Billick: 'Run the damn ball'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Except for a nagging inner voice compelling him toward a conservative approach with a lead, there were few drawbacks for Brian Billick in launching his dual role as head coach and offensive coordinator.

With Billick assuming play-calling duties in the wake of firing offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, the Baltimore Ravens' offense underwent a revival in a 35-22 victory Sunday over the New Orleans Saints.
Everything was going according to plan for Billick, the offensive coordinator, as Baltimore scored three offensive touchdowns and generated 16 first downs by halftime, until Billick, the head coach, asserted his authority.
"Once things went a certain way and we got up, the head coach came over to me and said, 'Psst! Run the ball, OK?'" Billick joked. "So that's what the coordinator did, he ran the ball because we were in pretty good shape."
Just in case there was any confusion, Billick, the offensive coordinator, asked himself for a clarification: "You're sure?"
The final word from the head coach: "Run the damn ball."
So, the Ravens (5-2) did and improved to 42-1 under Billick when holding a 14-point lead. Now, they're alone atop the AFC North with a one-game lead over the Cincinnati Bengals who head to town Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
One day removed from running back Jamal Lewis gaining a season-high 109 yards on 31 carries, climbing from 28th overall to 26th in the league on offense after registering 293 yards and building a 13-minute advantage in time of possession, Billick was in a fairly jovial mood after snapping a two-game losing streak.
"We played very well, and I enjoyed myself," said Billick, who declined to elaborate on whether he should have fired Fassel sooner than Oct. 17 during the bye week.
It was Billick's first stint as a full-time play-caller since arriving in Baltimore in 1999 after a record-setting stint as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator. The offense Baltimore unveiled against the Saints didn't resemble that sort of high-octane attack, but it was effective, organized and devoid of interceptions.
From snap to snap, the Raven blended a power running game, spread formations featuring four wide receivers and no backs and employed quarterback Steve McNair's mobility on designed rollouts and half-waggles.
The play-action pass was back in vogue for the Ravens as McNair completed passes of 12, 17, 30, 14 and 22 yards in the first half with a few more deep throws than usual.
Billick acknowledged that instead of streamlining the offense he actually installed a few new wrinkles.
"I'm sure it had to give [the Saints] some consideration where they wonder how different will it be with coach Billick calling it: ‘He's kind of crazy,'" Billick said.
The Ravens converted eight of their 14 third-down tries, had just one turnover and outrushed the Saints 137-35.
McNair posted a season-high 121.5 passer rating as he completed 17 of 23 throws for two touchdowns and ran for another. He nearly doubled the 64.1 passer rating that he entered the game with.
"He has split personalities, I think he can yell at himself now," McNair said of Billick. "The energy level and attention to the little things has been raised since he took over. I sense everyone likes what he has put in, and the way he called the game in New Orleans."
After reviewing the film, though, there was a definite sense that the Ravens had only scratched the surface on offense.
Particularly in the running game where Lewis ran determinedly out of a dusted-off I-formation. However, the former Pro Bowl runner missed several holes with a lack of ideal vision and decisions that had him colliding into his blockers.
"Jamal ran hard, but we left some yards on the table," Billick said. "That could have very easily been a 150-160 yard rushing day. That comes down to the reads, the blocking schemes. It could have been better."
The Ravens built a 28-7 advantage by halftime, but only scored once in the second half on rookie safety Dawan Landry's interception return. "We got off to a good start," offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "This is at least more like what we're capable of offensively. We've got a ways to go."
Afterward, Ogden said he maintained order by using a few choice words instead of waiting for Billick to step in.
"I've got really good people around me," Billick said. "I told the players they're going to have to cover me a little bit and let me know when I need to put more of that head-coaching cap on."
It didn't hurt the Ravens' cause that they had some luck, though, as McNair forced a short-armed pass through three defenders for a deflected touchdown to tight end Todd Heap.
"That was one of those great designs to have it ricochet off three defenders," Billick said. "You had an entire staff yelling, ‘No!' when he let go of that ball. Sometimes, things kind of fall your way."
The Ravens averaged 4.7 yards per offensive play, 6.5 per pass play and 3.7 per run. They converted all three of their red-zone shots with touchdowns. Now, Billick is looking to expand on that benchmark.
"To maintain the efficiency on the third down, the completion percentage, the commitment to the run, the checking, to build on it," Billick said. "I've kind of got them now. If I don't get it, I can be pretty demanding because I've seen them do it right. We've set a standard."

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

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