Looking for trouble? Then look at how Ravens compared with ragtag Rams

The Baltimore Sun

ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Rams didn't have Steven Jackson or Orlando Pace in uniform, did have a group of young or ordinary receivers in uniform, and had a quarterback with a 14.1 preseason passer rating.

Compared with the Ravens, though, this Rams offense looks like the reincarnation of The Greatest Show on Turf. Looked that way in last night's preseason game, too, at least in the first half.

Go ahead and call the Ravens' quarterback situation a disaster if you like. But if that tranquilizer of a game at the Edward Jones Dome didn't assure you that the offensive problems go infinitely deeper than that one position, then nothing will. The faces change, but the ugly numbers stay the same.

How much blame could possibly have been heaped on the emergency starter, Joe Flacco, for the latest wretched display? Depends on how much more you think Kyle Boller or Troy Smith could have done if they had played. The other components have been on the scene of the crimes throughout the preseason, and they were last night.

"We've got to help him out - we as a unit, meaning everybody, we've got to help him out," Derrick Mason said of Flacco. "A young guy coming in early in the week not knowing he was going to play, then a few days later he finds out at the last second he's going to play and go the whole game. As a unit, we've got to help him out."

They didn't. They haven't helped Smith or Boller out much so far, either. The big decision would be far less traumatic if the candidates were taking over even a moderately efficient offense. The way Flacco grew more comfortable as last night's game wore on makes one wonder how ready he would be to take a team over, if that team had its act together.

That won't - can't - happen here this season. The Ravens can't even consider risking him when the games start to count, not in this offense. Still, the sudden absences by Smith and Boller mean nothing was resolved at quarterback. The Ravens will be the rare team playing its preseason finale with something huge at stake. John Harbaugh has the same reasons to start Smith he did last week, but now his margin for error is gone.

Margin for error? That's a joke. The Ravens' offense is one big error, no matter who lines up behind center and why.

Take that last Rams drive of the first half as proof, the last by what was passing for the first-team offense. The aforementioned quarterback, Marc Bulger, picked the Ravens apart for 91 yards in 12 plays over less than three minutes. He didn't even complete a pass to Torry Holt on the drive - just to Dane Looker, a serviceable veteran, and two rookies, Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton. The scoring pass that capped it, and gave them a 17-3 lead, was to Travis Minor, who will be the third-string running back once Jackson returns.

The Rams picked up five first downs on that drive and gained 90 of the 91 yards through the air on eight completions. The Ravens in that entire half? Three first downs, 30 passing yards, four completions.

Their two best chances, as usual, were set up by giveaways by the other team. The Ravens turned Tom Zbikowski's blocked punt, which got them the ball at the Rams' 20-yard line, into a field goal. Two of the passes on plays near the goal line were thrown to blanketed receivers, which looked bad for Flacco. But again, he can't remotely take all the blame.

"We have to score touchdowns when we get the chance," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Field goals are not a bad thing, but touchdowns are the goal." Hmmm, haven't we heard that before?

Then there was the kickoff out of bounds by the Rams late in the second quarter, setting the Ravens up at their own 40. It produced one first down and an eventual punt inside the 10. Which seemed to be a positive development at the time.

No, you didn't fall asleep and dream that it was 2007 again. Or 2006, or 2005, or ...

Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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