The Ravens offense has continued to waste whatever opportunities it has had handed to them game after game this season. Later this week when I get into the coaching issues I will address the history of this problem. Today, I'll look back at Sunday's loss at Buffalo to a team that had previously given away home games in the last minute and once again, tried to hand the game to the Ravens who wouldn't accept their offer. Once again the play calling was bewildering. Late in the game, second and one, the Ravens should have run the ball, yet threw three incomplete passes and the game was over as they never touched the ball again. Kyle Boller proved why he has been the backup quaterback and will never be the Franchise QB that the team hoped when they traded a 1st and 2nd round draft pick for him. He can't seem to set his feet before throwing, throws off his back foot and while he has a strong arm, his accuracy is awful. Sunday, he constantly missed open receivers because he panicked and seemed to be off target all afternoon. Blame it all you want on the poor pass protection from the offensive line, or the injuries to both tight end Todd Heap and even his backup, Daniel Wilcox, leaving Boller's only option at TE to second year player Quin Sypniewski. However, look at all the rosters in the NFL and you will see most of them decimated by injuries this year. While I realize there is only one Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, there are so many other team quarterbacks enjoying success throwing the ball down the field, even behind woeful offensive lines as well. Look at Matt Schaub in Houston, who has spent more time on his back than a cheap hooker. He still finds ways to get the ball downfield regularly to his receivers, some of them who have been second or even third string backups. So why the problems here in Baltimore? The wide receivers are quality performers. Both Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton have excellent hands and run great routes. Demetrius Williams has sprinter's speed and can use his long body to outjump the DB's for the long ball. However, there are so few times per game that the offense goes vertical that the big play possibilities are diminished. Therefore, the Ravens must rely on long, time consuming drives that include short, underneath passes that gain 5 yards a clip, which is probably why he Ravens pass offense has the lowest average per pass attempt in the league. Long drives also increase the possibility of a turnover, which have killed a bunch of drives along with the questionable play calling on third down as well in the Red Zone. Interesting that the Ravens lead the league in time of possession, yet have one of the worst Red Zone offenses and rank among the fewest touchdowns in the league (only 8 on offense this season - heck, Randy Moss has ten TD catches himself so far!). Running back Willis McGahee continues to produce when given the ball, but the key word remains "when." In Sunday's game, he had gained 112 yards by the end of the third quarter, yet finished with only 19 carries. As I had stated in Sunday morning's blog, he needed 25-30 to lead the Ravens to victory. I can only believe that had he been given the ball 10 more times, he could have gotten at least a couple of more first downs and extended the opportunities for the Ravens to win that game. Alas, he was dehydrated and Billick chose to go with the pass instead of McGahee once he returned to the game. To Billick's defense, neither backup running back Musa Smith nor Mike Anderson has been any help when McGahee needs a breather.
This team needs to determine whether the coaches have the confidence in both McNair and Boller to call the plays to throw the ball downfield rather than out in the flat or underneath the defensive secondary time and time again. Even if they throw a couple of deep passes that are incomplete, it opens up the defense to sit back and protect what the Ravens aren't even trying to do on a regular basis this season. Give the ball to McGahee 25 times a game to soften up and tire the defensive line, which will lead to wearing them down late in the game or slowing down their pass rush if the game dictates it. Get the tight ends into the passing game by forcing the defense to put a slow linebacker on them and then hit them in the unprotected middle of the secondary while the safties are covering the deep and outside routes by the wideouts. When in the Red Zone, run whenever possible and if forced to pass, take shots into the end zone, rather than out in the flats every time. Stop with the throw-it-up-for-grabs play every time. Try a roll out play for Boller, who has the happy feet anyway, to take advantage of his speed. Wouldn't a naked bootleg be a novel idea on the goal line?
This team has the pieces to be a much better offensive scoring team that it has been, both this season and over the past seven years. Steve McNair and Kyle Boller are the only choices, for now. Give them the chance to succeed and if not, look elsewhere in the off season. At this point, with a 4-3 record and the hard part of the schedule coming up, they have nothing left to lose, as the playoffs are as much of a fantasy as Britney Spears knocking on my door asking my help in losing some weight!