Cavanaugh discusses offense, criticism

OWINGS MILLS -- Emerging from a brisk walk around the practice field at the Baltimore Ravens' training complex, embattled offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh took off his winter hat and acknowledged Tuesday how his profession requires a thick skin. Especially when his job security emerges as a major topic of discussion at Ravens coach Brian Billick's news conference.

Especially with Baltimore (8-7) ranked 31st on offense, having scored three offensive touchdowns in its last four losses and being on the verge of elimination from playoff contention.

There's even a 'Fire Matt Cavanaugh' Web site. That thick skin can get pretty blistered one year removed from having the top-ranked rushing offense and setting a team record for points scored.

"I think every coordinator does, especially on offense, because the average fan thinks they know more about offensive football than defensive, but that goes with the territory," said Cavanaugh, a popular target for criticism on talk radio programs, message boards and newspaper columns. "There was a lot of credit going around when we won the Super Bowl. When things aren't going well, there's a lot of blame to go around. Typically, your quarterbacks, coordinator and head coaches take a lot of heat."

The Ravens rank 31st in the NFL in passing offense. Their total offensive ranking would be the worst in franchise history. And their 22 offensive touchdowns ranks third from the bottom of the NFL ahead of only the Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears.

Quarterback Kyle Boller has completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 2,417 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and a 70.3 quarterback rating, improving overall in his second season.

"Kyle's on track to be a really good quarterback in this league," Cavanaugh said. "I'm convinced of that. That's a starting point. Kyle's got a lot more confidence in what he sees on the field. He has protected the ball very well. I'm convinced that more progress is going to be made."

Baltimore is averaging 144.7 passing yards per contest, averaging 5.53 yards per pass attempt while allowing 35 sacks.

The Ravens are averaging 9.9 yards per completion.

"We didn't make the improvement in the passing game that we needed to make, but I still believe those things are going to happen," Cavanaugh said. "Particularly, with a young quarterback who's light years ahead of where he was last year. Where the offense is still lacking is big plays."

Following a 20-7 loss to the Steelers, running back Jamal Lewis expressed frustration at not having more inside runs called. He was limited to 26 yards on 14 carries.

"I think he felt frustrated that his carries didn't amount to a lot of yards," Cavanaugh said. "When that's happening, one of the answers is, 'Get me downhill.' We tried to do that a little bit with some two-back runs with lead blocking that didn't get anything done. I think he just felt frustrated.

"I don't hold that against him. I think he's a great back. It's our job to get him started, rolling and we've got to be better than we were last week."
Lewis was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year last season when he rushed for a league-high 2,066 yards and Baltimore scored 391 points.
Lewis has missed two games with a sprained right ankle and another two for violating the NFL substance abuse policy.

Multiple injuries on the offensive line, including left tackle Jonathan Ogden's hamstring pull and knee injury, center Mike Flynn breaking his collarbone in training camp and left guard Edwin Mulitalo tearing his triceps muscle against Pittsburgh and needing surgery, is yet another negative factor.

"Without making it sound like an excuse, of course it makes a difference," Cavanaugh said. "But everyone goes through that. It's our responsibility to make up for that. I'm not going to let that be an excuse.

"Probably measuring us based on what we did last year is a little unfair, but those became the expectations. We got a 2,000-yard back. We're a big, physical offensive line. We should be able to do that again. Some games we have. Some games when we really needed to, we haven't and that's what jumps out at everybody."

The Ravens' leading receiver is Travis Taylor with 34 catches, 421 yards and no touchdowns, but he has struggled with his hands again and was deactivated against the Steelers despite being healthy enough to play. Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap missed nine games with a sprained ankle.

Rookie split end Clarence Moore, a 6-foot-6 sixth-round pick, leads Baltimore with four touchdown catches, but hasn't excelled across the middle and has been prone to the occasional drop, too.

When asked if the Ravens need to augment this position through free agency and the draft, Cavanaugh said, "We'll talk about those things at the end of the season. I'm comfortable with what we've got. I think we have some guys who work real hard that are trying to make a name for themselves. The big plays need to be more consistent."

A quarterback who led Pitt to its last national title in 1976, Cavanaugh interviewed twice last week for the University of Pittsburgh head coaching job that ultimately went to former Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt.

"I was a little disappointed because I thought I got close," Cavanaugh said. "I have all the respect in the world for that school and the decision they made. Dave will be a great coach there and will win a bunch of games. It was a little disappointing, but I still feel young and eager enough that good things will happen."

Billick declined to specifically address Cavanaugh's status on Monday, but said he understood why the questions were being raised.

"You look around the league and that's very typical because you begin with the head coach and then you move down to the coordinator level," Billick said. "It tends to focus on the offensive side, because there's so much to critique there. I understand the questions, concerns because most of it is generated by well-wishing fans that want us to be better than we have been."
Before heading back to his office to devise a game plan for Sunday's regular-season finale, Cavanaugh referred once again to weathering criticism.

"I appreciate people's opinions," Cavanaugh said. "I don't always agree with them. I don't think they expect me to agree with them, but I let them voice their opinion and I do my job."

As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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