Billick puts himself on the spot as play-call

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There are virtually no more scapegoats left following Jim Fassel's ouster as the Baltimore Ravens' offensive coordinator. It's officially Ravens coach Brian Billick's show moving forward as he returned to his play-calling roots by installing himself Tuesday as the offensive coordinator.

For a coach who was nearly fired by owner Steve Bisciotti after a 6-10 campaign last year, Billick potentially just warmed up his own hot seat by removing Fassel. There is no more insulation between Billick and the fate of the offense.

Billick used to be regularly labeled as a genius during his high-octane stint as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator, but he doesn't appear to be operating under any illusions of recapturing those record-setting heights.

With an offense ranked 28th in the league and averaging 18.3 points per game, Baltimore (4-2) is merely trying to regain some form of effectiveness and efficiency after committing a total of six turnovers in two consecutive losses.

"If we are successful, if we're able to maintain the profile of a winning team battling at the front of the division and going into the playoffs," Billick said, "and if we somehow are able to manufacture a more consistent and productive offense, it's not going to be because of any individual brilliance on my part."

Billick hasn't regularly called plays since arriving in Baltimore in 1999 before handing the duties over to former offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.

Billick built his reputation with the Vikings. Especially in 1998 when they eclipsed the NFL record for points scored in a season with 556. That team scored 53 of 56 times inside opponents' 20-yard line, and registered a team-record 41 touchdowns.

Now, Billick is looking to breathe life into a dormant offense. Only once in his eight-year tenure have the Ravens ranked in the top half of the NFL in total offense, finishing 14th in 2001.

The Vikings' gifted triumvirate of Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Robert Smith bears no resemblance, though, to the Ravens' sputtering attack.

"When I worked for Denny Green as an offensive coordinator, I understood what he wanted in an offense," Billick said. "Denny was very hands-off with regards to letting me call it, but was an invaluable resource for me as I did that."

This edition of the Ravens lacks an identity. It doesn't run or pass particularly well or with any proven benchmark it can rely upon in trying situations.

Most of the time, the Ravens are forced to punt with rookie Sam Koch getting plenty of exercise already.

Averaging 271.7 yards of total offense, the Ravens have attempted 372 total plays this season. They've run the ball 160 times for 566 yards, a 3.5 average per carry and two touchdowns. They've thrown the ball 200 times for 1,141 yards, an average of 5.71 yards per attempt and five touchdowns.

"You try to run the ball effectively, we try to muscle people, we try to trick people, we've screened, we've emptied the backfield, we've used multiple personnel groupings," Billick said. "We'll continue to try to present as complex a picture to the defense as we can, but stay true to the integrity of the talents of our players."

This is Billick's opportunity to put his own singular imprint on the offense. He emphasized that he'll have plenty of input from his assistant coaches to formulate game plans, but he'll be firmly in charge.

"There has to be a guy who says what we'll do," Billick said. "It has to have a certain level of competence and experience. Right now offensively with where we're at, I believe I'm in the best position to do that to move forward."

There are those who would argue, though, that the Ravens have been running Billick's adaptation of the West Coast offense all along.

"There's a big difference between being a play-caller and running your offense," Fassel told ESPN after being fired. "Calling plays doesn't matter. It's who's structuring that thing."

With Fassel's departure, at least the constant debate over who was responsible for any particular call, good or bad, has been erased.

"If there was any ambiguity, that should be removed," Billick said.

NOTE: The Ravens re-signed wide receiver Clarence Moore after he cleared waivers and cut linebacker Dennis Haley. Haley is eligible to be re-signed to the practice squad.

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

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