Lewis' criticism was play called for Newsome, Bisciotti

The Baltimore Sun

Comments from a player criticizing the head coach should be handled internally, but linebacker Ray Lewis' public criticism last week of Brian Billick's play-calling was justified.

It was only a matter of time before a veteran spoke up. It could have been offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden or cornerback Chris McAlister, but when it came from Lewis, it carried a lot of weight.

That's a good thing.

Don't believe this wasn't calculated. Lewis is a smart man when it comes to football. His message on his radio show was intended for the ears of general manager Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti, and you can bet he got their attention. Whenever Lewis speaks, people at the complex listen.

Lewis has never had a strong relationship with Billick, but he gets along well with Newsome and Bisciotti.

Basically, he was telling them to fix the problem as soon as possible because it was costing the team. You can't blame Lewis. He has been in the NFL for 12 years, all with the Ravens.

Now, in the twilight of his career, he and veterans Ogden, center Mike Flynn, defensive end Trevor Pryce, quarterback Steve McNair and cornerback Samari Rolle might be facing their last hurrah and can't afford to lose games because of poor play-calling.

Lewis' comments were inevitable. He was livid about the play-calling after the season-opening loss at Cincinnati and had to refrain from criticizing the coaching staff after the loss at Cleveland.

Even before Billick had a tough talk with his team immediately after the loss at Buffalo, there were quite a few Ravens second-guessing him.

After a week of digesting Lewis' criticism, maybe the Ravens will make changes in the offense that can help salvage a playoff berth.

On the airwaves

Speaking of talk radio, the Ravens can't be happy with five of their players having shows. Billick, like most NFL coaches, is a control freak.

The last thing he wants is frustrated players going on the airwaves. Plus, the Ravens didn't like their former flagship station, ESPN Radio 1300, undermining the new one at WBAL (1090 AM) by signing the team's top two superstars, Ogden and Lewis, as well as linebacker Bart Scott and running back Willis McGahee.

Wide receiver Derrick Mason has a radio show on WBAL.

Getting in shape

Don't expect major improvements in the Ravens overnight just because a handful of players are returning to the starting lineup.

Players such as Ogden and Pryce might be in good shape, but they aren't in playing shape. The only way to achieve that is to play, and neither has done much of that this season. It might take a game or two for them to come around.

Ogden played a series or two against Buffalo, his first action since Week 1. Pryce hasn't played since Sept. 16 against the New York Jets.

McAlister not back yet

There is speculation that McAlister will play Monday night in Pittsburgh, but I'm on the wait-and-see list.

We've heard numerous time frames about his return from a sprained knee - from three weeks to six weeks. McAlister has said he will play against the Steelers.

McAlister said last week that the injury had forced him to play in constant pain for three weeks and is worse than expected. I just hope he returns before the New England game, or the Patriots might top the 52 points they put up on the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

Suggs losing leverage

The Ravens continue to negotiate with outside linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs. The club wants to sign Suggs to a long-term deal, but the sides are still apart.

Ideally, the Ravens would like to pay Suggs about $8 million per season, which includes the signing bonus over the life of the contract. Suggs wants a deal in the $9 million to $10 million range.

But it's hard to see Suggs having any leverage at this point with only two sacks this season.

Vilma on radar?

Keep an eye on New York Jets inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma during the offseason, because the Ravens will.

Lewis has one year remaining on his contract after this season. It will pay him nearly $6.5 million in base salary in 2008 and will count in excess of $9 million against the salary cap.

Lewis has lobbied for years for an extension, but the Ravens might want to trade for Vilma, who was placed on injured reserve Saturday with a knee injury. Like Lewis, he is from the University of Miami. Like Lewis, his strength is running and making tackles sideline to sideline. With Vilma, the Ravens could stay in a 4-3 defense.


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