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Ravens Analysis

The Baltimore Sun

A day after a controversial field goal led to yet another agonizing defeat, Ravens coach Brian Billick isn't about to kick this season to the curb just yet.

Confidently saying his players won't quit, Billick wants the Ravens (4-6) to hold on to their long-shot NFL playoff hopes.

"You got to take the mentality that we'll run the table with six wins," Billick said. "Unrealistic? Sure. But you have to take that attitude."

It might be better for Billick to look to next season, because this one seems so dismal.

The Ravens have not won a game since Oct. 14, tying a franchise record with four straight losses.

They're out of the AFC North race with an 0-5 division record, and are two games back of the last wild-card spot with six weeks remaining.

And they're playing three division leaders in the next three weeks - the San Diego Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots - who are a combined 23-7 (.767).

"You always embrace the challenge of what's in front of you," said Billick, trying his best to move past Sunday's 33-30 overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns. "If you can't emotionally buy into that, then you're not going to last very long in this league."

But the bigger challenge could be regrouping to make a stronger run next season.

Here's how the Ravens can start looking ahead:

Name Kyle Boller as the starter for the remainder of the season.

Even if the Ravens still think Steve McNair can be a starting quarterback - and that appears to be in doubt - why should they play him when he can't get over injuries this season? Many in the Ravens organization consider Boller a capable backup. This is the time to see whether he can develop into more than that against some challenging defenses.

Go young again on the offensive line.

This could be the toughest change of them all. If left tackle Jonathan Ogden isn't coming back next season, this probably should be the time that the Ravens make the transition to life without him. It's a touchy subject, because no one wants to show any disrespect to one of the best linemen in NFL history or tarnish the end of his career. But wouldn't it be better if the Ravens adjust to Adam Terry at left tackle and Marshal Yanda at right tackle now rather than next season?

Another move would be replacing center Mike Flynn with Chris Chester. Flynn has had an admirable career after entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie, but this is a change for the future.

Sit down the injured starters.

Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring), cornerback Chris McAlister (strained right knee) and defensive tackle Trevor Pryce (torn pectoral muscle) could be integral parts of the Ravens next season. Even if they can play in pain, they shouldn't risk it in games that really have no meaning. It would probably be best to let these injured starters sit for the rest of the season, avoid injuring themselves more and allow them to come back fully healthy for the offseason camps and training camp.

Sort out the secondary.

With McAlister, 30, getting older and Samari Rolle battling an undisclosed illness, the Ravens might have to think about using a first-round pick on a cornerback. Before they make such an investment, the Ravens have to make sure they don't already have a young starting cornerback. None of their inexperienced defenders - David Pittman, Derrick Martin and Ronnie Prude - has stepped up so far, but maybe one could turn it around with extended playing time for the rest of the season.

Hand over the play-calling to offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel.

The Ravens cracked 30 points for the first time this season, but the offense has failed to click under Billick against some of the worst defenses in the NFL. In their four-game skid, the Ravens have managed five offensive touchdowns against the defenses of Buffalo (which was ranked last at the time), Cincinnati (ranked second-to-last at the time) and Cleveland (ranked last at the time).

If Neuheisel can't spark the offense during the final six games, maybe Billick has to consider bringing in a new offensive coordinator in the offseason who can install a different system.

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