Ravens' Boller is black and blue

OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller is often criticized for his accuracy, mechanics, locking onto his primary read and frenetic style, but never his toughness. The black-and-blue quarterback looked like he lost a fight in the French Quarter after major breakdowns in pass protection during Friday's 21-6 preseason win over the New Orleans Saints.

Boller took a vicious helmet-to-helmet shot from middle linebacker Ronald McKinnon that left the offensive line wondering if he had been knocked unconscious. Boller shook it off and lobbed a touchdown pass to Clarence Moore two plays later.

Not surprisingly, he was decked by linebacker Courtney Watson immediately after releasing the football.

"That shows he has a lot of spunk, a lot of fire," offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. "I looked down and I thought he was out. I thought, ‘You knocked my man out.'"

Although Boller has been lauded by his would-be blockers for his grit, this situation is getting out of hand. Boller has been sacked four times and slammed to the ground countless others. He was hit 7 of the 12 times he set up to pass Friday.

"It's hard to evaluate a quarterback on his back," Ravens coach Brian Billick said after Boller completed only 5-of-11 passes for 53 yards and an interception. "We have to pass block better. My quarterback is getting the hell knocked out of him, and that's not good. We've got a guy getting beat here and beat there."

The offensive line has experienced multiple problems, allowing pressure from outside and up the middle. Defenses have successfully employed heavy blitz packages and using only their linemen to rush.

And the hits just keep on coming for Boller.

"He's a tough guy," All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "We have to try to protect him better. I thought I would have to call for the trainers.

"The bottom line is we have to block who we can block. If we have hots, we have to get rid of it. He's been getting hit way too much for our liking."

Often, running backs have flat out missed pass blocking assignments or been overwhelmed by linebackers and ends' bull rushes.

During Boller's tipped interception, running back Chester Taylor inadvertently moved offensive guard Keydrick Vincent out of the way. That mistake freed up Saints defensive end Will Smith to bat the ball to defensive end Charles Grant.

Somewhere, Indianapolis Colts All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney has to be licking his chops.

"The backs have to take the lion's share of the blame," Billick said. "The back in his zeal to get out, knocked our guard right off his block, which left a man free to bat the ball down. Not to put it all on them, but the backs have to be better than they were."

Boller has steadfastly refused to blame his line, backs or tight ends, who have also had their issues with chip-blocks.

"When you see a guy hit me, I might have missed a hot read," Boller said. "We have to continue to iron it out. If they're going to bring seven or eight guys, we're going to do some quick stuff. Yhave to get the ball out of your hands.

"There's no way you can block that many guys. We have to prepare because Indy is going to bring it."

This is one case where Boller might want to give pointers. He threw a key block for Taylor on his 50-yard run, and hustled downfield all night.

Boller has four interceptions in 35 attempts, two touchdowns, 57.1 percent accuracy and a 52.7 quarterback rating.

"As a quarterback, you have to be a leader," Boller said. "People don't know, but there's a lot of different things that can happen. It might look like it's one guy's fault when it's another guy's fault."

Although it's debatable if Boller is making tangible progress in the finer points of the game, he seems to have mastered the art of accountability and intangibles.

"That's why you love the kid," Billick said. "Let me tell you what I saw in Kyle Boller. I saw on three separate occasions him 30 yards downfield making a block on a running play. One of them cranked off the big play by Chester Taylor.

"I saw a young man after getting his bell rung throw up as pretty a deep route in a critical situation basically to win a game and take a hellacious hit. I think Kyle is showing his leadership and his willingness to say that he has got to be better, too."

NOTE: Linebacker Peter Boulware is under contract through 2009, according to NFL Players Association figures. His base salary for this season is $700,000 and he's slated to make $2.1 million in 2006, $2.2 million in 2007, $2.3 million in 2008 and $2.5 million in 2009.


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