Ravens coach Brian Billick said yesterday that he found it surprising that his team lacked the physical style and intensity it displayed in the preseason in Sunday's 27-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams, the season opener for both teams.
Billick made the comments at his regular Monday news conference after a morning and afternoon of poring over game film from the embarrassing loss in which the Ravens had breakdowns in all phases of the game.
The Ravens had momentum going into the game. They had a new coach, were playing the team with the worst record in the past decade, were coming off a 4-0 preseason and playing against a quarterback named Kurt Warner, who had completed four NFL passes.
But instead of heading into Sunday's home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers 1-0, Billick and the Ravens are left scratching their heads.
"The most surprising thing was our lack of intensity," Billick said. "We had been fairly physical all the way through preseason. We had had that energy about us. It's not untypical to go three or four games and then don't physically have the punch. But we didn't have it for the opener.
"Physically, we were not where we needed to be in the National Football League," he added. "We just didn't measure up to the Rams the way we are capable of matching up. I had told the guys before the game, 'If you make a mistake -- cover the wrong guy, run the wrong pattern, block the wrong man -- we can correct that. But for you to not have the right emotion, the right frame of mind, that comes from within.' "
Those statements stirred up many questions about the 1999 Ravens. Was the lack of intensity an indictment of Billick as a rookie coach? Is this team void of player leadership? Does Billick need to clean house to get the players he wants? How can players go through two weeks of minicamp, five weeks of training camp and not be excited about the season opener?
"I don't know -- it's alarming," Billick said. "It's maybe a lack of appreciation of what opening day represents. You can only attribute so much to being on the road. I don't mean to intimate at all that these guys laid down. They played hard. But they didn't have the tenacity that I've seen from them, the physical wanting, the sense of urgency on every single play to get the job done. This is a vicious, violent game. If you don't take that mentality into it every week, you're not going to play well or, God forbid, you're going to get hurt.
"I'd be guessing to find out why we didn't have that physical urgency to get the job done," Billick said. "If I had the answer, I'd be a rich man."
No, he'd be 1-0, and so would his players, who were also trying to find out what happened.
The most disappointing aspect of the game was the defense, which surrendered 350 total yards, 316 passing to Warner. That unit was expected to carry the team in the early part of the season while the offense found its rhythm. But the secondary had problems keeping up with receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. And the linebackers couldn't keep pace with running back Marshall Faulk on passes out of the backfield.
"He may be right," said strong-side linebacker Peter Boulware of the lack of physical play. "I can't speak for the rest of the team, but I was playing soft. In the first game, sometimes you're thinking too much. You want to be perfect, you want to be in the right spot, but that's not where you need to be. There is definitely room to tighten up."
"We did have a lack of enthusiasm, whatever you want to call it," said safety Rod Woodson. "It seemed like we had a lack of energy. I would think with the season so fresh, we'd all be flying around the football. In the preseason, everyone was flying around the football. You're only playing one quarter, two quarters then. You're going to be tired, we all know that. We all have to suck it up a little bit better."
Billick said there would be no changes at quarterback, where Scott Mitchell is the starter, Stoney Case is No. 2 and Tony Banks No. 3. Mitchell completed 17 of 40 passes for 188 yards and had two interceptions. He also had problems holding onto the football. But Mitchell can't take all the blame. The passing game was out of sync, and the offensive line allowed five sacks.
It was a team effort.
"I don't think it was the pressure on me," Mitchell said. "I'm still growing and learning. The offense is still growing and learning. We all know we can play better."
Even Billick conceded that his honeymoon in Baltimore has started to fade a little now that the season has started. But he still remained poised and confident yesterday, even lighthearted.
"I think the fans should go out, buy another beer and see if we can get this thing corrected," said Billick, laughing.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers
Site: PSINet Stadium
When: Sunday, 1 p.m. TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Steelers by 2 1/2
Tickets: Sold out
Pub Date: 9/14/99