Notebook: Billick critical of running game

OWINGS MILLS -- Although Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick was relentlessly upbeat Monday during his wrap-up-the-season press conference, at least one shortcoming didn't escape his criticism.

A running game that ranked 25th in the NFL during the regular season is in definite need of an upgrade.

When asked if the rushing offense was productive enough, Billick replied: "I wouldn't put it on the running backs. Was the running game? No. Our commitment to the run was very clear-cut. Do we need more productivity out of our running game? Probably so.

"That will be something that will require a great deal of our time and attention over the next few months to see what we can do to improve that."

Against the NFL's worst-ranked run defense, former Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis was limited to 53 yards in a 15-6 playoff loss Saturday to the Indianapolis Colts.

"It's frustrating, when you can't get the running game cranked up and take advantage of their weakness," Lewis said. "We just didn't get it going."

In the first half, Lewis gained 42 yards on nine carries, but was only given the ball four times in the second half for 11 yards.

When asked if he wished he had run the ball more, Billick said: "Boy, you can take any game and make those types of comments. The obligations that I have going forward right now don't allow me to dwell on it real hard."

In other words, Billick wasn't going to touch that hot potato.

Lewis rushed for 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns, but only gained 100 yards twice and showed no ability to break away from the defense.

The former NFL Offensive Player of the Year's future with the team is in doubt because of his declining numbers and his contract as he's due a $5 million option bonus before free agency begins along with a $5 million base salary next season. Billick, though, praised Lewis' performance and attitude.

"I thought Jamal played very well, very hard," Billick said. "I've never seen Jamal as into what we were doing and trying to get better. His pass protection was outstanding and that's just a conscious effort on a player's part that I'm going to be a complete team member, and it was outstanding this year."

PASSING ON RYAN: None of the NFL teams with head coaching vacancies has contacted Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan for an interview after he led Baltimore to the top defensive ranking, and no interview appears imminent.

"Very surprised because I know how capable he is," Billick said. "I have no doubt that will happen at some point."

SUPER BOWL OR BUST: A major part of the disappointment stemming from the early departure from the postseason is due to the team's belief that it could have won the Super Bowl.

"Their shock and their dismay and frustration was that they truly believe, and I think rightfully, that they were capable of being that," Billick said. "That's where the frustration is even heightened in knowing how good you were capable of being."

QUICK HITS: Billick had little insight into whether 10-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden will retire. "Jonathan, like a lot of players at that point is going through a very gut-wrenching time," he said. "Jonathan is the only one who can answer that question. It may be a while before Jonathan makes that decision, and we'll certainly be respectful about that." … Billick claimed that he hadn't seen wide receiver Derrick Mason's comments about being underappreciated an underutilized in the offense. "I haven't talked to Derrick yet, we will at the appropriate time, if he finds it necessary," Billick said. Later on, though, Billick hinted that Mason's situation could change and that the chemistry would need to be addressed again. "We will have to recreate that connection whether it be a Derrick Mason, Jonathan Ogden or any other player whose circumstance may now change," said Billick, alluding to the fact that several contract situations will be up in the air after next season. "That will be a little different next year, and we'll have to deal with that." … Billick denied that the history of the Colts in Baltimore and the fans' zeal became too much of a burden. "No, it was not a hindrance at all," he said. "It wasn't an additional burden for those players to carry. They understood the passion of the fans." … Billick opined this was a time to separate himself from the business aspect in terms of his interaction with players like pending free agent Pro Bowl linebacker Adalius Thomas. "It's now up to the business side saying, ‘Can we make this fit?'" Billick said. "Clearly, they know our affection for them, our appreciation for what they've done and how we'd love to have them back as a part of our organization."

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

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