Well-armed passing attack could help J. Lewis' drive

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The focus of the Ravens' bye week is to increase the efficiency of quarterback Kyle Boller's arm and save the wear and tear on running back Jamal Lewis' legs.

In evaluating Sunday's 17-10 loss to Kansas City, Ravens coach Brian Billick said Lewis hit his targeted workload and Boller needed to hit three intermediate throws to reach the team's projections in the passing game.

Boller was less than spectacular in his fourth NFL start, finishing 15-for-26 for 140 yards and three interceptions. But in the Ravens' run-oriented profile, the team is asking Boller to complete 18 to 20 throws to balance out its 30-plus carries a game.

"On the whole, I think he played a solid game and made good solid throws," Billick said. "It's beginning to piece together. It's hard to feel that way right now for a lot of people. But I'm confident that the pieces are slowly coming together."

The Ravens were pleased by two season highs produced -- third-down conversions (42 percent) and Boller's completion percentage (.577).

But 12 of Boller's 15 completions covered 9 yards or less. His passes were high-percentage swing and screen passes to running backs and quick slants to receivers.

The Ravens' goal is for Boller to complete three to five passes on the medium-range curl, out and crossing routes that go for 10 to 15 yards.

"We need to find that good intermediate game," Billick said. "We're facing press coverage with these eight- and nine-man fronts and those opportunities will present itself."

Despite those stacked fronts, the Ravens have continued to physically pound the ball on the ground.

After his team-record third-straight 100-yard game, Lewis leads the NFL with 611 yards rushing. He became only the third player in league history to rush for 600 yards in the first four games of the season, joining Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson.

The concern is running Lewis into the ground.

With his smash-mouth running style, the Ravens want to keep him on a pace of 25 carries per game. His current average is 23.5 carries, which will likely be the norm for the rest of the season.

The Ravens will spell Lewis by giving about five carries a game to backup Chester Taylor, a shiftier runner who complements Lewis' power running style. There's even a plan of getting rookie Musa Smith into the mix late in games if he can recover from knee surgery.

"You can see the way Jamal runs now," Billick said. "He takes a lot of hits. That's Jamal and his style. You have to appreciate that but at the same time you have to preserve him as well."

Another way to take pressure off Lewis is to complete throws downfield and force teams to respect the pass.

Boller, the lowest-rated NFL passer (46.8) with four starts, had two throws over 20 yards Sunday but both were shorter passes that were broken for big gains by Lewis and tight end Todd Heap.

All three of Boller's interceptions came when he launched passes deep. His final pick -- which came with 29 seconds left in the game -- never had a chance because Heap fell after his legs got tangled with Chiefs cornerback Dexter McCleon.

If Heap didn't trip, he would have had a 7-inch advantage on the 5-foot-10 McCleon for Boller's jump ball along the left sideline.

"There was a possibility that I could have made a play on it," Heap said.

Through four games, Boller is 56-for-107 for 468 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions. Of all of Boller's picks this season, Billick said he is only concerned with one.

Early in the fourth quarter Sunday, Boller tried to float a pass to the left corner of the end zone to Taylor and was easily intercepted by McCleon. With Kansas City playing a three deep zone, Boller should have never attempted that throw if he made the correct read.

"He needed to throw that one away," Billick said. "As Kyle has done in the past, I think he will take those lessons and not repeat those mistakes in the future.

"If we can go into the next game and not throw those egregious interceptions -- which he hasn't done in the weeks before -- and continue the way we're running the ball, we can see the improvement I am talking about."

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