Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ravens Have Concerns as They Prepare for Browns

There are some concerns in Owings Mills about Samari Rolle and the amount of time he may miss as he battles an undisclosed illness and the side effects of prescribed medication that have left him in a state of lethargy. Yesterday he was ruled “out” for the Ravens showdown at Browns Stadium.

While the team had no reservations disclosing that doctors are trying to find the right balance of medication for Rolle, citing privacy issues they’ve chosen not to reveal what illness the prescription drugs are trying to combat. Some sources close to the team have insinuated that the illness is serious while others believe that with a little rest Rolle will soon be occupying the Ravens’ defensive corner opposite Chris McAlister.

Meanwhile, filling in for the recovering Rolle once again is Corey Ivy. It’s interesting that the Ravens plugged in David Pittman during the preseason game against the Redskins this summer when they played with house money, yet they are obviously hesitant to do so when the regular season chips are down. Ivy is much better suited for the nickel role. Plus he will give away no less than 7 inches to the receiver he mans up on this Sunday. Braylon Edwards stands at 6’3” while Joe Jurevicius stands at 6’5”. Ivy hovers at 5’8”. Ivy could stay with either receiver stride for stride yet still be unable to match up effectively due to physical limitations.

As for Pittman (slight ankle injury), teammates have expressed confidence in him in the past yet apparently the coaching staff sees things a bit differently. Prude looks to be the nickel this week again despite being outplayed during camp by Pittman and fellow second year corner Derrick Martin. Moving Ivy from the nickel weakens the defense in two areas.

The Ravens will see a very familiar face on Sunday when they line up across from the Browns’ No. 31. That of course is Jamal Lewis. Lewis still holds himself in high regard and continues to believe that he is among the game’s elite backs. The Ravens speak highly of Jamal as a former teammate, friend and a back who contributed greatly to the Ravens offense. But when the referee winds up his arm to start the game clock, all bets are off and the Ravens will treat Lewis no differently than any other back.

Clearly Lewis has something to prove but his running style isn’t exactly the style that has the potential to give the Ravens’ stout run defense a test. Runners with excellent vision and the ability to make quick reads and cuts towards the backside of the Ravens’ defensive pursuit are the backs that can test the Ravens. Lewis’ style doesn’t fit that description. One only needs to look at last year’s game tape to quickly conclude that. That said, expect a highly motivated Lewis to be a bit too eager and put the ball on the carpet at some point on Sunday.

Earlier this week Brian Billick defended his handling of the quarterback situation against the Cardinals and hinted that he wouldn’t hesitate to do the same going forward as long as Steve McNair has lingering effects of that sore groin muscle. It’s an interesting situation for sure. Give Billick credit for making the move this past Sunday when he did. But you have to wonder, why not just go with Boller until McNair’s injury is fully healed? Such an injury can seemingly feel fine during practice but in practice you don’t test the muscles fully. The competitive burst that a player digs down for when live bullets are flying, tests the muscle much more than the cruise control tempo of practice.

Back in March of 2005 Gary Baxter left the Ravens to join the Browns after signing a six year deal worth $30 million, $10.5 million of that total in the form of guaranteed money. You may recall that the Ravens wanted Baxter to consider a move to safety. Baxter and his agent resisted the suggested change knowing that unless your name is Ed Reed, safeties are generally paid a lot less than corners.

So off went Baxter to Cleveland where in two plus injury-riddled seasons, the former Raven has played in a grand total of eight games contributing 44 tackles and 3 interceptions. Baxter took a pay cut in 2007 dropping his salary from $3.5 million to $1.5 million and voiding the last three years on his original six year deal. Ironically he is now listed as a back-up on the Browns depth chart behind Sean Jones – at strong safety.

Fans seemed to be much more concerned about the Ravens than the Ravens themselves. After two consecutive wins at home, fans left The Vault with a less than enthusiastic feeling over their team’s back-to-back fourth quarter meltdowns.

"There's a constant critique," Billick said. "Where were we wrong? Where were we right? Why did you do this? Why did you do that? At the end of the day, I'm not going to let the team forget we won the two games and we are now 50-1 with a 14-point lead."

History has nothing to do with what a team does on any given Sunday. The two are mutually exclusive and while Billick’s record with a lead is impressive, it means nothing when his secondary is being treated like fragments of fruit in a juicer.

"It's not something that we like to do every week," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "But as long as we walk away with the victory, in the end, that's all that matters."

Agreed but if the Ravens continue to turn in fourth quarter performances like they have over the past two weeks against better teams, in the end they won’t walk away with victories and THAT matters too.