Entrenched in an all-too-familiar scoring drought, coach Brian Billick cut to the root of accountability for the Ravens' foundering offense yesterday.
"I understand the frustration, but I'm the one responsible," said Billick, whose offense never finished higher than 14th in his first three seasons. "If anyone wants to make a case for [offensive coordinator] Matt Cavanaugh or the scheme, I'm responsible. That's where the focus and the criticisms and the observations ought to come. I'm going to use my experience as best I can to overcome these things."
The Ravens (0-2) have struggled from the opening kickoff this season, managing just one touchdown in the first two games. Ranked 30th in the 32-team league, the Ravens' offense has scored seven points while their mistakes have led to nine points (interception returned for a touchdown and a safety).
The scoreless string has reached 20 straight drives - with the Ravens crossing into their opponent's red zone once during that stretch - and trumps the five-game touchdown drought of 2000 in one aspect of futility. During that so-called "Dust Bowl," the Ravens never went more than 12 drives without scoring a point.
A day after a 25-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Billick enters the bye week coping with the first shutout of his 11-year NFL coaching career along with the limitations of an attack that relies on eight players with two years' or less starting experience.
"I can draw it up with the best of them," Billick said. "I can empty the backfield. I can do double reverses. I can throw route combinations that would cross your eyeballs. But you've got to be able to execute and do what your players do well. That's what we're trying to do."
The most frustrating part of the shutout was the regression of quarterback Chris Redman, whose 57.6 quarterback rating ranks near the bottom of the league.
The first-year starter made nine mental mistakes and missed three potential touchdown passes. He short-armed a throw to Brandon Stokley on a post pattern, delivered a pass behind Stokley instead of leading him downfield and overthrew Ron Johnson in the end zone.
"Those are three throws that a quarterback in this league has to make," Cavanaugh said. "But we're in it for the long haul with him. There's going to be days like that. We knew it as a staff back in the spring when we decided he was our guy and we're going to let him play with a bunch of other young guys. It's going to get ugly at times, but we'll get through it, too."
Billick reiterated that he is committed to developing a young quarterback unless the situation forces him to make a switch to Jeff Blake.
"If it came to the point where Chris lost the confidence of his teammates and this coaching staff," Billick said, "then I would consider making a move to the more veteran guy."
Redman's teammates, though, have publicly supported him.
"That's our quarterback," receiver Travis Taylor said. "We're going to go out on a limb for him. Whatever it takes, that's our quarterback."
Redman wants to learn from his 22 incompletions yet doesn't intend on dwelling on the mistakes.
"Hopefully, I'm going to look back at that game and say that's when I started to grow up," Redman said. "But I'm going to tear the rearview mirror off. I'm going to keep moving forward."
Righting this offense may start with Redman, but he is not solely at fault.
The offensive line can take some blame for inconsistent pass protection. On 41 dropbacks Sunday, the Ravens gave up three sacks, three knockdowns and five hurries.
The play selection had a hand in the struggles, too. The Ravens had a game plan of physically pounding the ball, but Cavanaugh called three draw plays on the first seven runs and never allowed the offense to have that smash-mouth mentality.
"Believe me, if it was one thing, we'd change it," Cavanaugh said. "If that one thing was me, then I'd ask them to change me. If it was one thing, we would attack that one thing. But it's a lot of things."
To get the offense back on track, the Ravens have to establish an identity. Cavanaugh thinks his personnel is best suited for that grind-it-out, conservative running attack that fueled the Ravens' Super Bowl championship run.
"It's worked before and it'll work again," Cavanaugh said. "I still feel that formula is what we are right now."
That formula was developed after that long touchdown drought in 2000. But getting this attack out of its rut may take more than altering the play-calling.
"The last time we went through this drought, we had a lot of veteran guys so our state of mind was always positive," right tackle Edwin Mulitalo said. "We knew something was wrong and we're going to fix it. With this young team, we need that winning taste for these young guys sooner rather than later."
After an 8-yard touchdown pass to Ron Johnson in the first quarter of the season opener, the Ravens have gone 20 straight drives without scoring a point. A look at how each series ended:
Missed FG: 2
End of half: 1