NEW ORLEANS – It's not quite fourth-and-long yet for Kyle Boller, but Friday
night represents a crucial, early test for the Baltimore Ravens' oft-maligned
Can Boller avoid throwing interceptions for the first time this preseason as the Ravens (0-2) play the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome?
Can the third-year quarterback direct a scoring drive against a starting defense for the first time this month?
Can the 2003 first-round draft pick begin to demonstrate positive signs that the Ravens will improve after ranking 31st in passing offense a year ago?
The urgency of a typically meaningless preseason game has increased, and it's mostly because of a series of troubling mistakes from Boller.
With Ravens coach Brian Billick acknowledging in his weekly online column that fans were justified to boo Boller in a 20-14 loss at home to the Philadelphia Eagles, it illustrates a rough reality for the 24-year-old Southern California native.
"It's definitely not a panic mode," Boller said. "It may seem like a panic mode, but it's only our second preseason game. I think if you start forcing things and pressing and trying too hard, more bad things are going to happen.
"I'm not going to be timid and not throw balls because I'm scared to throw interceptions because people are going to boo me. That's not how I play my game. I'm going to put in long hours to make sure I have the game plan down so I don't make the same mistakes."
The mistakes have adopted a similar theme.
Boller keeps staring down his primary read. He hasn't handled the blitz adeptly. He forces the football into heavy traffic. He throws off his back foot and has even uncorked a few passes while leaping into the air.
It's a clear regression in his fundamentals and mechanics.
"My arm is going to get hit on an interception," Boller said. "That's going to happen. It's out of my control. The little things that I can work on is the hot read that I let get away."
Boller's goals are quite simple: Be smooth, be efficient and don't turn the ball over.
Those are the basics. The Ravens will worry about the finer points later.
Boller has completed 15 of 24 passes for 145 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions for a 53.6 quarterback rating. In four quarters, the starting offense has scored only 10 points.
Billick ascribed some of the problems to the offensive line, running backs and tight ends botching assignments. The pass protection has been generally shoddy, affecting Boller's ability to take advantage of swift receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton.
"I'm not going to explain to you because you'll never understand the problems that we have, but it's just little things here and there," Boller said. "Things we need to get figured out. It's time for us to get past that, and we only have two more here that don't count. You put points on the board and you don't turn the ball over, you're going to win a lot of games."
However, Boller generally has tried too hard to make a big play rather than taking a sack or throwing the ball away.
The organization is sticking behind Boller, whom owner Steve Bisciotti greeted with a hug and a pat on the back days after the young quarterback threw two interceptions and fumbled once against Philadelphia.
Granted, Boller has yet to play with running back Jamal Lewis and tight end Todd Heap this year and won't again tonight because of injuries.
"Most of the things we keep private, but Kyle's fine," said Heap regarding his conversations with Boller. "He's got a great mindset about him. I'm not worried about him at all. He's going to be fine. He'll bounce back from anything."
Billick would gladly trade dropping to 0-3 for an encouraging game by Boller.
"It really is about how you play, how you interact with one another, the things you overcome," Billick said. "The final score is always important. These are competitive guys. But is it the most important thing? Quite frankly, no."
If Boller settles down, it could relieve an alarmed fan base that's shouting for the Ravens to give veteran backup Anthony Wright a shot.
Boller definitely hears the criticism, but says he will stay focused and tune the noise out.
"The greatest quarterbacks have been booed, you can go down the list," said Boller, adding that he wants to transform the boos into cheers. "All I can do is my best. I'm going to make mistakes. I'm not perfect. I'm not going to change what I've said from the beginning: We're going to be great."
In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
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