Ravens: Plenty of blame to go around

OWINGS MILLS -- In a gloomy football season wrought with indignities, insults and rampant failure, virtually everything about the last-place Baltimore Ravens is being scrutinized. The franchise once perceived to be the bullies of the league is now figuratively sporting a bloody nose and missing teeth. That graphic description comes from offensive tackle Orlando Brown who profanely vowed to keep fighting despite being out of playoff contention.

With four consecutive losses, the Ravens (2-7) are left wondering what's wrong with this team. Answers are elusive for an underachieving outfit that ranks last in the NFL in scoring (11.1 points), hasn't scored a touchdown in 11 quarters and is the only team that hasn't scored 20 points.

"It's gut-check time. At 2-7, something's not right," injured Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed said. "Something has not been right.

"We all need to say, ‘What can we do better? What have we been doing that we need to change?' You don't point everything at the man upstairs."

The future of the man upstairs, Ravens coach Brian Billick, is being openly debated. Under contract through 2007 and reportedly making $4.5 million annually, Billick is deemed to be on the hot seat nationally and locally.

Billick has even channeled "The Art of War" by ancient Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu for inspiration and guidance.

"Some will question whether I am the right one to lead this challenge," Billick wrote in his online diary. "That too is justified. Clearly, this is by far the most challenging and difficult a task as I have ever faced in my professional career."

Billick owns a Super Bowl ring and has a career mark of 63-49 in seven seasons, but will likely be absent from the playoffs for two years in a row.

"Billick is not the only one to blame here," said cornerback Chris McAlister, who denied that locker room chemistry is at the root of the Ravens' problems. "You have to look at players. You have to look at personnel. You have to look everywhere.

"The bottom line is everybody's not coming back. That happens every year whether you win the Super Bowl or don't win the Super Bowl."

When asked to evaluate Billick's performance, Brown replied: "I like coach. Whoever coaches, I like ‘em."

Could the message be getting stale from Billick who tapes his speeches to the team to evaluate their effectiveness?

"You do try to keep the message fresh," Billick said. "By the same token, you can't change a fundamental truth. The observations that players might be tuning coaches out are very predictable from a conventional perspective rather than a factual perspective."

The reasons why a team projected as a Super Bowl darkhorse has faltered have been well-documented.

The red-zone has become the dead zone, ranking third from the bottom. The team has a minus-11 turnover margin, last in the AFC, and hasn't scored on defense. Star running back Jamal Lewis has gained only 480 yards, an average of 53.3 yards.

"We all collectively deserve the blame," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Everybody has the blame from me to the practice-squad guys. We're all involved in the success and failure of this team."

Besides Billick, embattled quarterback Kyle Boller has drawn scathing criticism. Auditioning for his future, Boller has no touchdowns and four interceptions for a 44.0 passer rating in two starts.

Former Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe took a harsh verbal shot at Boller on Monday that rivals the sandwich hit the quarterback absorbed in a 30-3 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars that earned him a spot on ESPN's "Jacked-Up" segment.

"I'm convinced that Kyle Boller can't play," Sharpe said on his satellite radio show. "I have seen nothing in his mechanics. I've seen nothing in his ability. I've seen nothing that would indicate to me that you can build a franchise around this guy. Here's the thing: Kyle Boller plays just good enough to get him cut and you fired, which is a lose-lose situation."

A 2003 first-round draft pick under contract through 2007, Boller dismissed the caustic remarks.

"Shannon Sharpe, come on man, what he has to say means nothing to me," Boller said. "I know what mistakes I made. Obviously, he wants to point it out. It's pretty easy sitting behind a chair and saying this, saying that.

"I got my teammates behind me. I need to listen to those people. It doesn't matter what Shannon Sharpe says."

Heading into Sunday's game against the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens are striving for more than a win. Contracts and livelihoods are on the line for impending free agents and older veterans. These are grim times.

"It's hard to get motivated sometimes when you're 2-7 when you're never been 2-7, when you're out of contention for the playoffs, getting a ring," said Brown in a profanity-laced interview. "My mindset, my motivation is I'm going to [mess] something up. If I ain't getting a ring, I'm going to [mess] something up.

"This is our job, our career, how we feed our families. So, if you're smart you go out there and do your job."

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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