QB issue won't matter if Ravens don't learn how to finish strong

ON THE RAVENS

Ravens Gameday

September 24, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

The Ravens don't have a quarterback controversy. The question is: Do they really have a quarterback?

Ravens coach Brian Billick replaced injured starter Steve McNair (strained groin) with backup Kyle Boller with 12:02 left in the game and the Ravens ahead by 10 points.

But with the game on the line, Billick stayed with Boller, who helped lead the Ravens to a 26-23 victory as Matt Stover kicked a 46-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.

After the game, McNair said that he was somewhat surprised by being replaced and that he could have played.

It's apparently still McNair's job, and Billick made sure his players all said the right things about any controversy. They sounded like drones. But at this point, who cares? The two quarterbacks have become interchangeable, and the Ravens won't play a good defensive team for the next five weeks.

Yesterday, McNair played like Boller. He was effective and efficient in the Ravens' short passing offense, but he was careless with the ball, losing one fumble, and he should have lost another if not for the officials blowing the call.

McNair even tripped over his feet while dropping back, just like Boller. In a perfect world, the best combination would be to put McNair's head on Boller's body.

But since that can't happen, you use both as necessary. At this point in the season, the quarterbacks and the team haven't played well enough for anybody to believe the Ravens can beat a quality opponent.

The Ravens can't finish. They were at home against the Arizona Cardinals with a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter. So far, they have proved they are the best of the average teams in the NFL.

Barely.

No genius

After the game, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said second-year quarterback Matt Leinart was still his starter despite veteran Kurt Warner having lit up the Ravens.

Huh?

Even more puzzling was how long it took the Cardinals to attack Ravens starting cornerback Corey Ivy, who was filling in for the injured Samari Rolle, and nickel back Ronnie Prude.

Arizona should have gone after that duo from the start, but the Cardinals didn't take advantage until Warner replaced Leinart. And then, in the fourth quarter, Arizona bombed both of them.

McGahee emerging

The Ravens' Willis McGahee, who rushed for 98 yards, has shown improvement every week.

He exhibited good patience yesterday waiting for things to develop and then showed good burst. It was hard to evaluate McGahee's performance because the Cardinals are horrendous on defense.

They have about two good players on the unit, and their secondary is poor. Roderick Hood had no clue yesterday, and fellow cornerback Eric Green apparently thinks the NFL is a "touch" league.

The Cardinals might be the worst tackling team in the NFL.

Don't celebrate?

The Ravens have been known to go overboard with some of their antics on the field, but how can the officials call an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on receiver Devard Darling for jumping into the stands with Yamon Figurs after Figurs' 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter?

You turn on the TV, and it happens all over the place, especially in Green Bay.

But the Ravens can't complain too much. They got a lot of favorable calls yesterday, and the referees missed Ivy interfering with Bryant Johnson in the end zone with 1:58 left in the game.

It was so glaring, I thought Johnson was under arrest and Ivy was frisking him.

Leinart's troubles

Let's go back to Leinart. The kid couldn't move and didn't step up in the pocket. He constantly threw behind receivers, even on short crossing routes.

As a matter of fact, receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin ran some poor patterns when Leinart was quarterback, and they tiptoed across the middle in fear of Leinart stretching them out.

Nice call, bad result

The best call of the day was the onside kick by Arizona after Neil Rackers' 40-yard field goal with 5:23 left in the third quarter and the Cardinals trailing 20-6.

Of course, Arizona followed it up with a turnover on the next play at the Ravens' 27, ending any momentum.

Really, though, what did you expect? They are the Cardinals.

Just keep running

The Ravens' play calling is still terrible.

With 80 yards rushing and a 20-3 lead at halftime, the Ravens should have just pounded Arizona into submission. But every time they seemed to get started running the ball, they'd try to pass.

For some reason, the Ravens can't run the ball more than twice in a row. It's weird. They couldn't find their rhythm running in the second half, but it was their own fault.

The Ravens rushed 16 times in the first half, but only 14 in the second. A steady dose of McGahee and Musa Smith might have put the Cardinals away.

And where is the Ravens' red-zone offense? Four field goals by Stover might beat the Cardinals, but it sure won't beat the Indianapolis Colts or New England Patriots in the playoffs.

Hit looked clean

Safety Adrian Wilson's hit on tight end Todd Heap in the closing moments of the game appeared clean to me. He dropped him with a shoulder.

It has been a bad season so far for the officials. The NFL should have a Back to School Night for the referees.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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