Offense past its sell-by date; Billick has grown stale, too

The Baltimore Sun

Tick, tick, tick. Time has to be running out on Ravens coach Brian Billick or his offensive system.

Take your pick, but one has to go.

The Ravens lost, 21-7, to the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday, six days after being humiliated by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 38-7. It's safe to conclude that these have been the worst seven days in Ravens history.

Somewhere in his luxury box, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti had to notice that a lot of fans started to leave once Shayne Graham connected on his fifth field goal to put the Bengals ahead 15-0 in the fourth quarter.

About two minutes later, after Graham hit a 21-yard field goal, the stadium was a shell. Once the Ravens get behind, there is hardly any hope because the offense is so pathetic.

Cincinnati came into Baltimore with the 31st-ranked defense in the league, and the Ravens couldn't score a touchdown until 1:56 remained in the game.

The Bengals were ranked 28th in both rush and pass defense, and the Ravens could manage only 272 yards of total offense. They couldn't even get place-kicker Matt Stover onto the field for a field-goal try. And with their two starting cornerbacks out with injuries, the Ravens ran the ball only 18 times against one of the softest teams in the NFL.

I'm aware that Bisciotti gave Billick a contract extension after last season, and that the coach has three seasons remaining after this one. Who cares anymore? No one should be forced to watch this offense every season, week after week.

We've heard all the excuses during the past nine years. Billick didn't have receivers. He didn't have a quarterback. He didn't have athletic offensive linemen. He didn't have a running back.

Blah, blah, blah. ... Enough, please.

It's time general manager Ozzie Newsome and Bisciotti delivered the ultimatum to Billick. Either he guts this system, or he goes. If Bisciotti's pockets aren't deep enough, then I'm even offering him a buyout.

But there has to be a change in offensive philosophy. We're not talking about bringing in more "yes" men as offensive coordinators. We're talking about a coach who can take full control of this offense and has his own ideas.

The Billick defenders will point fingers at current quarterback Steve McNair. That's the easy way out. The big picture is, what quarterback has prospered under Billick? Even Elvis Grbac, a Pro Bowl performer the year before he came to Baltimore, retired one season after playing here.

The Ravens can start Kyle Boller. They can bring in Brett Favre, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. They can trade up in the April draft for Boston College's Matt Ryan, but it won't make a difference until the system and the play-calling change.

For years, Billick got a free pass in Baltimore because some of his inadequacies were overlooked. As long as the defense continued to make plays, and the Ravens won, everyone was happy in the Castle.

But it's different now. Some of the great defensive players are gone or have gotten older. This defense can't dominate as it used to.

So, after years of riding Newsome's drafts and the back of middle linebacker Ray Lewis, Billick can't hold up his end as far as the X's and O's. The Ravens can't overcome his weakness.

None of the players will say the lack of offense has become divisive in the locker room, but no one has to say it anymore.

Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden has been saying it for years with his gestures on the sidelines. Lewis said it about two weeks ago on his radio show.

Hello, Bisciotti and Newsome, were you listening? We've seen enough of the short passing attack where receivers run 2 yards short of the first-down marker. We've seen enough of the fade patterns and the short swing passes to Willis McGahee.

How about some new wrinkles? How about something simple like a screen? How about something where a receiver catches the ball in full stride going down the field? I think most people in this town will agree that the Billick era has gotten old and reached its peak last season. There are too many penalties and turnovers, the sign of a lack of discipline. Billick is a good coach and successful, but a new act would be refreshing. But even with this season going south, folks will continue to root for him as long as the Ravens overhaul this offense.

To continue as it has for nine years is becoming unbearable. It's hard to have faith in a team that had only 104 yards of total offense last week against the Steelers. It's hard to root for a team that has made changes on offense through the years, but the results are still the same.

It's time for Billick to either step back or step aside, but things can't remain status quo.

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