Skidding Ravens hoping bye rejuvenates them

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- For an NFL team that ranks atop the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens definitely have a lot of issues to address during a brief vacation from football. Heading into a bye this week, the Ravens' offense is sputtering and ranks fifth from the bottom of the league.

The third-ranked and usually stingy defense just allowed 414 yards of total offense in a 23-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday for the most surrendered by Baltimore since a Dec. 15, 2004 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
The secondary unraveled. Especially cornerback Samari Rolle, who allowed two touchdowns. Players are griping about the downward spiral, most notably running back Jamal Lewis and wide receiver Derrick Mason, who has emerged as the most outspoken critic of the offense.
A two-game losing streak has dampened the mood in the locker room.
"Sitting for two weeks with the taste of a loss in your mouth is not going to be fun," tight end Todd Heap said. "Hopefully, we can all reflect and figure out what we need to do to get better as a team."
Nonetheless, Baltimore (4-2) remains a half-game ahead of Cincinnati in the standings.
Because of a major turnaround from last year's 6-10 campaign and his belief that his team might not need a little rejuvenation, Ravens coach Brian Billick said he never reconsidered his decision to give the players off until resuming practice Sunday.
"There's nothing we could get out of this week, physically or mentally, that would help us more than the rest that we need right now," Billick said. "The main thing is to get our energy back and to get healed up to take on the challenge because we've got a lot of tough football ahead of us."
Quarterback Steve McNair, who's expected to start against the New Orleans Saints after the bye following a concussion that knocked him out of Sunday's loss, has thrown seven interceptions and five touchdowns for a 64.1 passer rating.
Dramatic changes aren't in store for a team searching for an offensive identity while saddled with a running game averaging a franchise-low 94.3 per contest and a passing game producing 177.3 yards per game.
"You can't be unrealistic," Billick said. "We are not going to start running the wishbone and defensively run the Tampa 2. It's just not going to happen."
One major emphasis for Billick and the coaching staff, which was granted a few days off for the first time since training camp began, is trying to cut down on turnovers.
Baltimore has thrown five interceptions in the past two games with three turnovers apiece in consecutive losses to the Denver Broncos and Panthers.
"The No. 1 thing to me right now is probably the turnovers," Billick said. "To beat Denver and a team the caliber of Carolina, just take one of those turnovers, just one, away. We can win a lot of football games if we don't turn the ball over the way we have."
Or if the Ravens cover receivers better and communicate better in the secondary.
It has been a rough month for Rolle, who has been used for target practice lately. Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme threw at Rolle 11 times on Sunday, connecting eight times for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
Rolle was supposed to have help over the top from safety Ed Reed on Steve Smith's game-clinching, 72-yard touchdown, but Reed never showed up and Smith easily beat Rolle to the right corner of the end zone.
In another troubling trend, Rolle has allowed four touchdown passes in the past four games.
"What happens is that Samari comes in and makes a commitment to work harder and recognizes that he needs to approach it a little bit differently," Billick said. "I had a great conversation with Samari and he's an excellent corner. We have a great deal of faith in him.
"He has done a couple of things technique-wise, alignment-wise, been left vulnerable a couple of ways that certainly he's not going to point fingers."
Meanwhile, Lewis complained after a season-low nine carries for 41 yards about being taken out shortly after a 17-yard run, adding that the coaches "pumped the brakes" on the running game. His response to Billick's statement about sticking with a hot hand: "I just feel like it's smoke being blown."
Mason was nearly as disheartened after not catching a pass for the first time this season "Right now, football isn't fun," he said. "To hell with football right now."
Billick isn't immune to or unaware of his players' discontent that's being voiced more and more. However, he declined to escalate the situation by responding in kind.
"There is no upside to responding to the frustrations of the game, of a player," Billick said. "The biggest mistake is not that someone would speak out of frustration. The biggest mistake a team can make is someone else responding to it just so you can respond to it.
"Derrick made some comments, I know Jamal made some comments. It's a frustrating time, but I'm not going to exacerbate the situation by embarrassing them and I hope they will understand that we all want the same thing."

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

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