Winless Ravens hit a crisis

OWINGS MILLS -- The winless Baltimore Ravens have stumbled, bumbled and skidded toward a perplexing crossroads. Their running game is completely ineffective, contributing heavily to an 0-2 crisis that threatens the outlook for the entire season.

The offensive line has endangered quarterbacks' health with starter Kyle Boller already out indefinitely with a hyperextended right big toe. Anthony Wright was battered for six sacks Sunday as Baltimore took a 25-10 belt-whipping from the Tennessee Titans.

The defense isn't dominant, and has yet to live up to the hype for a unit headlined by All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed.

The special teams has been a disaster with three missed field goals in the season opener and a blocked punt Sunday. The Ravens have been flagged for 18 penalties for 118 yards. They have often exhibited confusion as to how to line up.

An early bye this week has morphed from an unnecessary respite into a critical emergency mission to salvage the season.

"I am accountable for everything that goes on with this football team," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who didn't predict major changes in personnel or scheme. "I take that very personally. The buck stops here. I am accountable and am going to be the one that has to put us on a course to correct it."
The Ravens were held to a franchise-low 14 rushing yards Sunday with no rushing first downs. Jamal Lewis was held to nine yards on 10 carries. They had their worst offensive first half ever with no first downs in the first half and none on 12 of 15 possessions.

"We're going to try to figure out the problems," offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "We believe we have enough talent and we are going to get the job done."

The obvious priority is preparing for an Oct. 2 home game against the New York Jets.

"When you're 0-2, your whole world has to be about getting that first win and stopping that slide," Billick said. "A two-game losing streak to start the season, it can't get to that third game. That's a tough nut to crack if it does."

Billick denied a suggestion that his training camp, which doesn't emphasize heavy contact drills or two-a-day practices, is too soft.

"The observation of this team being soft is conjecture," Billick said. "I know our training regimen has been sound."

Billick also deflected a question about a firestorm of criticism directed at him and what this slow start means for his future.

"I understand that it's a volatile environment," Billick said. "Certainly I have tough enough skin, so have at it. There's no way to properly answer that question so I won't try."

It's unlikely that the Ravens will make major changes to the offensive line despite allowing nine sacks in two games.

"We are the personnel we are," Billick said. "To me, a dramatic personnel change would be bringing somebody in from the outside. That, barring injury, isn't going to happen."

Since 1990, only 14 teams have begun the season at 0-2 and still made the playoffs. That group includes the New England Patriots who won Super Bowl XXXVI after an 0-2 start. In 1992, the San Diego Chargers started 0-4 and made it to the divisional playoffs.

A fan base with high expectations of an extended playoff run is already restless.

"They have a right to be disappointed in me and the way we've played, but I'm betting that our fans when we line up against the Jets are going to be rocking and rolling," Billick said. "We better give them something to be upbeat about. If we can deliver, I think we'll be off and running."

NOTES: Boller's toe was re-examined by a specialist Monday in North Carolina, but the team made no announcement on whether the third-year quarterback will require surgery. "Now that we can confer with all of the doctors, where are we?" Billick said. "Do we need surgery? Do we not need surgery? I don't know the prognosis right now." … Boller absorbed another verbal shot from television analyst Shannon Sharpe, the former Ravens tight end. "I have a better chance of winning the Kentucky Derby on the back of a donkey than Brian Billick has of winning the Super Bowl with Kyle Boller as his starting quarterback." … Struggling wideout Clarence Moore, who dropped another pass Sunday, wasn't strongly defended by Billick for the first time. "We'll stick with all our guys, but clearly we need to have the people on the field that are going to make the plays," Billick said. "We'll look very hard at who we want on the field doing what: Mark Clayton, Randy Hymes, across the board." … Billick said that nickel back Deion Sanders, who has been picked on for two consecutive weeks, had a solid game. "He had the one mental error and he had one physical error where he sat a little high and got beat," Billick said. "Outside of that, he played pretty well."

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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