Five causes for concern

But level of worry varies just two games into season

Ravens Status Report

September 18, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

The Ravens nearly won their season opener at the Cincinnati Bengals after turning the ball over for three quarters.

They nearly lost Sunday to the New York Jets after dominating for three quarters.

So, how should the Ravens feel about themselves at 1-1?

"This group has taught me about staying very focused on the task at hand, which is the next game," coach Brian Billick said. "But you also have to appreciate the game you just won. We're not going to lose sight of that, either.

"I like that the players have that businesslike attitude that we didn't finish the game as well as we should have, but I don't want that to mute their passion and excitement for what was a very good win."

Still, unlike the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and even the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens have to settle some issues before they really can move forward.

From injuries to play-calling to penalties, the Ravens have yet to put together a convincing effort that shows this team is on the verge of being a Super Bowl contender.

"It's not easy," tight end Todd Heap said. "I don't care what the score is, we seem to make it tough on ourselves."

The five big issues that need to be settled from the first two games are:

Injuries: The Ravens knew the durability of their 30-year-old starters could become a problem.

They just didn't expect it to be two weeks into the season.

Defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, who will miss three to five games with a broken wrist, became the latest veteran to go down.

The Ravens' star-studded injury list includes the starting quarterback (Steve McNair, groin), leading tackler (Ray Lewis, strained triceps), best offensive lineman (Jonathan Ogden, foot) and sack leader from last season (Pryce).

"I don't remember starting out any other year quite this way," Billick said of the injuries.

Level of concern: High.

Play-calling: Billick seemed to be making all the right calls Sunday.

He tailored a controlled game plan for Kyle Boller. He converted third-and-short situations by going back to the run. And he picked the right spots to throw in the red zone.

Then, holding a touchdown lead with 3:12 left in the game, Billick decided to pass the ball twice, and the team took just 34 seconds of the clock. By not running the ball, he gave the Jets more time to march down the field and nearly send the game into overtime.

It was reminiscent of the season opener when the Ravens held a 1-point lead with 9:43 left in the game. Instead of running, Billick opted to pass, which resulted in an interception.

Level of concern: Medium.

Penalties: Remember all of those penalties in the preseason?

The summer's biggest concern has crossed over into the regular season.

Leading the NFL with 21 penalties, the Ravens have been flagged for 186 yards while their opponents have been penalized for 51 yards - a staggering difference of 135 yards.

The breakdown of the Ravens' penalties: eight on offense, eight on defense and five on special teams. The most penalized player is rookie right tackle Marshal Yanda, who has been flagged three times (two false starts and one holding).

Addressing the wide margin in penalties Sunday, Billick said, "I have a hard time understanding that the team that was playing so well and dominating had that many penalties (11), and the team that was struggling only had two."

Level of concern: High.

Breakdowns in secondary: In a matter of a quarter, the Ravens went from a scintillating secondary to a sloppy one.

Lapses in coverage and poor tackling almost allowed the Jets to come back from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter.

But it was just one quarter.

The Ravens shut down Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens in the first three quarters, holding him to 84 passing yards. In the season opener against Cincinnati, the Ravens limited Carson Palmer to 194 passing yards.

Over the past four seasons, the Ravens' secondary usually had two or three subpar efforts, but always ended up in the top 10 in pass defense.

Level of concern: Low.

Turnovers: In a prime example of how not to start a season, the Ravens turned the ball over six times in their first 14 drives.

But they only came close to one turnover - a near-interception of Kyle Boller - on 12 possessions Sunday.

The Ravens seemed to be holding on to the ball a little tighter, and Boller threw the ball away rather than forcing passes downfield.

It would be surprising to see ball security become a problem because it was such a strength last season. The Ravens were tied for the third-fewest giveaways (23) in the AFC in 2006.

"Fortunately, no turnovers [Sunday]," Billick said. "One problem at a time."

Level of concern: Low.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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