Ravens' offense promises improvement

OWINGS MILLS - Chris Redman gritted his teeth before issuing a prediction of impending progress. Brian Billick cited the irrelevance of statistics if they don't directly relate to winning. And receiver Travis Taylor declared boldly that his unit will stop being treated as the unwanted stepchildren of the Baltimore Ravens. The topic: the Ravens' lack of offensive consistency.

Impatience has reached its collective peak regarding this annual issue.

Yet, will that be enough to end the downward spiral?

"Right now, we're just trying to find out who we are and define our team," said Redman, the incumbent quarterback in competition with rookie Kyle Boller for the starting job after undergoing back surgery. "It's been kind of tough on us as an offense, really rough at times.

"We're going to put the pressure on ourselves that we need to put some points on the board this year and we think we can be explosive."

Following another season where a struggle to generate points and a high output of yards remained commonplace, the Ravens hope they've sufficiently revamped their personnel enough to stop this negative trend.

That may alleviate the burden of contemplating whether the play-calling and scheme of Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, level of talent or a lack of continuity at quarterback are the chief culprits of the problem.

Despite the presence of a bruising running back in Jamal Lewis and Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, the offense settled too often for field goals, was plagued by receivers' drops and was hampered by too many fumbles and interceptions.

Now, the club is banking on the additions of veteran receivers Frank Sanders and Marcus Robinson working in tandem with Heap, Lewis and Taylor to mount a more formidable attack.

Last season, the Ravens ranked 26th in the league in total offense with averages of 177.9 yards of passing offense and 19.7 points per contest.

During Billick's four seasons, the team's highest ranking for total offense came in 2001, when the club ranked 14th with 320.3 yards per contest.

"It's not particularly important to me whether we finish 15th, 12th, eighth, fourth or third because, statistically, does it lead to productivity?" said Billick, whose Minnesota Vikings set an NFL record for points scored in 1998 when he was offensive coordinator. "It has got to be better than it was."

The Ravens finished 23rd overall in scoring last season.

Leaning on the equation of a sound defense and special teams to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for winning has worked in the past. Still, the offense wants to do its part.

"It's definitely time," said Taylor, who posted career-highs of 61 receptions for 869 yards and six touchdowns last season. "We've kind of been treated like stepchildren on the team. We really have to do our part. I think we're going to have a different mindset this year."

That may entail a more aggressive, vertical approach downfield because of the impressive size and leaping ability of the receiving corps, including imposing wideout Randy Hymes.

Yet, with a massive All-Pro left tackle in Jonathan Ogden (6-foot-9, 340 pounds), beefy offensive guards Edwin Mulitalo (6-3, 340 pounds) and Bennie Anderson (6-5, 335 pounds) and right tackle Orlando "Zeus" Brown (6-7, 350 pound), smash-mouth is likely to remain in vogue in Baltimore.

One season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, the burly Lewis rushed for 1,327 yards and six touchdowns as fullback Alan Ricard emerged as reliable bodyguard.

When the Ravens won the Super Bowl during Lewis' rookie campaign, the team ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing.

"I think we can wear people down," Mulitalo said. "We can pound people into the end zone as well as throw it. I'm ready for us to do some touchdown dances."

In response to double-team attention paid to Heap, the Ravens plan to move him around and occasionally split him outside as an extra wide receiver while employing motion to force defenses to adjust and give the quarterback pre-snap indicators.

Both Robinson and Sanders are large targets with 1,000-yard receiving seasons on their resumes with the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals, respectively, but have been hampered in recent years by injuries.

"I think we have the guys in place now to be an offensive threat," Sanders said. "With Todd, Jamal and Travis having some more weapons around them that makes it a lot easier. I think we have the right pieces to the puzzle to be successful."

During a 7-9 campaign, Baltimore reached opponents' 20-yard line (the so-called red-zone) 41 times and scored 34 times, an 82.9 percent clip, with 21 touchdowns and 13 field goals. The Ravens' lack of offense partly stemmed from turnovers with departed quarterback Jeff Blake and Lewis combining for 16 fumbles, losing 11 of them.

Blake also tossed 11 interceptions for a quarterback rating of 77.3 once he took over for Redman after six games.

"Just being more careful in general and making fewer mistakes is going to help us so much," Heap said. "We just have to pay attention to detail. If we don't look better this year, something is wrong."

Expectations have definitely increased in the Ravens' camp. Will the scoreboard reflect that shared optimism?

"The standard has been raised," Taylor said. "Everyone has to be accountable for us to get the job done. There's no more room for excuses."

Ravens Insider Top Stories