ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Lombardi's Way ON THE ROAD AGAIN

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It’s difficult for many fans to get excited about the Ravens chances in 2006 given that they were a 6-10 team in 2005 and only one player (Chris Chester) has been added to strengthen what clearly was the team’s weakest unit last season, the offensive line.
 
And then of course there are the lingering problems at quarterback which have yet to be resolved although most expect a solution to arrive sometime this millennium in the form of Steve McNair, just as soon as his canoe arrives in the Inner Harbor.
 
But without McNair, optimism hardly abounds, particularly when the current starting quarterback has a road record of 5-12 including 7 consecutive road losses.  The Ravens open the season on the road at Tampa and then they go to Cleveland in week 3 where Boller has failed to win as a starter.  After that the Ravens are off to Denver in week 5 under the bright lights of Monday Night Football.
 

A 2-3 start if Kyle Boller is behind center isn’t realistic – it’s optimistic.
 
Of course McNair can make a difference.  While Boller has a career winning percentage on the road of .294 despite having the league’s fifth ranked defense on average over that span, McNair has a .500 record on the road while supported by the league’s 19th best defense on average during the same period.  The added help on the defensive side of the ball along with better players at the skill positions on offense could improve McNair’s road record.
 

It has to if the Ravens are eyeing the playoffs in 2006.
 
Last year the worst road record among AFC playoff teams was 5-3, a distinction shared by Denver and New England.  Here’s a look at a few other young AFC quarterbacks and their respective road records in the NFL as starters as compared to Boller and McNair:

Quarterback
2003
2004
2005
Overall
Win Pct.
Ben Roethlisberger
DNP
7-0
9-2
16-2
.889
Carson Palmer
0-0
4-4
6-2
10-6
.625
Byron Leftwich
0-6
5-3
6-3
11-12
.478
Eli Manning
DNP
0-3
4-4
4-7
.364
Kyle Boller
2-3
3-5
0-4
5-12
.294
Steve McNair
5-3
3-1
1-5
9-9
.500
 
No matter how you slice it the Ravens must get off to a better start on the road – their head coach’s survival could depend on it.
 
When the salary cap was first implemented, its creators probably did not clearly envision the impact on veteran players.  And while teams have improved over the years in managing the cap, it remains difficult to protect aging veteran players who carry hefty contracts.  Heroes like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Eddie George and Junior Seau have all felt the sharp edge of a capologist’s scalpel.  Steve McNair appears to be next in line – a line that could also include Ray Lewis.
 

This week on GAMETIME, I talked to former Colts’ hero Bruce Laird about the delicate situation of the Ravens’ hero.
 

“The new NFL since 1993 and the salary cap, has been a boon for a lot of reasons but it’s been very difficult for older players.  [For example], let’s say you come into the league as a third round draft pick.  You get a pretty decent deal but you aren’t making the big money.  Then in your third year you become a solidified starter, you’re doing very well and from there you become somewhat of a Pro Bowl player.  Now you have a shot at the big money or the big signing bonus.”
 

“You [then] get that $7 – 12 million signing bonus.  [Then one day] you are making between $4 – 6 million per year but here comes the rub – you are a liability.  No matter where you are or how good you are, you are making too much money.  The salary cap is going to force the organization, whether it’s the Baltimore Ravens or the Dallas Cowboys or Seattle Seahawks, the organization is going to be forced to make an economic decision and say to a player like Ray, ‘Ray we love you, we want you here but we’re going to bring you back for a lot less money.  If you want to continue to play here, that’s what we’re going to have to do.  If you want to fine, if not we’re going to have to release you.’”
 

“And that’s the reality of the situation.”
 
The Ravens’ difficult cap decisions began with Peter Boulware.  They’ll continue with Ray and other Ravens players who have contributed for many years.  As Laird indicated, it’s the new NFL.
 

It’s the nature of the beast.
 
No Titans’ fan ever envisioned Steve McNair wearing the colors of the hated Ravens, a team Nashville despises much like Baltimore despises the Pittsburgh Steelers and their colors.
 
Could you imagine the Terrible Taliban waving those rags for No. 52 adorned in black and gold?

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, Guinness, Orange Crushes and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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