Offense demonstrates deep impact

With Boller at QB, receivers show hint of promise downfield

Ravens 22 Rams 3

Ravens Gameday

October 15, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

At times yesterday, the Ravens looked like the offensive team that was advertised all summer - the one that would take its shots downfield and take advantage of having three more-than-capable wide receivers as well as tight end Todd Heap.

Of course, all that preseason bravado came with a caveat: Could they be that explosive an offense with Steve McNair at quarterback?

Even with Heap leaving early after re-injuring his hamstring, the Ravens finally used their receivers as a weapon in a 22-3 victory over the sad-sack St. Louis Rams at M&T Bank Stadium. There was still more promise than precision, but the offense looked a lot more interesting than it did the first five weeks.

Now comes the question: Did the Ravens open up the offense because Kyle Boller, playing for the injured McNair, could get the ball to his receivers for more than just 8-yard dump-offs and 10-yard out routes, or did the Rams pressing the Ravens with eight in the box force coach Brian Billick to be a little more adventurous?

The answer: Probably a little of both.

Billick, saying that he still is planning to return McNair to the starting role after the Oct. 28 bye, didn't want to credit Boller with anything more than making enough plays to win a game. And Billick certainly didn't want to give his critics any credit by saying the offense looked better with Boller.

"I don't know that we completed any more [passes]," Billick said of Boller, who was 18-for-30 for 184 yards and an interception. "You can take all the shots you want downfield. If you don't complete them, it still doesn't add up. We'll continue to stretch the field as best we can."

It took an early incompletion to show that the Ravens can be a different team with Boller than they had been with McNair.

On his team's second possession, Boller went deep along the sideline to Demetrius Williams, who might have caught the ball had Rams cornerback Ron Bartell not gotten a hand in to pop it loose.

The Ravens attempted at least four other downfield passes.

One to Mark Clayton resulted in a defensive pass interference call for 27 yards in the second quarter, moving the Ravens to the Rams' 6-yard line and setting up Willis McGahee's first touchdown run as a Raven.

The Ravens tried two in a series of three plays early in the second half. The first, intended for backup tight end Quinn Sypniewski, went incomplete. Williams brought down the second one in traffic for a 34-yard gain.

Even with a 19-3 lead early in the fourth quarter, Boller went long to backup wide receiver Yamon Figurs. The pass again was incomplete, but it at least showed that the Ravens wanted to use Figurs' speed for more than just kickoff and punt returns.

So did the receivers see a different offense than the one that had dinked its way through the first five weeks, or were the Rams that inviting - and that suspect at cornerback - to make the Ravens look silly if they didn't at least go deep on occasion?

"We anticipated that, [and] the guys on the outside made some great plays," said Boller, who still made some of the mistakes that led to the Ravens bringing McNair to Baltimore. "I think I left some opportunities out there with some throws, but for the most part, they pretty much stacked the box. It's just a matter of piecing it all together and me giving them [the receivers] the opportunity."

The Ravens aren't conceding that they have a better chance to make those plays with Boller than McNair - even a healthy McNair - and calling for the quarterback change to be permanent. Wide receiver Derrick Mason, ever loyal to his longtime teammate in Baltimore and Tennessee, said yesterday's downfield excursions would have occurred regardless of who was playing quarterback.

Mason has a warning for Ravens fans hoping to see their favorite team suddenly turn into the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday in Buffalo against a team that intercepted Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo five times last Monday night.

"I think what everybody has to realize is that you can't just throw the ball down the field just for the sake of throwing it down the field," said Mason, whose yards-per-catch average yesterday nearly doubled from 8.5 in the first five games on the strength of five receptions for 79 yards. "This [Rams] defense dictated what we should do as an offense. With their press coverage, we had enough guys with the quickness to get down the field."

And a quarterback who could, on a few occasions, get it there.

Who knew?

don.markus@baltsun.com

GAINING YARDS

Ravens receivers had a big increase in their yards-per-catch average compared with the first five games of the season.

......................................... Rec. Yds. Avg.

First 5 games ............ 70 ...... 675 ... 9.6

Vs. Rams ................... 10 ........ 147 ... 14.7

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