Monday, October 01, 2007

Ravens Face Must Win in City by the Bay


It seems that the Ravens have at least one of these types of games annually – losing to a team they are supposed to beat. Such was the case in Cleveland. It’s as though they just show up at times and punch the clock. It’s as though they think that through their mere presence alone, something will happen given the massive collection of talent that they have and one of their playmakers will eventually take control of the game.

The trouble is, not many of their playmakers are really making plays. Not Terrell Suggs, not Ray Lewis, not Steve McNair, not Mark Clayton, not Bart Scott and not Chris McAlister.

It’s interesting that for years the Ravens defense has made up for the inefficiencies of its offense. They have carried the team and for the most part, there has seldom been any public finger pointing despite the lack of balance between the offense and defense.

But like the cracks that are beginning to surface in the Ravens defense, there are hints that the team’s solidarity is beginning to weaken, starting with the face of the Ravens, Ray Lewis.

“It’s a team sport,” Lewis said. “Trying to be political. Trying to always say the right thing. Sooner or later, you get tired of making excuses. This is the NFL. You’re going to give up points. It happens. But you have to ask: Is it the defensive side?”

Yesterday I wrote in this very column that the Ravens are beginning to resemble the 2005 squad – a talented team that severely underperformed. That season they fell apart. Rumors surfaced about Lewis’ disdain for Kyle Boller and Brian Billick’s seemingly undying support of his young quarterback.

Then Lewis suffered a severe hamstring injury in Chicago that would sideline him for the season. It was a mysterious injury that was allegedly treated by Lewis’ own doctors and not those affiliated with the Ravens medical staff. The hamstring was said to have nearly torn from the bone yet word surfaced that Lewis practiced with the team just after sustaining the injury. Still he never played another down after Chicago.

During the 2006 offseason, Lewis complained about the team’s direction and on a national stage provided by ESPN, Lewis said if the Ravens weren’t going to use him properly and get him the support he needed, then they should “let me go.”

Now here we are just about two years later and the similarities between the situations are eerily similar.

Back in 2005, the Ravens went into Chicago with a 2-3 record hoping to pull to an even .500 mark on the season. The slop of Soldier Field was matched only by the sloppy play of the Ravens. They fell to 2-4 and had to win the final two games of the season to cap the campaign at a mark of 6-10.

Brian Billick’s job was in jeopardy and if not for a lack of desirable available replacement candidates, Billick may have been terminated. Of course he was not and the team rebounded extremely well in ’06 finishing at 13-3.

Many praised Billick for placing the team above his personal feelings including several of the players. If Billick was willing to fire a dear friend for the benefit of the team, then the team would be willing to go to war for Billick. The move was successful on many fronts.

The Ravens improved offensively even though the red zone difficulties continued. In fact since 2003 the year Billick anointed Boller his starter the Ravens have been a bottom feeder in red zone efficiency:

2006 (.423/28th)
2005 (.381/28th)
2004 (.500/20th)
2003 (.420/29th)

So far this year they sit at No. 27.

Was the offensive improvement in ’06 coincidental? Did Billick really make that much of a difference? Would the improvement have occurred naturally as a byproduct of Steve McNair’s familiarity with the offense?

Possibly.

Yet by the end of 2006 the offense stalled again and it looked very much like the Fassel led offense and the Cavanaugh led offense. And that hasn’t changed even a little bit in 2007.

The one thing that has changed is the defense. Adalius Thomas is gone and Trevor Pryce is down. Offenses are rolling attention now towards Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Bart Scott and the result is a lack of pressure on the quarterback and more pressure on a banged up secondary. Billick’s offense simply can’t pick up the slack.

The promised explosives have not been delivered and if Lewis’ comments are any indication, this team could be closer to implosive than explosive.

TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK.

The Ravens are flirting with disaster.

Make no mistake about it, Sunday is a must win for the Ravens against the Trent Dilfer led 49ers.

If you think I’m overreacting and painting an unnecessary “sky is falling” scenario, then just wait until Monday if they lose.

5 comments :

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be an incredible karmic (if not cosmic) irony if Dilfer -- the QB you claimed was "just along for the ride" in the 2000/2001 Super Bowl -- ended up driving the Ravens D right into the Bay?

Just sayin...

Harryos29 said...

Harry O 29 Says..
Fix the Offense in the RED Zone, and the Defensive Weaknesses will not be as much of a focal point. Face it, in the NFL as it is currently configured, PARITY reigns supreme. UNLESS, you are the Patriots , and we all know what their Secret is now..
I saw Billicks press conf yesterday. DOES HE THINK ALL OF US FANS ARE STUPID? WHAT GAME HAS HE BEEN WATCHING? He stood there and told the press, that "Steve is doing a great job"... well if that is true, why hasn't McNair put up 13 Touchdowns like Tom Brady of New England. IMOH, Mc Nair is HURT and should be replaced! NEXT MAN UP!

DP said...

This team needs an OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR and Billick needs to stop micro managing them whoever it is! The fans screamed for Cavanaugh’s head and when we finally got Fassel NOTHING changed. Why? I suggest it’s because all along it has been Billick’s offensive scheme. There was a swing in production when Fassel was let go and I don’t think it was because Billick is some offensive genius. I suggest it was because Fassel wasn’t bowing down to Billick and this was causing its own drama within the team that was bringing production down.

If you want talented people and new ideas then you need a leader that isn’t afraid of bad news or afraid to hear “I don’t think that is going to work” come from a subordinate. I don’t think Billick has the confidence or character to allow that to happen. It looks like we have a repeat of 2005 coming back around but I would love to be proven wrong!

city_blitz1030 said...

I agree Billick is wearing too many hats- as evident with throwing the red challenge flag late (Jamals questionable TD). The team needs to care enough to hire a legit offensive coordinator. Further McNair is not spot on overthrowing the receivers. I say give Boyler a shot. 2-2 is not time to panic going into week 5 but def cause for concern.

Anonymous said...

Even though the Niners are not a very good team, I think there are two key factors that need to be highlighted when trying to predict our success against them: Mike Nolan & Mike Singletary. It seems as if any time the Ravens play a team whose staff knows the Ravens well, it creates major problems and headaches for us.

Add to that the "revenge" factor of Dilfer, coupled with the jet lag element (on a team that appears to be suffering from jet lag even when it plays at home) and I think the game is going to be more than uncomfortably close.

This is yet another game that the Ravens "should" win. But this year is just not shaping up the way last year did. Last year, we won games we weren't "supposed" to win -- like New Orleans at New Orleans, and Kansas City at Kansas City. This year, we've lost to Cleveland -- and we lost badly. And even when we've won, it appears to be more related to dumb luck than smart play. This really could be a "make it/break it" game for the Ravens, even though we're only talking about the 5th game of the season.