Monday, September 17, 2007

Ravens Offense is the Same Old Song and Dance

They say it’s not how you start in the NFL, it’s how you finish. Ravens fans only need to look back to the 2000 season for proof. Back then the Ravens hit a stretch when they didn’t score a touchdown for twenty-one consecutive quarters and found themselves staring at a 5-4 record. Yet somehow, they got it together, caught lightning in a bottle thanks to a stellar defense and drove that bolt through the hearts of helpless opponents that had no answer for Ray Lewis & Co.

The Ravens final record that season was 16-4.

Despite a reputation as an offensive guru, Brian Billick relied heavily on his defense in 2000 and that is something that hasn’t changed 7 seasons later. The Ravens have gone through quarterbacks like the Orioles go through relief pitchers and like the O’s pen the Ravens offense is still searching for answers.

This off-season the Ravens were very open about their determined effort to improve the running game and to be more explosive offensively. Yet through two games the offense really doesn’t look much different than the one Jim Fassel coordinated during the first six games of ’06. And that offense didn’t look much different than the one that Matt Cavanaugh guided for more years than we care to remember.

The one constant through all the years of offensive struggles is Brian Billick.

Last week the Ravens moved the ball decently against the Cincinnati Bengals. Of course they were very generous with the ball, handing it over to Marvin Lewis’ boys 6 times. But was the offensive performance against the Bengals a ray of hope or just poor play by Cincinnati?

Yesterday the Cleveland Browns led by the great Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis had 554 net yards of offense against the Bengals. Anderson had five touchdown passes and Lewis ran for 215 yards on 28 carries.

The Patriots had 431 yards of net offense against the Jets in New York. Yesterday the Ravens’ offense tallied 303 net yards at home but managed only 98 in the second half when they had the Jets on the ropes and ready to cave.

The Ravens are clearly not in the same league as the Patriots offensively. But the scary thing is they don’t even appear to be in the same league as the Browns.

If you watch the Ravens pass patterns, check down options appear to be limited. On the Ravens first play from scrimmage in the second half, Kyle Boller launched a deep pass down the right sideline towards Demetrius Williams. Williams was surrounded by three defenders. How is it that Mark Clayton (a receiver that some in the organization pegged for 100 catches in '07) has only 1 catch for minus 1 yard through two games?

What do the Ravens do on first down no less, that tips what they might be doing? How does Williams draw coverage from three defenders on first and ten? How does that not leave someone else on the field open for the Ravens?

If you watch other teams run the football, pick any team, there seems to be so much more space for backs to navigate than Willis McGahee had yesterday. And I’m wondering why. Why is it that a seemingly washed up Jamal Lewis partnered with a relatively inexperienced Derek Anderson can pile up over 200 yards on the ground against Cincinnati while the Ravens abandon the run despite an ailing quarterback in Steve McNair?

McGahee has enjoyed success against the Jets in the recent past despite operating behind a suspect Bills offensive line. Last year he rushed for 150 yards on 26 carries in a 28-20 loss in September and then in December he had 125 yards on 16 carries in a 31-13.

During the previous season, he rushed for 143 and 113 yards against New York.

Isn’t the Ravens offensive line supposed to be better? Don’t the Ravens have more offensive weapons than the Bills?

Is it the system? Is it the play design? Maybe it’s the play calling or the blocking schemes? Perhaps the inability to make in-game adjustments?

Is it all of the above?

Whatever the problem is, the Ravens better fix it over the next couple of weeks against the Cardinals and Browns. If not they will never advance during the playoffs. They will again lean too much on the defense and they’ll be one and done in the post season – just like last season.

Assuming of course they get that far.


ravcol said...

One needs to advance during the regular season before one can advance in the playoffs.

Anonymous said...

If it's Tony "the sky is falling" Lombardi it must be Sep. How is it this "moron" Billick went 9-1 as O coordinator last year and had a top ten O those 10 weeks??? Luck? Tell us oh NFL expert. Give us your NFL resume. Or newspaper resume. I'll forward it to Bisciotti and you can show Billick how it's done.


Anonymous said...

Tony is right Eric...go ahead and put your head in the sand with this one but the fact remains; same story different day.

Anonymous said...

And so it swings back again. The spot-on criticism after yet another "strange game" (some we lose, some we win, but that uncomfortable strangeness permeates the play calling regardless of the W/L result). And peeking ahead to the next post, there's the familiar "Oh, no...I didn't mean to indicate that the sky was falling in my previous entry". WTF, man? You've been covering the Ravens long enough to know that the reason the corners of Fassel's lips were curling up is because he knows "the dirty little secret" -- that it's been Brian Billick's offense all along, regardless of the designated OC/scapegoat. And brother -- if it hasn't changed fundamentally in 7 years, it ain't gonna change now by magic or wishful thinking. And all the rally cries of "13-3 last year", or "9-1 after Billick "took over" the playcalling" only help to obfuscate, not clarify, the real understanding of what's going on here.

And just as you feel the need/responsibility to inform readers who care to be informed that this is a big problem, I feel the same need to keep you from drifting away from what you yourself know to be the truth. The sky IS falling because this problem that's dogged the Ravens for 7 years is STILL dogging the Ravens. And as you said, no fan should like what we saw on Sunday, even though it's a win. I don't want to dash your hopes or any other fan's hopes -- but get real man. This problem didn't just appear over night. And it's not going to be solved until it's met head on.

You say: "The sky isn't falling at 1-1. But the Ravens better fix some things before it does". Now, you can engage in the same denial that Billick employs if you care to, but you HAVE to know that there is only one way to get this on track. It's NOT a matter of fixing a few things. There's only ONE thing that's really going to get to the ROOT of the problem here -- Ozzie and Stevie B. have to take the offense TOTALLY away from Brian Billick and turn it over -- 100% -- to Rick Neuheisel. NOW. Before it's too late. Otherwise, we ARE going to repeat the same pattern as last year -- IF we even get that far. And I'm saying this as a Ravens fan; not a Brian Billick basher. My commitment and loyalty is to the TEAM, not the head coach; especially when the head coach is the one who's at the root of these problems.

Anonymous said...

I think some people often falsely attribute causality when, in fact, there's no actual basis for it. Specifically, some people take two events -- 1. Billick firing Fassel and (officially) taking over the play calling, and 2. The Ravens W/L record of 9-1 in the aftermath. Obviously, those two events are connected, but did #1 CAUSE #2 to take place? THAT is the key question. Without factoring in everything, such as how much the defense contributed to those Ws, how well/poorly the other teams played in those Ws, how much of a factor was the play calling in those games, etc., it's simply impossible to single out that one factor -- Billick's play calling -- and say: "Yes, that's what did it".

If, in fact, there were underlying factors at work, it's simply naive to attribute causality between Billick taking over the play calling and the Ravens success in the regular season last year. For example: Billick's lack of clock management/game management skills are legendary. And that subject was brought up last year as well. But as long as the Ravens were winning, people tended to ignore it, by simply saying: "What difference does it make, we're WINNING, and that's all that counts". The PROBLEM underlying that train of thought is that when we LOSE because of his lousy clock management and game management, then and only then does it become apparent that the problems that had been there all along are STILL there, and WILL continue to be there until they're addressed, and WILL inevitably contribute to losses. Just because they didn't necessarily result in losses during the regular season last year, does NOT mean the problems have been solved; they've just been swept -- temporarily -- under the carpet. And what I believe we're seeing this year -- and will continue to see -- is that last year's success was over-inflated, and we're now facing the reality of the subsequent deflating crash.

An example comes to mind: someone can jump out of a plane, without a parachute, and insist that s/he's flying. The reality that the person is actually free falling without a parachute, not flying, becomes much more apparent the closer the person gets to the ground. With regard to the Ravens, the problems will only be solved when the offense is taken totally away from Brian Billick, and/or he's fired.