Ravens' identity: Just run with it

ON THE RAVENS

December 07, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

Among all the things that happened with the Ravens in their 27-24 loss to the New England Patriots on Monday night, they may have found an offensive identity.

The Ravens haven't had one this season, and the offensive coaching staff has been out of sync with the group.

But against the Patriots, the Ravens rushed for 166 yards on 37 carries, led by running back Willis McGahee's 138 yards on 30 attempts.

This wasn't a fluke, either. The Ravens pounded New England, especially in the middle, where guards Ben Grubbs and Jason Brown and center Mike Flynn got in on the bodies of the Patriots' inside linebackers.

With the exception of Flynn and left tackle Jonathan Ogden, the offensive line is young, and the young guys came out of that game beaming with confidence.

Hopefully, the Ravens will continue to run the ball Sunday night at home against the Indianapolis Colts. Too often this season they have stayed with the script early in the game instead of just coming out and establishing the run.

The Colts are ranked 18th in run defense, so the Ravens should be able to make dents in the defense. If the Ravens run the ball effectively, they could keep quarterback Peyton Manning off the field.

If they run and gain a lead, the Ravens would make quarterback Kyle Boller more effective in the play-action passing game, taking a lot of pressure off him.

But just as important, it gives the Ravens an identity going into the final three games of 2007, and then into the 2008 season.

Meanwhile, I'm glad the surgery to repair Ravens quarterback Steve McNair's partially torn rotator cuff went well, but I hope he retires.

McNair has been a great player for so long and has played through numerous injuries, but it was hard watching him play this season.

He couldn't move well and couldn't secure the ball. His ability to throw downfield consistently was gone.

McNair has nothing to be ashamed of. He has been a remarkable talent, and he got this city buzzing in 2006 like it was in the 2000 season when the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

Once McNair leaves, though, the window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl for the Ravens probably will close for another year or two.

Gambling on McNair was a short-term risk, and the Ravens got a short-term payoff.

Defend the coach?

After watching Patriots safety Rodney Harrison talk trash to Ravens coach Brian Billick on Monday night, and then watching Billick blow him kisses, I had a couple of questions.

Would this have happened to any other coach in the NFL except Billick? Would this have happened to Bill Belichick or Mike Holmgren? And why didn't some of the Ravens put Harrison's lights out for badmouthing their coach?

On their bad side

The Ravens don't have to worry about the officials retaliating against them for their childish behavior Monday night.

The Ravens were on their hit list long before the Patriots game. The officials don't particularly care for Billick's ranting on the sideline or his players' antics on the field, like in Detroit two years ago.

The Ravens are basically the Oakland Raiders of the East.

Until the culture changes around this team, don't expect the Ravens to get many breaks.

"They are aware of that," Billick said when asked if he had talked to his team about whether the officials will be throwing flags a little bit more frequently in Sunday night's game. "Sometimes things get into a cycle, with regards to the officiating, and you always have to be aware of that."

Tough matchup

The game against the Colts pits Indianapolis running back Joseph Addai against Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

Lewis loves those matchups, and he takes them personally. But this one will be harder than usual. Addai changes directions quickly, hopping from one spot to another almost effortlessly.

He's the kind of runner that can give the Ravens trouble, like Buffalo Bills rookie Marshawn Lynch did earlier this season.

Revved-up crowd

Excitement was at a fever pitch for last season's playoff game here against Indianapolis. The Colts had played here before, but there had never been that type of energy.

It was partly because the Ravens finished the regular season 13-3, and many thought they were the best team in the league.

Colts coach Tony Dungy expects another loud crowd.

"Honestly, we weren't prepared for what we got when we had gotten there," Dungy said about last season. "We had been to Baltimore the year before on opening day, and it was a raucous crowd on opening night and everything. But when we came back for the playoff game, there was a lot more emotion, a lot more energy. The move of the [Colts] team had been discussed a lot more. We talked about that today - what type of emotional energy will probably be in the stadium when we come this week."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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