The four quarters the Ravens played yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals could have just as easily been quarters 5-8 at Heinz field in a continuation of last Monday’s stomping at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens managed, yet again, to turn the ball over 6 times, 3 by quarterback Steve McNair. “Error” McNair (the people have spoken) was every bit as dreadful in the nice weather and friendly confines of B-More as he was in the hostile, rainy territory last week. In what could very well have been the final start of his career, “Error”:
1. threw an interception from the Bengals’ 2-yard line in the waning moments of the first half with the chance to put the Ravens on top;
2. fumbled while trying to scramble for a first down, on a play that further convinced us that he completely forgets there are other players on the field (on either team) once he leaves the pocket, at which point he carries the ball like a loaf of bread; and
McNair’s 2 fumbles led directly to 2 Shayne Graham field goals, while his interception was the difference between going into halftime leading by a point (or, at the worst, trailing by 3) and entering the break scoreless and trailing 6-0.
Steve McNair is a shell of his former self, and even after all his defiance earlier in the week, sounded like a beaten man sitting at his locker last night. He basically resigned himself to serving as Kyle Boller’s backup moving forward, saying, “This is probably the lowest point of my career I’ve ever had, these last two games. What do I need to do about it? What is the answer? I don’t know. I’m playing hard, doing all I can to help this team, but it’s just not there.” Against a team that had been allowing 30.5 points per game, Steve McNair’s offense was shut out for the entirety of his 50 minutes in the game. Don’t be surprised to hear that Kyle Boller will get the start against Cleveland next week.
Boller, who relieved McNair with 10 minutes to go, made some throws against Cincinnati’s soft prevent defense, and was at least able to get the Ravens on the board. However, he also reminded us why he is not the answer, as he threw an ill-advised pass in triple coverage resulting in an interception in the end zone. Some Ravens fans out there are currently deluding themselves into thinking Boller will be the savior of this team. If this is you, we ask that you only look back to the scoreboard scorching goose-egg the Boller-led Ravens put up in the first half in Buffalo 3 weeks ago for your much-needed splash of cold water to the face. Say it with us: Boller is not the answer. That being said, Kyle obviously gives the Ravens a better chance to win than McNair at this point, and at the very least the games will be more exciting to watch.
The bigger problem (yes, bigger than a QB who is apparently allergic to the ball), remains the questionable coaching of Brian Billick. Inexplicably, Compu-Coach again went pass-happy, despite running back Willis McGahee gashing the Bengal defense for chunks of yardage with seemingly every touch. On the Ravens’ second possession of the game, the play sequence was:
Run, Run resulting in a 1st down, Run, Pass, Pass, Pass resulting in a 1st down, Pass, Run, Run, Pass – turnover on downs
5 Runs, 5 Passes – seems like a balanced attack, but we would argue that there is NO NEED for balance when you have a quarterback who is showing definite signs of rust, injury, age, etc., and are able to move the ball on the ground at will, which the Ravens were. McGahee had 54 yards on 11 carries in the first half, nearly 5 yards per carry, and yet, trailing by less than a touchdown, the Ravens came out in the second half with the following play sequence:
On their second possession of the 2nd half, trailing 9-0:
Pass, Run, Pass, Punt
This kind of head-scratch-inducing play calling is obviously nothing new to us Ravens fans (see the RUN THE DAMN BALL I & II games), but that doesn’t make it any less painful to watch, especially when it results in losses. Throughout his tenure in B-More, Coach Billick’s inadequacies as far as Xs-and-Os go have been masked by the big-play ability of the vaunted purple-and-black defense. However, when the defense falters, whether it be by allowing touchdowns instead of field goals (as we saw last week) or by not coming up with turnovers to put the offense in good field position (as we saw yesterday), the team has not fared well. Relying on the defense to bail them out has been the Ravens’ M.O. for 9 years, but we fear the well has run dry this season. Injuries, age, and personnel losses have all taken a toll, and the D, while still one of the unquestioned best in the NFL, may not be able to shoulder the entire load as we have become accustomed to. There will be no mentions of the P-word moving forward, as any hopes of Arizona this year are nothing but a pipe dream. The focus now needs to be on taking whatever steps necessary to fix what ails the offense, so as to leave the embarrassments of the past two games in the past. The Ravens’ have become a laughing stock quickly, due to nothing more than their inability to put points on the board in a league where the rules are designed to produce big scores. They are humiliating themselves as well as their fans with their ineptitude, and something has to give. What that something will be, we are as interested to see as the rest of you.