Fumbling remains troubling

Prone to giveaways, Ravens search for elusive solution

Analysis

Ravens Gameday

November 26, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

SAN DIEGO -- There are no more excuses.

No more talk of the rain making the football too slippery to hold onto. No more chatter about a quarterback slowed so much by groin and back injuries that he can't avoid defenders swiping at the ball. No more discussion about a money jar for offenders who can't protect the ball.

When the topic of turnovers is broached, the Ravens just have no explanation for why they have been one of the NFL's worst teams at securing the ball this season. It's a matter that Ravens fans are tired of debating and coach Brian Billick is tired of addressing.

"I'm open to any suggestions," Billick said wryly at his post-game news conference after the Ravens lost two fumbles and nearly committed two more turnovers in a 32-14 drubbing at the hands of the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. "Any suggestion that anybody might have would be speculative at best."

At this point, the Ravens are not a threat to the 1978 San Francisco 49ers' NFL record of 63 turnovers in a season. (At their current rate, the Ravens are on pace to commit about 41.)

They're not even tops in the NFL this season - a dubious distinction that belongs to the Houston Texans, who have turned it over 29 times.

But the Ravens appear to be doing their best at trying to surpass the Texans for that honor. With two lost fumbles yesterday, the Ravens have given away possessions 28 times this season, tying the Chicago Bears for the second-worst mark in the NFL.

And the Ravens are the undisputed leaders in fumbles, having lost 19. The Texans and Tennessee Titans have fumbled the ball away 14 times each.

The 19-fumble total ties the franchise high set in 2003. This dubious mark comes on the heels of last season's nine fumbles, which ranked second only to the 2000 team that lost just seven fumbles en route to the Super Bowl championship.

Turnovers usually lead to points for the opponents, who have scored 93 points off Ravens turnovers. The Chargers turned fumbles by quarterback Kyle Boller and Mike Anderson (on a kickoff return) into field goals by Nate Kaeding that gave them a 22-7 advantage at halftime.

So what can be done? No one seems to have an answer because as much as teams preach ball security, it's nearly impossible to replicate game-time conditions in practice. Coaches aren't dancing jigs to bring on rain, players on both sides of the ball are trying to stay healthy and rested for the weekend games, and who can predict when players such as James Harrison will pop up and have career games?

"You never know what the situation's going to be because so much takes place on the field in between the lines that you can't really simulate in practice," wide receiver Mark Clayton said. "People do certain things that you don't know. It's something that you obviously have to be conscious of, but there's nothing tangible that you can do to say, `OK, this is going to eliminate the turnovers.' "

So, for now, the Ravens simply will return to Owings Mills this week and work (again) on protecting the ball against the New England Patriots, who are ranked in the top 10 in causing turnovers.

"You try to maintain ball security. You try to protect the quarterbacks so that they're not throwing under duress. You try to make sure that everybody knows where they're supposed to be so that you're not throwing the ball where it's not supposed be. You've got to handle a kickoff," Billick said, rattling off a checklist of instructions the coaching staff reviews for the players.

"We've been at this a long time now. There's no basic fix. Somehow, you have to keep working through it. But there's no magic thing to do to eliminate turnovers."

And no more excuses.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Turnover woes

Turnovers have played a big part in the Ravens' five-game losing streak.

Opponent ............ Fum. ............... Int. ................. Tot.

@Buffalo ............... 1 ..................... 0 ....................... 1

@Pittsburgh .......... 1 ...................... 3 ....................... 4

Cincinnati ................ 4 .................... 2 ....................... 6

Cleveland ................ 2 ................... 2 ....................... 4

@San Diego............ 2 ................... 0 ........................ 2

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