No answer for Billick's calls relying so much on receptions

ON THE RAVENS

September 12, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

In the Brian Billick era, questionable play-calling has cost the Ravens games. Chalk up another one to Billick. The play-calling Monday night cost the Ravens in a season-opening 27-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. It has to get better, right?

The Ravens said they wanted to pick up where they left off last season, and they did. In their final game of the 2006 season, a playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Steve McNair was horrendous and Billick called a poor offensive game.

They were at it again against the Bengals. McNair had a hand in four of the six turnovers, but the Ravens still had a chance to pull out the game in the final minutes. But on a hot, humid night when Billick could have bailed the Ravens out, his major weakness as a head coach was exposed again.

He doesn't have a feel for games.

Maybe he gets caught up in the emotions of the game, or has too many statistics running through his head. But Monday night, Billick didn't know when to pass and when to run.

In previous years, you could blame former offensive coordinators Matt Cavanaugh and Jim Fassel. But there's no one to blame now except Billick because even though Rick Neuheisel is the offensive coordinator, it's Billick who's calling the plays.

A lot of people will point to the final 3:11, when the Ravens ran eight plays from the Bengals' 1- to 11-yard lines. But the biggest boneheaded call came about six minutes earlier with the Ravens ahead 20-19, and facing a third-and-one at their 35.

McNair threw high to Derrick Mason, with the ball deflecting off Mason's hands and being intercepted by the Bengals' Robert Geathers. Two plays later, Cincinnati scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. And all I could ask was why.

Why didn't Billick allow either Willis McGahee or Musa Smith, who were churning out big yards, to run the ball against one of the NFL's softest defenses? But deep down inside, I knew the answer. Billick doesn't have a feel for games.

If he did, he would have run the ball. If they failed, the Ravens probably would have punted and made the Bengals drive the length of the field. And with the way their defense was playing, it would have been tough for the Bengals to get into field-goal range. A betting man puts big money on the Ravens in that situation. Instead, Billick gambled on McNair. McNair has a history of great comebacks, but Monday night just wasn't his night. Sometimes, Phil Jackson had to take the ball out of Michael Jordan's hands and let someone else win the game.

It's a knack, a gut feeling great coaches have.

But Billick wasn't through. Oh, no, he outdid himself. On those final eight plays, the Ravens ran the ball only three times, and called five passing plays for backup quarterback Kyle Boller, who has a history of coming up small.

There is no logic here. Absolutely none. It's like the Ravens parked the Rolls-Royce (McGahee), and decided to showcase an Oldsmobile (Boller). Pardon me, but didn't the Ravens award McGahee a $40 million contract during the offseason?

After McGahee rushed for 4 yards to the Bengals' 2 on first down, Boller threw an incomplete pass (to rookie fullback Le'Ron McClain of all people) and then almost drilled a hole in the shoulder of tight end Todd Heap that resulted in an interception to end the Ravens' last chance.

Instead, they should have kept running McGahee or Smith, who combined for 107 rushing yards. It would have taken pressure off an inexperienced offensive line playing on the road. Also, it's always easier to run-block instead of pass-block, and it would have helped rookie right tackle Marshal Yanda, who had trouble blocking Geathers.

But that would have made too much sense.

We've seen these kinds of games from Billick before, as recently as last season when he assisted the Colts in shutting down running back Jamal Lewis by not giving him the ball in the second half. He's not patient. He has a tendency to make the game more complicated than it is. It's as if he believes the Ravens' hype of wanting to be balanced instead of just sticking with what is going well until the other team shuts it down.

The Bengals couldn't stop the Ravens' running game. The Ravens had 72 rushing yards in the first half. Once they got the lead in the second half, they should have just punished Cincinnati's defense with McGahee and Smith.

But instead, Billick tried to run timing patterns with an offense that had no rhythm most of the night. This is an offense that is going to take time to build, but for now Billick needs to keep it simple.

Billick should know better. Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden does. He was standing on the sideline last night grimacing from the injured turf toe, but it reminded me of last season when he had that same look on his face because of the play-calling in several games. It's the same play-calling that almost drove him to retirement.

Monday night, maybe he was aching for another reason, because his heart kept saying, "Oh, no, here we go again."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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