Hard to knock Billick's calls on bye week work

Ravens Weekend

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November 02, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN REPORTER

Even during the bye week, Ravens coach Brian Billick allowed himself to be second-guessed when he gave his players six days off despite a rocky start to the season.

After weeks of penalties and poor execution, this team is in desperate need of focus. Scrapping the planned week off could have been the right wake-up call.

But unlike his play-calling, it's tough to criticize Billick's moves during the bye week because of his track record.

The Ravens are 6-2 coming off a bye, which is the fifth-best mark after a week off since 1999. In fact, they have won five straight games after a bye, winning by double-digit margins four times.

Billick has a keen sense of where his players stand, knowing when to push them and when to lay off.

With a young team in 2002, he practiced four times during the bye after an 0-2 start. The Ravens followed that up with a surprising 34-23 win over the previously unbeaten Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football.

In 2003 and 2004, Billick gave his players five days off even though the Ravens had mediocre starts. The Ravens won, 26-18, at Arizona in 2003 and beat Buffalo in 2004, 20-6.

Billick took a tougher approach in 2005, when the Ravens lost their first two games of the season by an average of 16 points. He conducted two physical practices during the bye, and the Ravens responded by winning two of their next three games.

Then, last season, Billick made his riskiest move. After losing two games going into the bye, he fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel and took over the play-calling. The offense enjoyed its best success during the Billick era, as the Ravens won nine of their last 10 regular-season games.

Instead of making abrupt changes this time - like calling his players for a couple of impromptu practices - Billick is banking on the benefits of a midseason break.

He said he never thought about scheduling practices because anything gained would be negated by the fact that it would push his team too much physically and mentally.

At least in practice and in the locker room, the Ravens seem more refreshed this week. Several injured starters have returned and the players appear to have put a disappointing start behind them heading into a critical AFC North game.

But come Monday night in Pittsburgh, if the Ravens are still jumping offside and looking unfocused, Billick likely won't catch a break from the second-guessers.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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