NFL Rumor Mill: Maybe Rancor Will Ignite Ravens' Fire
By Tony Lombardi
Sometime between now and the moment of opening kickoff on Dec. 3, Ray Lewis and Adalius Thomas will kiss and make up, and they will publicly pledge their renewed solidarity and write their hostile words off as a misunderstanding. But while they will likely forgive, will they forget?
It would make for interesting drama if the two actually had to face each other on the field.
Thomas certainly made a valid point when he suggested that perhaps Lewis was the coward, given that he also went public with his disapproval of Brian Billick’s offense and play calling instead of brokering a behind-closed-doors powwow with Billick. Didn’t Lewis in essence do exactly what he accused Thomas of doing?
That said, maybe Lewis publicly calling out Billick is a good thing.
Fact is, the Ravens organization has miraculously kept the team on the same page since 2000, and that is a credit to Billick. How many other clubs could successfully have navigated away from an organizational implosion when one side of the football is clearly more dominant than the other side year in and year out? How there hasn’t been a mutiny or enough finger pointing to rival an episode of Jerry Springer is pretty impressive.
What isn’t impressive, and never has been, is the Ravens’ offense under Billick, who was dubbed an "offensive genius" during his time in Minnesota. Billick has always stressed accountability, yet over the course of the last four-and-a-half seasons, the Ravens are dead last in the league in red zone efficiency. Where’s the accountability there?
Since Billick arrived in Baltimore, the Ravens have been in the top 10 in points scored in the NFL only once -- in 2003, when Jamal Lewis ran for over 2,000 yards. On average the team has ranked 17th.
What makes that statistic even more staggering is the fact that the Ravens defense has been ranked in the top three during five of Billick’s seasons and they have been sixth or better in every season except one -- the cap purge season of 2002. Plus, they consistently have been among league leaders in defensive touchdowns.
That’s a pretty extensive, and in some eyes, condemning body of work.
It doesn’t matter if Matt Cavanaugh, Jim Fassell or Billick is calling the plays -- this team can’t score. Willis McGahee is on pace to approach 1,500 yards rushing, yet he only projects to four touchdowns!
The Ravens’ scouting department is feverishly studying collegiate quarterbacking talent. What if they land their guy in the 2008 draft? Do the Ravens have the coaching to develop the quarterback of the future? Is their offensive system conducive to successful quarterbacking?
Watch any NFL game not involving the Ravens. At some point during the game, there will be a receiver absolutely wide open. When is the last time a Ravens receiver was wide open?
Some may ask why Lewis threw his coach under the proverbial bus because of the team’s offensive woes.
Instead, they should be asking, “What took so long?”
The Ravens take on their fierce AFC North rival Pittsburgh on "Monday Night Football" this week. Since Billick took over as coach in 1999, the Ravens and Steelers have split 16 regular season contests. The Ravens have held the upper hand as of late, winning three straight against the Steelers and five of the last seven.
Last season the Ravens swept the Steelers in dominant fashion, winning both contests by the combined score of 58-7 while holding the edge in turnovers (six to three), sacks (15 to zero), total net yards (634 to 423), net rushing yards (217 to 84), third down efficiency (42 percent to 12 percent) and time of possession (70:08 to 49:52).
This will be the Ravens’ fourth road game in their last five contests. Following the trip to Pittsburgh, Baltimore will play four of its next five games at home at M&T Bank Stadium.
Entering Week 9, the Steelers’ and Ravens’ defenses rank first and second in yards allowed per game (Pittsburgh -- 256.9 and Baltimore -- 268.0). Dating back to the 2000 season, the Ravens’ and Steelers’ defenses also rank at the top in yards per game (Ravens 282, Steelers 283.6) and points allowed per game (Ravens 16.4, Steelers 17.3).
Sacks were a big part of the Ravens’ success in ’06 against Pittsburgh. Since their inception in 1996, the Ravens have sacked Pittsburgh quarterbacks 68 times in 22 games (3.1 sacks per contest). The 68 are the most the Steelers have allowed to any NFL team. Linebacker Ray Lewis tops that chart at 5.5 sacks.
The Ravens are 4-4 on “Monday Night Football,” all games played under Brian Billick.
Issue 2.44: November 1, 2007