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It seems that the Ravens have at least one of these types of games annually â€“ losing to a team they are supposed to beat. Such was the case in Cleveland. Itâ€™s as though they just show up at times and punch the clock. Itâ€™s as though they think that through their mere presence alone, something will happen given the massive collection of talent that they have and one of their playmakers will eventually take control of the game.
The trouble is, not many of their playmakers are really making plays. Not Terrell Suggs, not Ray Lewis, not Steve McNair, not Mark Clayton, not Bart Scott and not Chris McAlister.
Itâ€™s interesting that for years the Ravens defense has made up for the inefficiencies of its offense. They have carried the team and for the most part, there has seldom been any public finger pointing despite the lack of balance between the offense and defense.
But like the cracks that are beginning to surface in the Ravens defense, there are hints that the teamâ€™s solidarity is beginning to weaken, starting with the face of the Ravens, Ray Lewis.
â€œItâ€™s a team sport,â€ Lewis said. â€œTrying to be political. Trying to always say the right thing. Sooner or later, you get tired of making excuses. This is the NFL. Youâ€™re going to give up points. It happens. But you have to ask: Is it the defensive side?â€
Yesterday I wrote in this very column that the Ravens are beginning to resemble the 2005 squad â€“ a talented team that severely underperformed. That season they fell apart. Rumors surfaced about Lewisâ€™ disdain for Kyle Boller and Brian Billickâ€™s seemingly undying support of his young quarterback.
Then Lewis suffered a severe hamstring injury in Chicago that would sideline him for the season. It was a mysterious injury that was allegedly treated by Lewisâ€™ own doctors and not those affiliated with the Ravens medical staff. The hamstring was said to have nearly torn from the bone yet word surfaced that Lewis practiced with the team just after sustaining the injury. Still he never played another down after Chicago.
During the 2006 offseason, Lewis complained about the teamâ€™s direction and on a national stage provided by ESPN, Lewis said if the Ravens werenâ€™t going to use him properly and get him the support he needed, then they should â€œlet me go.â€
Now here we are just about two years later and the similarities between the situations are eerily similar.
Back in 2005, the Ravens went into Chicago with a 2-3 record hoping to pull to an even .500 mark on the season. The slop of Soldier Field was matched only by the sloppy play of the Ravens. They fell to 2-4 and had to win the final two games of the season to cap the campaign at a mark of 6-10.
Brian Billickâ€™s job was in jeopardy and if not for a lack of desirable available replacement candidates, Billick may have been terminated. Of course he was not and the team rebounded extremely well in â€™06 finishing at 13-3.
Many praised Billick for placing the team above his personal feelings including several of the players. If Billick was willing to fire a dear friend for the benefit of the team, then the team would be willing to go to war for Billick. The move was successful on many fronts.
The Ravens improved offensively even though the red zone difficulties continued. In fact since 2003 the year Billick anointed Boller his starter the Ravens have been a bottom feeder in red zone efficiency:
Was the offensive improvement in â€™06 coincidental? Did Billick really make that much of a difference? Would the improvement have occurred naturally as a byproduct of Steve McNairâ€™s familiarity with the offense?
Yet by the end of 2006 the offense stalled again and it looked very much like the Fassel led offense and the Cavanaugh led offense. And that hasnâ€™t changed even a little bit in 2007.
The one thing that has changed is the defense. Adalius Thomas is gone and Trevor Pryce is down. Offenses are rolling attention now towards Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Bart Scott and the result is a lack of pressure on the quarterback and more pressure on a banged up secondary. Billickâ€™s offense simply canâ€™t pick up the slack.
The promised explosives have not been delivered and if Lewisâ€™ comments are any indication, this team could be closer to implosive than explosive.
The Ravens are flirting with disaster.
Make no mistake about it, Sunday is a must win for the Ravens against the Trent Dilfer led 49ers.
If you think Iâ€™m overreacting and painting an unnecessary â€œsky is fallingâ€ scenario, then just wait until Monday if they lose.