Ravens need to warm up offense by letting it run

November 11, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

Run the ball.

The Ravens' offense is stinking it up. The starting quarterback is playing so badly, the fans are pleading for the backup whose injury they cheered two years earlier. Their opposition today, the Cincinnati Bengals, have a poor run defense and a potentially explosive offense that needs to be kept off the field, particularly off a short field.

The Ravens have a $40 million running back who gets ignored way too often. The offense desperately, in a season-saving sort of way, needs a jump-start, something new, something fresh.

Run the ball.

Yes, the Ravens have used Willis McGahee this season, enough for him to be the fifth-leading rusher in the NFL after nine weeks. But anyone who has watched every snap of every game knows that McGahee has been underused this season. And knows that it has to stop, now.

It's old-school. It goes back to the days the Ravens faithful used to gripe about: too much Jamal Lewis, not enough spreading the ball around, boring, too close to the vest.

It also goes back to the days they won, or at least didn't fall behind 35-0 in the first 28 minutes.

Steve McNair was admirably defiant about the wave of criticism after the embarrassment in Pittsburgh on Monday night. You have to like the confidence. But you have to hate the vision of him moving seemingly in slow motion Monday, unable to hold on to the ball, incapable of stretching the field, unable to spot lurking defenders.

And truth be told, if you're sane, you can't possibly love Kyle Boller that much more. It's not like there's another Manning brother holding a clipboard on the Ravens' sideline. Fans can't keep falling for the same temptation: loving the backup quarterback, until he becomes the starter, at which point they start loving his backup.

Forgotten in all this, meanwhile, is what always should be the quarterback's best friend, even better than the left tackle: the running game.

So run the ball.

Don't just run to set up the pass. Don't just run to keep defenses honest. Don't just run to change the tempo. Run to run. Run, and don't stop running. On first down. On second-and-nine. On second-and-one (remember that?). Then on first down again. Run until the Bengals can't stand it anymore. Then run it some more.

Run it the way, for example, the similarly embattled Washington Redskins ran Clinton Portis on Sunday against the New York Jets. Run it the way the Cleveland Browns have run a rejuvenated Lewis. Run it the way the Minnesota Vikings run Adrian Peterson, not just because he's really good, but also because it's better than leaving the game in the hands of a shaky quarterback.

McGahee might not exactly be Peterson, but he makes something good happen most of the times he touches it. The problem is that he gets on a nice roll, then inexplicably comes out. He goes entire series without seeing it, sometimes the first series, sometimes a series early when he has been going well, sometimes a series late when they have a lead to protect.

He hit the wall, hard, in Buffalo three weeks ago, after his long third-quarter touchdown run. It raised questions about his stamina and durability. Now that the season is half over, it's time to see how much of each he has.

If McGahee has it, use it. If he doesn't have it - use someone else. Get Musa Smith into the mix besides third-down duty. Injuries have played havoc with whom the Ravens activate every week, but circumstances dictate that for now, running back is a priority - so activate Mike Anderson, and give him the ball, too.

Yes, it's the "profile" that everyone got tired of hearing about from Brian Billick, but seriously, you miss it now, don't you? It might be a sign of how off-track this season is that Billick has rarely used his signature phrase. He made it clear last week that he was not going to bench McNair, nor was he going to hand off his play-calling duties.

But he did say that among the things that need fixing was his play-calling. This would be a bold change, yet one that probably should not sound so radical. The injury bug has struck every key offensive position except running back. Who knows if running the ball more the first half of the season could have been the cure for all that ailed them, from quarterback to tight end to the line?

If it's not strictly for injury, switching McNair for Boller should come only as a last resort. There is one more option, and at this moment of crisis for the Ravens' offense and the entire team, it is the only logical option.

Run the ball.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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