Ravens morphing into passing team

OWINGS MILLS -- Because of necessity and performance, the usually smash-mouth Baltimore Ravens are evolving into a passing team and not by their own choice. <br><br> Between running back Jamal Lewis' injured right ankle that could force him out of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots and the development of quarterback Kyle Boller, all of a sudden the air has become the Ravens' preferred route.

Lewis, who has only eclipsed 100 yards twice after rushing for 2,066 yards last season and was injured in the first quarter of a 30-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys after gaining five yards on two carries, underwent a battery of tests Monday. Ravens coach Brian Billick acknowledged that Baltimore (7-3) could be without its All-Pro runner for a week or two.

"I guess it's our mantra this year, 'Next man's got to step up,'" said Billick, whose team has been riddled by injuries this season to tight end Todd Heap, tackle Jonathan Ogden, outside linebacker Peter Boulware and several other key players. "At some point, you keep thinking it's going to even itself out and we're not going to have to address that from one week to the next, but so far that hasn't been the case."

Chester Taylor would take Lewis' place as a starter. With Musa Smith out for the season with a broken right leg, the Ravens will audition running backs this week. Rookie B.J. Sams would likely have to expand his duties beyond the return game.

The Ravens have slipped to 13th in rushing offense (120.4 yards per game) with Lewis having gained only 651 yards and five touchdowns after being named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year last season. Baltimore was limited to 59 rushing yards Sunday.

When asked of the Ravens' offensive profile of run-first would have to be revised, Billick said: "It may have to. You have to adjust."
Lewis was suspended for two games this season for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy and the Ravens haven't had Ogden for a total of four games.

"We're not running the ball as well as we need to and that's a concern," Billick said. "Fortunately, the passing game, at the very least, we do have some balance."

Through 10 games, the Ravens have attempted 305 runs for 1,204 yards, a 3.9 average and eight touchdowns. They have thrown 264 passes for 1,546 yards, a 5.86 average, and seven touchdowns. Last season, they ran the football 552 times for 2,674 yards, a 4.8 average, and 18 touchdowns. And they attempted 415 passes for 2,517 yards, a 6.07 average and 16 touchdowns.

"If we maintained the profile that we've had, we're a dominant running team," Billick said. "We threw the ball 34 times [Sunday], but that may have to be the equation for us."

Plus. Boller is progressing markedly although the Ravens still have the 31st-ranked passing game in the league.

Over his first six games, Boller completed 56.3 percent of his passes for 736 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions for a 69.9 passer rating. Over the last four, he has completed 61.5 percent for 810 yards, five touchdowns and one interception for an 87.4 passer rating.

The Ravens have simplified things for Boller with three-step drops where he throws more intermediate passes and has less complicated reads to sort through.

"He's getting more and more efficient with his drops, his awareness, everything he's doing is getting a little bit better," Billick said. "There's still progress to be made, but everything across the board is getting sharper and better on his part and that has a lot to do with it."

Against the Cowboys, Boller completed 23 of 34 passes, a career-high 67.7 percent, for 232 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for the third week in a row.

"I just think that we need to let Kyle take over this team," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "It was huge how he performed. Other guys performed with him, but when your offense starts to take its identity or when a quarterback gets his confidence, that's huge."

Despite the dramatic change to the offense, Baltimore is off to its best start ever. The Ravens are in the thick of the wild-card race and stand two games behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. The Ravens' remaining road games are against New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

"The equation has always been win at home, and we've been pretty good that way, and we've got to steal something on the road in the next three games," Billick said. "One or all, but at least one."
And the Ravens will probably need a balanced offense to accomplish that task, and a more physical running game.

Taylor was the Ravens' leading rusher Sunday with 33 yards on 15 carries, scoring once.

During Lewis' two-game absence, Taylor gained 89 yards and 78 yards, respectively, against the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles. He has 370 yards and a 4.4 average for the season.

"That's my job, to step up," Taylor said. "Any moment, I know I'm one play away."

Injuries along the offensive line are a major part of the Ravens' recent inability to run the football. However, that doesn't completely explain why the blockers aren't creating bigger holes.
"You can say that as soon it's all settled down, then we'll be able to get back to running the ball the way we have," Billick said. "Well, it's not going to settle down in the near future."

Aaron Wilson writes for ravensinsider.com and the Carroll County Times.

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