will assume the [offensive] coordinator's duties going forward, along with remaining as the quarterback coach," Billick said. "I will, however, continue to call the plays."

The Genius is back. Whoopee!

Question: Why even give Neuheisel the title if he can't call the plays?

"Frankly, the way that it has provided me to connect and stay connected to the players, it is not something that I would readily give up. And at the end of the day, quite frankly, I enjoyed [calling plays]. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed myself that much," Billick said.

We're glad Billick's happy because a lot of Ravens fans weren't Saturday after the 15-6 loss to Indianapolis. Quite frankly, there was hope that the Ravens' coaches and front office staff would take a couple of weeks off, reconvene and then evaluate the players and coaching staff.

If you look at this team, it already has a lot of pieces in place. The Ravens have one of the NFL's best general managers, head coaches and defensive coordinators. They have the veteran quarterback and most of the players returning from the league's No. 1 defense.

And somehow, I thought owner Steve Bisciotti or general manager Ozzie Newsome would persuade Billick to go out and hire the best offensive coordinator around. Money would be no object because a poor offense has been the Achilles' heel for this team for so long.

But then came the news yesterday. It was a bummer.

I like Neuheisel. He's aggressive and a go-getter. If given the full opportunity, he'll attack instead of being attacked. He won't repeat the standard NFL coaching line: "We just took what the other team gave us."

But he won't be able to escape Billick's shadow, and he won't be able to get away from the West Coast offense, which didn't show up on the East Coast at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday. We all saw the progress this offense made with Billick returning as the play-caller after the firing of Jim Fassel after the sixth game, but it all started to disappear at the end of the season.

The Ravens didn't have an offensive touchdown in the 19-7 win against Buffalo in the regular-season finale, and didn't have one in the loss to the Colts. You have to give Indianapolis credit because its defense has played well the past two games, but it's not a better team than the Ravens. You can point fingers at the two interceptions thrown by McNair or the fumble by tight end Todd Heap, but the play selection was absolutely horrible.

The Colts had a great pass rush, but did the Ravens run a draw? How about one screen? Indianapolis ran two-deep in the secondary to avoid giving up the big play, but the Ravens didn't attack the open areas, the middle or outside with 12 to 15-yard passes. Instead of going with two tight ends, why didn't they spread the Colts out with three wide-outs and then hand off to running back Jamal Lewis? For years, the Ravens' running game has been so simple, an assortment of straight dives or power plays. There are few counters, misdirections or traps.

Pardon me if this sounds like a broken record, but that's what we've seen through the years. We've seen it with Billick, Matt Cavanaugh, Fassel and Billick again. Can't this team change? Can't it try something new? Billick said yesterday that Neuheisel would run the meetings, and that he wanted to maintain continuity. You can understand his point. Despite injuries, the offensive line played reasonably well this season. The Ravens actually had a passing game because they finally had quality receivers.

But when you watched New England play the San Diego Chargers yesterday, you saw Patriots coach Bill Belichick coming out with different formations and attacking the entire field. It was wonderful watching Philadelphia and New Orleans go up and down the field in a fairly wide-open game.

In Baltimore, all we had was one big question. How can a team that had a bye, at home and playing against the worst run defense in the league score only six points, three of them on a 51-yard field goal from Matt Stover? What we saw was a conservative approach with no imagination despite having two weeks to prepare.

We saw short passes, an erratic quarterback, receivers who couldn't get open and a coach who refused to run the ball. It's the same tired game plan we've seen for years, one that has resulted in the Ravens becoming underachieving, one-and-done failures in the postseason again.

And, quite frankly, even with a new offensive coordinator, it probably won't change.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Read Mike Preston's commentary at Ravens Central blog at www.baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral.

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