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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the aftermath of Jim Fassel’s exit and Brian Billick’s entrance as the Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator, an ineffectual offense is hoping that something will change about its points-starved status.
With the Ravens (4-2) ranked 28th in total offense, mired in a two-game losing streak and no longer alone atop the AFC North, the consensus in the locker room is that something dramatic had to happen.
“Something was necessary,” said offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden regarding an offense averaging 18.3 points per game. “We were stagnant and couldn’t get things going. It was a little drastic, I suppose, but something had to be done along those lines.”
Structurally, the Ravens aren’t being overhauled.
As Billick said last week prior to firing Fassel, a long-time friend who departs after a power struggle and allegations that he didn’t work hard enough and was too consumed with his ambition to become a head coach again, it’s not as if they’re going to install the wishbone.
A grim-faced Billick didn’t offer anything specific Monday when asked what imprint he’s hoping to make as a full-time play-caller for the first time since 1999. His terse reply: “More production.”
It’s clear, though, that tangible changes are afoot. At least in the sense that Billick had seen enough of an attack averaging 271.7 yards of total offense, a franchise-low average of 94.3 rushing yards and 177.3 passing yards per contest.
Billick has adopted a more hands-on approach heading into Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints (5-1) at the Louisiana Superdome.
“He’s come in and established what he wants to do,” center Mike Flynn said. “He was pretty assertive in the meeting with where he’s coming from, what we’re going to change, what we’re going to put in and what we’re going to take out.
“I think they studied the tape and know what’s not working. He’s watched this team from afar for a while, so we have a lot of confidence in what we can do out there.”
Baltimore has only rushed for two touchdowns as featured back Jamal Lewis (352 yards) is averaging 3.6 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, quarterback Steve McNair, who was limited in his first practice since sustaining a concussion, has performed even worse. He has thrown seven interceptions and five touchdowns for a 64.1 passer rating.
Wide receiver Derrick Mason, the offense’s most vociferous critic, didn’t sound convinced that anything will be much different. When asked if Billick’s imprint will result in a major turnaround, he replied: “I don’t know.”
When asked if Fassel needed to be fired, Mason said: “That’s something you need to ask coach Billick, coordinator Billick.”
What Mason is certain of is that it’s fairly irrelevant who calls the plays if the blocking, catching, running and throwing isn’t upgraded.
“They thought they needed to make a change, so they made it,” Mason said. “Regardless of who’s calling the plays, the players have to go out there and make it work. Obviously we’re not changing anything dramatically on offense, so what does that tell you?
“It tells you the players have to execute and make the game plan work, somehow, some way. I’m hoping, and I have confidence that regardless of who’s calling the plays, with the week off we can come back and make this offense go."
When the team reassembled Sunday after the bye week, they received a detailed explanation from Billick in a meeting regarding Fassel’s dismissal.
“He explained what happened and why he did it,” Mason said. “We’re all grown men. We understand what the situation is and we understand why it happened and why it had to happen and now what we have to do is put it behind us.”
Added Flynn: “In general, I know Brian is a loyal guy and they’re friends. You don’t see that too often in the NFL, an in-season change like that. But it was a situation where he felt it was the right thing to do.
“He felt he we had enough talent on this team. He thought he could do a good job calling the plays and he wanted the responsibility. If you were going to make a move, that was the time to do it.”
Billick’s daily itinerary has undergone a groundswell change as the majority of his time is devoted now to overseeing the offense.
“It changes my routine a little bit, but I’ve got good people around me to fill in the gaps when my focus has to go to one thing,” Billick said.
Billick spent the bye week reviewing what did and didn’t work so far this season and implementing a game plan for the Saints.
“You put yourself in that mindset and you play the game at least 100 times before you actually get to the game,” Billick said.
One immediate, unsubtle change was Billick’s presence in the huddle whereas in the past he was more of a big-picture coach who made comments, but wasn’t involved in every single facet of the operation.
“He’s more interactive with the offense, being in our huddle as opposed to being an observer,” Flynn said. “I just have confidence that he’s going to put us in the right position to succeed.”
Added Mason: “We get to see coach Billick a lot more. Not only are we talking to our offensive coordinator, but we’re talking to our head coach as well. It’s kind of weird.
“I’ve always had a coordinator and I’ve always had a head coach be separate. That’s not to say that we can’t adapt and move forward.”
With the Ravens ranked 26 in rushing and 25th in passing overall, Billick said he’s open to suggestions from players.
“I always get input,” he said.
“I’m sure he wants to know how we feel,” Ogden said.
Using Billick’s adaptation of the West Coast offense, though, the Ravens have only ranked in the top half of the NFL in total offense once. They finished 14th overall in 2001.
Now, they’re hoping Billick’s direct involvement overseeing his system can make a difference.
“The bottom line is, no matter who’ve you got calling plays, Bill Walsh, whoever, it doesn’t really matter,” Ogden said. “If you don’t go out there and do it, then nothing’s going to work. Hopefully, things will be a little more well-oiled.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson


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