Billick happy with Case; Coach notes faults in effort vs. Titans, but praises progress

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ravens coach Brian Billick remained confident and optimistic about starting quarterback Stoney Case yesterday, one day after Case turned in a subpar performance in the team's 14-11 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

The game against Tennessee should have been a showcase for Case. The Ravens were playing an AFC Central rival, one of the best defensive teams in the league, and had a chance to distinguish themselves against a possibly playoff-bound team.

But Case completed only 15 of 37 passes for 207 yards, and was 7-for-19 for 91 yards in the second half after Tennessee put seven or eight players near the line of scrimmage to stop running back Errict Rhett.

Case also lost his grip on the ball while trying to throw a pass that ended a drive early in the first quarter, and fumbled a snap from center Jeff Mitchell late in the second half to end a possession at the Titans' 28. He threw the long ball fairly well, but was erratic on his short and intermediate attempts.

Billick pulled ineffective veteran Scott Mitchell for Case after the first six quarters of the 1999 season. But in the last nine quarters, the Ravens haven't scored a touchdown from inside the red zone, and that's the area where key players, especially quarterbacks, have to make big plays.

Tony Banks is listed as the No. 2 quarterback and Mitchell No. 3.

Billick is a little sensitive when it comes to criticism of Case and implied yesterday that he played nearly as well as Titans quarterback Neil O'Donnell, the former University of Maryland star who completed 24 of 35 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown.

But O'Donnell, whom the Ravens had a chance to sign during the off-season, has been to a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a starter, and has guided Tennessee to a 4-1 record and helped put together one of the most productive passing attacks in the AFC.

Case is still learning and struggling.

"If you're trying to say yesterday's loss can be squarely dropped on Stoney Case's shoulders, that's not accurate," said Billick. "He did some excellent things yesterday, things I don't know that the other quarterbacks could have done as effectively.

"There is no timetable for Stoney. It's not in the best interest of this team to rotate quarterbacks every three or four weeks. He showed improvement in a number of areas. Except for one or two passes, he probably played as well as their quarterback.

"As usual, a great deal is always going to fall on the quarterback," Billick said. "But it wasn't Stoney that clipped on the last play. It wasn't Stoney that dropped the ball in the end zone. It wasn't Stoney that peeked at the quarterback and gave up a touchdown.

"I like what [Case] does physically. I like his approach to the game. He made some unbelievable throws out there."

But Case is no overnight success story. Forget about the miraculous comebacks in preseason and the touchdown pass to Justin Armour in overtime to defeat the Atlanta Falcons on Oct 3. Case hasn't been consistent from quarter to quarter. There is a reason why he is with his third team in five years.

And it showed Sunday. Case tends to rush things, and his excitement contributes to turnovers, such as the fumble against the Titans. He also doesn't seem to know when to throw a pass with touch and when to drill it. He has completed 47 of 104 passes for 694 yards and three touchdowns.

"Stoney needs to slow his fundamentals down," Billick said. "With the fumble, I think he pulled out too soon. He rushes his mechanics, his drops and his throws."

Several times, the Ravens came out with a cluster -- several players who were either receivers or running backs -- in the backfield against the Titans before the snap to confuse them. Billick said the ploy caught the Titans out of position a couple of times.

Case, though, never took advantage.

"We had a couple of big-play opportunities," said Billick. "We've got to school our quarterback to recognize them better. But I see some positive things in a young quarterback that is showing improvement.

"He's correcting things from one game to the next. He didn't force the ball into some trap coverages that we had talked about, and he made some incredible throws on the run."

But there is still a long way to go. One reason the Ravens didn't go with a no-huddle, two-minute offense on their next-to-last possession of the game with about four minutes remaining was because Case was making only his third start and the Ravens had several new starters on the offensive line because of injuries.

Case also will have to solve the defense he saw in the second half against Tennessee when the Ravens play the Kansas City Chiefs a week from Thursday. The Ravens had only six first downs in the second half and less than 100 yards of total offense against the Titans.

"He's going to have the same obligation to hit some things outside against Kansas City," said Billick. "I have faith in the young man. We're going to work through some of the tough times with him and see if we can continue to improve.

"I think we're good enough defensively. I think we can run the ball well enough, and if he [Case] can continue to make some big plays and he can smooth out some of the rough edges on the intermediate throws, we've got a realistic expectation that we can win."

NOTES: Next up for the Ravens is an unusual, bye-week arrangement during which they will play their next two games over a three-week stretch. They'll play Kansas City at home on Oct. 21, then face the visiting Buffalo Bills on Oct. 31. Players will be off this Friday and Saturday, then will be off on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 23 and 24.

Billick said he feels confident that offensive tackles Jonathan Ogden (neck) and Harry Swayne (lower leg), defensive tackles Larry Webster (toe) and Tony Siragusa (knee), tight end Aaron Pierce (hip) and running back Priest Holmes (knee) will be healthy for the Chiefs game. The coach said free safety Rod Woodson (four tackles, one pass deflection) played his best game of the season. Woodson has struggled in trying to get comfortable at a new position. Right defensive end Michael McCrary has gone back-to-back games without a sack. Rhett is averaging 23 carries per game since replacing Holmes as the starting tailback.

The Ravens have recorded four touchdown passes and 12 sacks while giving up six touchdown passes and 19 sacks. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis has 72 tackles in five games. Kicker Matt Stover is 9-for-12 on field-goal attempts, including 5-for-7 from beyond 40 yards.

Sun staff writer Gary Lambrecht contributed to this article.

Next for Ravens

Week 6: Bye

Next opponent: Kansas City Chiefs

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Oct. 21, 8: 20 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Tickets: Sold out

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