Ravens, here is a little to-do list


October 29, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

The bye week arrived at the perfect time for the Ravens because it allowed a lot of emotion to subside.

It was good for them to get away to let injuries as well as pride heal after the loss to the Buffalo Bills.

As the Ravens begin preparations for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 5, you'll see a more focused team because of the veteran leadership, a team that has developed a sense of urgency.

There is no guarantee of significant improvement, but the Ravens (4-3) have something to prove. With coach Brian Billick announcing that the team will be at full strength, injuries can no longer be an excuse.

The Steelers game has become the key to the season. If the Ravens win in Pittsburgh, they'll regain confidence and play reasonably well for the remainder of the season.

If they lose, oh my, can you say Orioles?

There is belief around the country that the Steelers are serious contenders, but I'm not convinced yet. I see a quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who can still be rattled and who might not have gotten over Ravens linebacker Bart Scott tattooing his face mask on his chest last season. Defensively, teams can spread the Steelers out and pass on them and possibly get some big plays downfield.

An upset by the Ravens wouldn't be shocking.

With that said, there are certain things the Ravens need to do. First and foremost: Ignore those statistics that show they have one of the NFL's leading rushers and pass receivers. Ignore all the statistics about time of possession and stop worrying about balance.

The Ravens don't need an overhaul, just some slight improvements heading into the second half of the season starting against the Steelers.

Here are a few:

The Ravens have to add intermediate to long-range passes. There aren't too many teams that have three or four long touchdown drives a game. If the Ravens open up the passing game, it should take one more defensive player out of the box and possibly open up the running game as well. Those short passes are taking a toll on the health of the receivers. The Ravens need to create some space and allow the receivers to gain yards after the catch.

It is obvious Billick doesn't have a feel for the game and hasn't been able to connect with the offense. Compared with a year ago, quarterback Steve McNair seems to talk with Billick less on the sideline. Maybe it's time to consult McNair and offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel more before Billick makes his final decisions.

The Ravens need to find a short-yardage runner, and perhaps it should be Mike Anderson. Starter Willis McGahee tiptoes too much inside the red zone. Anderson always has been a straight-ahead runner, and he proved that while in Denver. He has decent size (6 feet, 230 pounds) and would be fresh coming off the bench. Plus, the Ravens need to get their money's worth out of this guy.

The Ravens have to cut down on safety Ed Reed's freelancing. He is still gambling, but he is winning less and less. It's still unclear whether cornerback Chris McAlister will play against the Steelers, but if he is out with a knee injury, the Ravens need Reed in position as the final line of defense. Wasn't this issue supposed to be settled in the offseason? If Reed didn't conform to the scheme, wasn't he going to be benched?

There is the perception that the star system is still in place in Baltimore. No, I'm not talking about the Ray Lewis-Adalius Thomas spat. Some of the players thought offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and defensive tackle Trevor Pryce should have been back in the lineup. Both guys played hard last season, and I think both would have played in the first half if they weren't injured. But perception is reality for most folks, and Billick has to do something to ease the tension in a situation he created years ago when he brought in Deion Sanders and Corey Fuller.

Scott is at his best when he is the blitzing linebacker, not dropping back into coverage. If the Ravens want to get more pressure on the quarterback, they have to turn Scott loose and find another player to drop into coverage. With no McAlister, this team has become extremely vulnerable to the big play.

When or if Kyle Boller becomes the quarterback, stay within a workable framework. In other words, limit the touch passes because Boller has no touch. It's hard for him to throw any pass into the flat (see the last series against Buffalo), but he can rifle them in certain situations. Set Boller up to succeed using his strengths, not to fail by using his weaknesses.

And finally, how about a little kangaroo court among the players? Let's make Pryce the judge. You jump offside or are guilty of consistent infractions, you get fined and the money goes to charity. It creates some fun, and if the fines are hefty enough, they might cut down on some of those penalties.


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