Troy Smith's first start

System failure

Team can switch QBs, but offense holds them back

December 25, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

The Troy Smith project looked a lot like the Kyle Boller experiment about four years ago, which looked much like the Steve McNair experience this year.

You can change quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, offensive linemen and anything else you want, but until this system is overhauled, the results will be the same.

Smith, a rookie out of Ohio State, started his first game Sunday for the Ravens, a 27-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Of course, Ravens fans had been clamoring for Smith because Smith is their only hope on the current roster to be that quarterback of the future that has eluded this city for so long.

But, realistically, Smith wasn't going to win this game. The Ravens had lost the previous eight, and they were on the road playing in one of the loudest stadiums in the country against a fairly sophisticated defense.

Who was kidding whom? Surprisingly, Smith held up fairly well. His statistics weren't bad, with 16 completions in 33 passes for 199 yards and one touchdown that came late in the fourth quarter.

It was hard to get a thorough evaluation of Smith, because the Ravens lost running back Willis McGahee to injury (two fractured ribs) late in the first quarter, and the Ravens' passing game can't exist without a strong running game, because it is predicated on play-action passes.

What you did see was a big-eyed young quarterback still mesmerized by the fact that he was playing against players he watched on television only a year ago.

Smith was nervous, excited and erratic, a typical game for a quarterback drafted in the later rounds.

He repeated the word "incredible" about five times when describing his play Sunday.

"Coming from a year ago and watching guys like Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander, incredible guys like Lofa Tatupu, the list goes on and on, and then being out there on the field was incredible," Smith said.

Seattle coach Mike Holmgren came up with a simple, but perfect game plan for Smith. He stacked the line of scrimmage to choke off the running game, and then brought pressure, which often stifled Smith.

Smith got little help from an offensive line that allowed Seattle to smack him around most of the game.

"Well, he got through the game. And he orchestrated it," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Smith's performance.

Holmgren said: "Troy was a wonderful college player. I will say the same thing I said last week. When you go against a quarterback that hasn't played very much, if you don't pressure him, you're really giving him a chance to use his athletic ability, and you don't want to do that. You don't want to give him much hope at all early on in his career."

Smith spent a lot of time lying on his back or fleeing from the pocket. According to his teammates, he had command of the huddle and the respect that goes along with it.

But what I didn't see was good arm strength. I know it was raining, and the ball was pretty heavy by midway in the third quarter.

But I didn't see any passes that wowed me or any passes that had zip. He couldn't throw the comeback route that most good NFL quarterbacks can complete. Smith threw a lot of passes that were short of their targets, and that was the same thing I saw in training camp.

Even more upsetting, I saw him trying to force passes and make plays because no one was open.

And these were the same old, tired routes I had seen in previous years. The Ravens love to run that waggle pass, but the Seahawks were ready for it three times Sunday.

They took away Derrick Mason's 3-yard route in the right flat on a third-and-five call and covered Musa Smith extremely well on that famed 2-yard pass into the left flat.

And while you're watching this, you're wondering whether Smith can ever succeed at all, because the odds are already stacked against him.

Can he survive in this system? No one else has. There is no need to repeat the history, because we all know the victims by now. Boller has the talent, but lacks the mechanics and leadership skills to be successful.

Smith has flaws in his mechanics, too, but he has enough competitiveness to become successful.

But Tom Brady and Peyton Manning would struggle to succeed in the Ravens' system.

By the end of Sunday's game, I was convinced Smith wasn't having a coming-out party, but was just being another sacrificial quarterback playing for the Ravens on Sunday afternoons.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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