Ravens facing a quarterback quandary

OWINGS MILLS -- As embattled Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller continues to audition for his future, his statistics suggest that his tenure has been a colossal failure. Despite raised expectations based on the encouraging way he finished last season, the 2003 first-round draft pick is the lowest-rated starter in the NFL with a 60.5 passer rating.

"I need to play a lot better," Boller said following the Ravens' 42-29 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. "I need to go out there and execute."

Ravens coach Brian Billick is focusing on Boller's intangibles while continuing to determine whether the team will stick with the third-year starter beyond this season.

When the Ravens (3-8) defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime two weeks ago, Billick lauded Boller's physical toughness. Especially how he absorbed a big hit from safety Troy Polamalu that injured his back.

After the loss to the Bengals where Boller's three turnovers led to 17 points, Billick complimented him for his mental toughness.

Boller began the game an erratic 4-for-15 for 37 yards, but went on a 14-for-17 tear for 174 yards and three touchdown passes as Bengals coach Marvin Lewis installed a prevent defense and substituted starters in the second half.

"The way he came back and responded under those circumstances, I don't know if anybody can question his mental toughness," Billick said. "Whether that all adds up to being a good quarterback, that's what we'll work through.

"If Kyle is or is not a good quarterback, it won't be because of a lack of those two things [mental and physical toughness]. Hopefully, we're going to answer some other questions over the next five games."

Boller was drafted 19th overall out of California-Berkeley after Baltimore traded its 2004 first-round draft pick to the New England Patriots. In essence, the Ravens have invested two first-round draft picks and millions of dollars in Boller.

This season, Boller has thrown four touchdown passes and seven interceptions with a long completion of 35 yards.

In 29 career starts, Boller has a 15-14 record. He has completed 447 of 812 career passes (55 percent) for 4,476 yards, 24 touchdowns and 27 interceptions for a 66.9 passer rating.

Extrapolating his numbers for this season based on Boller continuing at his current level of production for the next five starts, he would finish 2005 with 956 passing yards, six touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

His major shortcomings have been an inability to look off defensive backs while locking onto his chosen receiver, throwing off his back foot and employing a frenetic, rushed pace that often leads to miscues.

After a disturbing sequence that included a lost fumble, multiple slips on the damp artificial turf and two interceptions by the third quarter at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium, Boller did earn some respect for not quitting Sunday. After being alone on the bench and staring at the ground in disgust, the 24-year-old Southern California native fought back.

"Anybody else would have just quit being down 34-0, but he stayed poised and stayed with it," receiver Derrick Mason said. "A guy like that, hands down, I would go to battle with him any day because I know no matter what the situation is he's going to stay in there and help this team out."

When asked to assess Boller's technical progress in a week where the quarterback acknowledged missing reads and not seeing Bengals safety Ifeanyi Ohalete on his second interception, Billick was noncommittal: "Good and bad. Some better than last week, some maybe not."

The Ravens will face many difficult decisions after this dreadful season.

Should they keep Boller, draft another quarterback, sign a veteran like Cincinnati backup Jon Kitna or trade for a promising backup such as Atlanta's Matt Schaub or Tennessee's Billy Volek?

There's also the matter of Billick's job security, considering the team's underachieving season and the fact that he endorsed Boller and chose to start him as a rookie ahead of Chris Redman. Both Boller and Billick are under contract through 2007.

Boller missed his final six starts as a rookie after beginning the season 5-4 and injuring his leg in a loss to the St. Louis Rams. He hyperextended his right big toe in the season-opener this year and has been limited to four starts.

"We'll see how he finishes what amounts to his second year," Billick said. "And we'll know a lot."

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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