Ravens attempt to regroup

OWINGS MILLS - Dissecting the Baltimore Ravens' shoddy season debut didn't require a surgeon's scalpel or a discerning eye. Although no defeat tends to be a simple as one outfit performing like excrement, as franchise cornerback Chris McAlister bluntly asserted, the Ravens appear to grasp the reasons behind a 34-15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It didn't take perusing the game film to reveal that the plan of pounding the football behind bruising running back Jamal Lewis wasn't followed.

The Ravens (0-1) couldn't rally as the era of rookie quarterback Kyle Boller began roughly. Baltimore fell behind largely because of defensive mistakes capitalized on by Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox and the consummate receiving duo of Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward. Hence, Lewis was limited to 15 carries for 69 yards and one touchdown. Baltimore was 4-1 last year when Lewis rushed for 100 yards or more.

"Jamal Lewis ran extremely hard, and any game we have Jamal carry the ball only 15 times is a game we'll probably lose," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose team is 17-2 when Lewis has 20 or more carries. "Jamal's got to get his hands on the ball, particularly as well as he ran the ball. "If Jamal doesn't have 20 carries, something has gone awry. That is not who we are. We will do everything to not do that again."

Lewis didn't discuss the issue Monday, but Sunday in the visitors' locker room the 240-pound runner said: "For whatever reason, we didn't stick with the game plan. I know I felt good and the blocks were there."

Meanwhile, Boller appeared to never lose his poise in a loud, hostile environment. He was admittedly nervous at the beginning, firing swing passes with too much velocity and tossing an interception. "The bullets were flying," Boller said. "You can only simulate so much in practice It's definitely fixable."

Boller showed off his mobility and pocket awareness by avoiding sacks on at least four occasions, Billick said. The rookie's determination paid off when he scrambled to locate Travis Taylor in the back of the end zone in the fourth quarter.

"Until the last second of the game, it's not over," Boller said. "There's always hope."

Surprisingly, the strong-armed first-round draft pick came up a tad short on a few fly patterns downfield. "We had three specific instances where we could have had big, big plays that he underthrew, which is kind of odd for him," Billick said. "I don't think he'll do that the next time."

Boller completed 22-of-43 passes for 152 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a quarterback rating of 57.5.

Houston Texans quarterback David Carr, last year's top overall pick, completed 10-of-22 passes for 145 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions to start his NFL career with a loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Five years ago in a loss to the Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning passed for 302 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

"Kyle had a good grasp of what was going on," Billick said. "I thought he handled that very well and at no point was wide-eyed or confused." However, the Ravens' secondary struggled as Maddox passed for three touchdowns and no interceptions with a quarterback rating of 134.3. The defensive backs glaringly busted coverage schemes in the third quarter in allowing Ward and tight end Jay Riemersma to score easy touchdowns. "We were in certain coverages where we were expecting help, but it wasn't there," Billick said. "We need to progress past that."

Boller recognized the Steelers' man coverage while looking for tight end Todd Heap, but lost sight of linebacker Kendrell Bell on his interception. "I took my eye off the inside defender, the only guy who could take that play away," Boller said. "He was just keying it the whole time. Watching that tape, Todd beat his guy but there was no defender on the outside to the flat."

Boller said he noticed he has gotten away from some of the techniques honed under the tutelage of Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "There were a couple of times where I could have made some big plays, but because of poor mechanics and fundamentals the ball didn't make it there," Boller said. "It was good that I saw that and now it's going to be in the back of my head."

Now, the Ravens will attempt to regroup for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns (0-1) at M&T Bank Stadium. "Wow," linebacker Ray Lewis said after watching the Steelers' film. "It was just simple things. It wasn't about aggressiveness or anything like that."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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