Trying to move offense forward, Fassel leaves Vikings game behind

The Baltimore Sun

Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel didn't like the show Friday night in Minnesota. There were too many mental mistakes, turnovers and times when the Ravens simply got whipped physically. But Fassel is treating the 30-7 loss to the Vikings more as an aberration than the norm.

Until that game, the Ravens' offense had shown progress. It had not scored as many points as Fassel would have liked, but it had moved the ball by establishing a running game and it kept often-injured quarterback Steve McNair protected. So instead of screaming and yelling now, Fassel is teaching.

When you perform as poorly as the Ravens did last week, that's about all you can do.

"I would have felt a lot better if last week we had played sharp, clean football, but we didn't," Fassel said. "You always feel like your last game, and in our profession, you're anxious to get back to feeling good about the next game. We have shaken it off, and that was an oddity to us.

"Up until that game, honestly, our offensive line was protecting extremely well. We were running the ball. Steve was doing smart things with the ball, but last week it all went away. Now we have to get back on track."

And maybe we'll finally see a mid- to long-range passing game.

That has been a missing ingredient in the Ravens' offense. It's preseason, so you can forgive the Ravens for the uninspiring performance against Minnesota. They've done a lot of things well, but McNair hasn't gone downfield much. It's dink and dunk, which is a major characteristic of the West Coast offense, but McNair has thrown only two or three passes more than 12 yards, and they all fluttered.

So, the big question is: Can McNair still throw deep consistently?

Fassel says there just needs to be patience.

"Can he throw long anymore? Well, we'll find out. I think he can," Fassel said. "We will have a deep game; yes, we will."

Fassel said the entire offense has been implemented, but he's taking it slow with McNair. It's not that McNair, a 12-year veteran, has had problems picking up the offense, but Fassel prefers it that way. He doesn't mind if McNair takes a lot of repetitions in the preseason with safe, short passes.

He knows that he has been working with the Pro Bowl quarterback on the field for only about a month, and he wants McNair comfortable heading into the season opener Sept. 10 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Kyle [Boller, backup quarterback] would need that time [for learning the offense]; any quarterback would," Fassel said. "As late as we got Steve - and he has great instincts and is a smart guy - it's no longer just answering questions in the classroom, or just watching tape. It's hike the ball, drop back and everything happens so quick. He is grasping everything. The offense is there. We don't use all the plays every game. We just want to give him looks for him to react."

Fassel believes the Ravens have the receivers to stretch the field in starters Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason. The Ravens don't have a veteran on the team with great speed, but rookie Demetrius Williams might become that player. He has been impressive in the preseason and has potential. Fassel hasn't given up on third-year receivers Devard Darling and Clarence Moore, both of whom have played well late in the preseason. The problem is that there have been flashes from them before, and then they've disappeared.

"We've got guys who can do this and guys who can do that. I think we have all the bases covered," Fassel said.

Well, almost. Pass protection has to improve from a week ago, especially on the right side of the line. For some reason, the Ravens have had problems picking up middle blitzes for years. The Ravens also had four turnovers leading to 17 Vikings points.

But just as he has with McNair, Fassel is showing patience with the offense because it's still preseason. The Ravens, though, need to turn up their intensity a few notches, regardless if it's preseason or not.

It's one thing to lose because some coaches prefer to game-plan in these games as opposed to others who don't. But there is no excuse for not playing with passion, especially when it's only for one or two quarters.

Complacency can carry over into the regular season. Fassel wants to see a different Ravens team tonight in the final preseason game against the winless Washington Redskins, who have been horrendous during the preseason.

"Our guys have responded the way we wanted them to," Fassel said. "We look forward to going out and playing sharp. We've made some progress [but] we made a lot of mental mistakes last week. If you're making those kind of mistakes, it's hard to get that quick, aggressive plan, and we didn't play physically like we're capable of playing.

"In the preseason, you point out certain things, and I pointed out that this is going to happen to us if we're all not taking care of business. Don't worry about anybody else's job, do your job. Another thing I point out is that if you're minus-4 in turnover ratio, you're not going to win.

"Preseason is the time to hone your team in, look at people. I never had a good preseason record. I know some coaches that immerse themselves into the preseason as far as game-planning, or whatever, but I think there is other criteria. In the preseason, you've got to develop mental toughness, too. You go out there and if you don't play well in the first quarter, you've got to play well in the second. We've got to get it going again."

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