Lewis, the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year, gained 2,066 yards -- the second-most prolific single-season total. The Ravens should be applauded for how they schemed to open holes for Lewis despite their blockers being out-manned in the box. But Lewis showed some wear and tear toward the end of the season and the Ravens will have problems running the ball against the better defenses that have physical and sure-tackling defensive backs.
Teams are going to try to duplicate the strategies of the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers, who held Lewis to an average of 2.2 yards on his final 34 carries this season. "From my perspective," Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap said, "if we just at least had a passing game this year, we would have gone a lot further." The Ravens had the NFL's most lopsided offense in three decades, finishing first in the NFL in rushing and last in passing. They set franchise records with the fewest yards passing (141.3 per game) and yards per pass attempt (6.07).
For Baltimore to improve, it doesn't need a top 10 passing attack. The Ravens just need to exploit the one-on-one matchups given to them because teams stack the line of scrimmage to stop Lewis. This season, the Ravens could never consistently capitalize, producing 31 passes of 20-plus yards (the worst among playoff teams). "Clearly, we have to increase our efficiency and our explosiveness on the outside when put in a position by those teams that have the capacity to load the box up and just flat take the run away from you," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
In five seasons under Billick and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, the Ravens have finished in the bottom third of the NFL in passing. Their highest ranking was 16th in 2001 with quarterback Elvis Grbac.
Much of the problems with Baltimore's passing game has been the lack of continuity. The Ravens have gone through 10 starting quarterbacks in five seasons and such starting receivers as Qadry Ismail, Patrick Johnson, Brandon Stokley and Justin Armour.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of player personnel, became the fourth candidate to meet with Miami Dolphins officials about their general manager position. A decision is not expected to be made until next week at the earliest. "I've told Ozzie [Newsome, Ravens general manager] and said over the years, 'I'm not going to chase every car that passes,'" Savage said before boarding a flight to go to the East-West Shrine Game in San Francisco. "This was certainly an opportunity. It was definitely worth talking to them about. I felt like it was productive."
--As Art Modell was inducted into the Ravens' Ring of Honor on Saturday, he received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd as he waved from the owner's box at M&T Bank Stadium. Many of the players stopped their pre-game preparations and applauded from the sideline, including All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, who gave a misty-eyed Modell a thumbs-up salute. "It was a beautiful few moments that I will always remember," said Modell, who finished with a 346-304-8 record and 28 winning seasons. "I saw the players and the crowd standing up applauding me. How often do you get that? I was very, very overwhelmed and quite taken emotionally."
At age 78, after a heart attack and a stroke in recent years, Modell will sell the remaining 51 percent of the franchise to Steve Bisciotti sometime in April before the NFL draft.
--The Ravens set a team record by averaging 24.4 points, but that number was skewed by favorable field position set up by big plays from their defense and special teams. The offense had as many scoring drives of 21 yards or fewer (12) as it had of more than 70 yards. There were five games this season in which the Ravens had one or fewer offensive touchdown.
--In the 42 games that running back Jamal Lewis and linebacker Ray Lewis (no relation) have played together over the last four years, the Ravens are 28-14.
--When the Ravens led at halftime, the Ravens were 9-0. When they trailed by six or more points at the end of the first quarter, they were 0-4.
--The Ravens have outscored their opponents, 150-65 in the fourth quarter.
--When the Ravens forced multiple turnovers, they were 10-1.
--In five seasons under Billick, the Ravens have a 25-6 record when they produce a 100-yard rusher.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our first priority in free agency will be to re-sign and maintain the integrity of this team. and we have reason to be optimistic that we can, more so than any point since I've been here." -- Coach Brian Billick, who finished his fifth season with the Ravens.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Ravens are set up for a strong run next season. They will return at least 17 of 22 starters and are a league-best $24 million under next season's $78.1 million salary cap. But Baltimore will focus on locking up its own free agents and probably won't overextend itself in free agency. Since the Ravens believe they have a three-year window to make a championship run, throwing big-money contracts to free agents like receiver Terrell Owens or defensive tackle Warren Sapp probably doesn't fit into the Ravens' current plans.
COACHING CAROUSEL: Head coach Brian Billick has guided the Ravens to the playoffs in three of his past four seasons and has a contract that runs through the 2005 season.
Despite the offense finishing lower than 20th overall for the third time in five years, Billick has said offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh will be brought back. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is interviewing for the Chicago Bears' head coaching vacancy but is not considered a top candidate. Secondary coach Donnie Henderson is expected to interview for the New York Jets' defensive coordinator position. If Henderson leaves, the Ravens would promote defensive backs assistant Dennis Thurman.
FREE-AGENT UPDATE: The 13 unrestricted free agents are: OT Orlando Brown (strong run stopper but may not be pursued if commanding more than $1 million per season); C Mike Flynn (negotiations are currently taking place to extend his contract); LB Bernardo Harris (aging veteran is not expected to return); TE John Jones (physical special teams player who could return at veteran minimum); CB Tom Knight (barely used in the final month could signal exit); CB Chris McAlister (coveted cornerback says he definitely will return); DE Riddick Parker (role player could return at veteran minimum); QB Chris Redman (will not return after being demoted twice this season); K Wade Richey (kickoff specialist was second in NFL in touchbacks and should be re-signed); WR Marcus Robinson (strong second half of the season could push up asking price but shouldn't be out of the Ravens' range); K Matt Stover (accurate veteran may test free-agent market); LB Adalius Thomas (Pro Bowl special teams ace not expected to return since he will draw serious money in free agency); QB Anthony Wright (interest from other teams could determine whether he returns).
FEELING A DRAFT: The Ravens are without a first-round pick for the first time in the team's nine-year history. They traded away this year's top pick to New England last April in order to move up and select quarterback Kyle Boller. With second and third-round choices, the Ravens need to upgrade at receiver, defensive line and free safety.
MEDICAL WATCH: LB Peter Boulware will have arthroscopic surgery on his injured right knee some time before the Super Bowl. The surgery will force Boulware out of the Pro Bowl.
--CB Tom Knight will have surgery on a finger.
--FB Ovie Mughelli will have arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder.