Ravens' frustrations hit boiling point

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Jonathan Ogden was angry enough about what transpired offensively to confront coach Brian Billick, and the veteran offensive tackle threw his helmet on the sidelines for good measure.

Inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room following a 28-6 victory Sunday over the hapless Oakland Raiders, wide receiver Derrick Mason sounded like a disappointed teacher. In a somber, concerned voice, he gave the offense an ‘F' grade. Quarterback Steve McNair, a three-time All-Pro selection who at one point uncorked seven consecutive incompletions, noted a major lack of timing and focus.

Although the entire team contributed to the win, it was really yet another defensive masterpiece that spearheaded Baltimore to a 2-0 mark for the first time in six seasons. The Ravens won largely because their top-ranked defense collected six turnovers, including three interceptions, along with six sacks and a safety.

The shortcomings of the offense are a familiar concern, an ongoing issue for years that the Ravens hoped they had solved. Apparently not, though. Not with an offense that scored only one touchdown in six trips inside the red zone. Not with a passing game that generated only 143 yards on 16 of 33 accuracy from McNair with an interception and a 58.0 passer rating. "I wouldn't attribute it to any one thing other than we never really got our rhythm," Ravens coach Brian Billick said Monday. "We had the potential to do a great deal more offensively, given the way it was teed up for us. "We didn't deliver to the degree that we would need to against a better football team. We left ourselves a little vulnerable, and that's what we're addressing right now."

McNair, who posted his lowest passer rating in a complete game since a 30.6 rating on Oct. 17, 2004 against the Houston Texans, was under some duress. He was sacked twice and hit many more times with a lot of pressure coming up the middle. "We miscued a lot," said McNair, who's ranked 22nd among NFL quarterbacks after two games with a 74.6 rating. "It wasn't as sharp as we've been in the past, and the timing wasn't there. There were some throws I wish I could have back." McNair received a warm introduction to commemorate his regular-season debut at M&T Bank Stadium. Then, he turned in one of his worst games in years. "It fired me up," McNair said of the standing ovation. "Maybe it fired me up too much." McNair avoided several mistakes that a less-experienced passer would probably have committed, but forced the football over the middle in the fourth quarter toward tight end Todd Heap and was intercepted by Oakland middle linebacker Kirk Morrison.

Because the Ravens were leading 21-3 at the time against a team that was outscored 55-6 over the past two weeks, it didn't hurt their cause. Against a much better opponent, though, like, say, the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 1, it might be a different matter altogether. "The one interception was unfortunate where maybe he forced the ball in there," Billick said. "He would probably tell you that was ill-advised. It needs to be better. He knows that. We'll focus on the positive things and see if we can identify the negative things."

Averaging 267.5 yards per contest, the Ravens are ranked 24th in the league in total offense. "We're looking to get more consistent in the passing game, more efficient in the run game, looking to protect Steve better," Ogden said. "Nobody starts off great. Everybody just improves as they go along, and that's what we've got to continue to do."

The Ravens averaged only 3.7 yards per pass attempt and had a long completion of 30 yards to wide receiver Mark Clayton for his only reception. During the first two games, there hasn't been a true vertical aspect to the passing game. With 324 yards on 33 completions, McNair has completed 55 percent of his throws. However, he's averaging only 5.4 yards per attempt and 9.8 yards per completion.

Against the Raiders, the Ravens continued to employ with a fairly conservative scheme that only included roughly five long attempts out of 33 passes. Billick indicated that he'd like to throw deep more often to boost the big-play ratio. "Probably need more," he said. "There's a certain ratio. We are probably right at that, maybe a little shy. That's something we have to improve upon."

Several players, including Ogden, running back Jamal Lewis and Mason, expressed frustration with the situation. Mason used sarcasm to stress that the offense needs to pull its own weight, saying perhaps the defense could score points if things don't improve. "They wanted to do better and that frustration showed," Billick said. "The key is how to you communicate it. The frustration gets to a boiling point. "What we're doing a good job of is taking a deep breath and saying, ‘What point do you want to make?' It's hard to do when it's very emotional like that."

Despite the offensive problems, the Ravens are 2-0 for the first time since 2000 -- the year they won the Super Bowl -- and are looking to go 3-0 for the first time ever Sunday in Cleveland. The Browns are winless, but they beat Baltimore 20-16 in the 2005 season finale, perhaps decreasing the chances of overlooking a traditional AFC North rival. "We didn't feel very good about that," Billick said. "We've got to have respect. How do you disrespect someone that just beat you?"

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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