Sports Outside the Beltway

Billick, McNair and Boller

After the Ravens’ 13-3 playoff run last year, this year’s 4-5 record is a huge disappointment. At this point it’s a better bet that the Ravens will finish 6 – 10 than 10 – 6. In other words, it would be a miracle for this team to make the playoffs.

This has gotten a lot of fans and the media talking about who should stay and who should go. Rick Maese argued after the loss that Billick should go.

That time has come. The most important man not named Lewis in this team’s short history has reached a point of ineffectiveness.

In relation to Billick’s fine career pacing the Ravens’ sideline, the 2007 season feels like an old rock band getting wheeled out on stage long after the music died. Billick’s song has faded. He no longer moves the fans – but that’s not really the problem. Unfortunately, Billick no longer moves his players. There’s no harmony, no new notes. Where we used to bob our heads to the beat, we now shake our heads in defeat.

The column was largely a fan’s rant rather than an analysis. Billick has been a fine coach of the Ravens. He was at the helm for only two years when the team won a Super Bowl. However, looking at his whole record and the one word that comes to mind is “uneven.” Sure he’s had good years as coach, but he’s also had years like 2005, when the team went 6 – 10.

What is it about Billick that’s so frustrating? Mike Preston, put his finger on it.

The Billick defenders will point fingers at current quarterback Steve McNair. That’s the easy way out. The big picture is, what quarterback has prospered under Billick? Even Elvis Grbac, a Pro Bowl performer the year before he came to Baltimore, retired one season after playing here.

I remember that year well. Grbac was terrible in the red zone. (Backup Randall Cunningham was much better there. Or at least that’s what it looked like to me.)

It’s funny that Billick whose experience prior to Baltimore, was offensive coach for the Vikings, has presided over teams lacking in offense. Even 2000, the year the team won the Super Bowl, it looked like it was the defense and special teams that led the team. The offense was just there.

Preston continues:

For years, Billick got a free pass in Baltimore because some of his inadequacies were overlooked. As long as the defense continued to make plays, and the Ravens won, everyone was happy in the Castle.

But it’s different now. Some of the great defensive players are gone or have gotten older. This defense can’t dominate as it used to.

So, after years of riding Newsome’s drafts and the back of middle linebacker Ray Lewis, Billick can’t hold up his end as far as the X’s and O’s. The Ravens can’t overcome his weakness.

Preston doesn’t feel that Billick has to go, however he writes

We’ve heard all the excuses during the past nine years. Billick didn’t have receivers. He didn’t have a quarterback. He didn’t have athletic offensive linemen. He didn’t have a running back.

Blah, blah, blah. … Enough, please.

It’s time general manager Ozzie Newsome and Bisciotti delivered the ultimatum to Billick. Either he guts this system, or he goes.

But Billick isn’t the only Raven with a question mark hanging over him.

After last week’s game there was a question whether or not Steve McNair would continue being the team’s #1 quarterback. At the time David Steele answered in the negative.

Before the game, Steve McNair spoke up for himself. After the game, his teammates spoke up for him.

But his actions have spoken louder than any of their words. His actions are screaming out: This is the end. For McNair as the Ravens’ starting quarterback, and for the Ravens as the Super Bowl contenders he was supposed to have turned them into.

The answer for now has been answered by a very convenient injury to McNail meaning that he will be sidelined for at least the next few weeks. That would be enough time to evaluate what Kyle Boller’s value is to the team. (This is not longer an issue of potential. We’re way past that stage.)

So how can we expect Boller to perform? There’s been a lot of dissension. Even among those who feel that Boller is better than McNair for now, there seems to be little support for Boller as quarterback of the future. Except for Bill Ordine.

Putting it briefly, A) Boller has generally had to play under exceptionally adverse circumstances; B) He sill has a big-time arm that’s plenty rare; and C) Drafting quarterbacks is always an iffy proposition and now we’re looking at a crop of college QBs that lacks the blue-chippers of the last few years. (Free agent wise, I give you Vinny Testaverde and Tim Rattay).

Further on Ordine warns,

And there’s one more thing. Don’t expect Boller to work miracles in these last seven games. The Ravens have the toughest stretch of games imaginable. Boller is probably going to be playing from behind in most of them with all the disadvantages that implies. And the offensive line is not playing anywhere near as well as it did last season (14 regular-season sacks in 2006 and 17 so far in ’07). That means the bottom line on Boller will have to be weighted to reflect these realities.

So here’s the conclusion. Unless Boller absolutely comes apart at the seams or John Elway magically appears in the draft or as a free agent (oops, bad example), a fair decision on whether he’s a genuine playoff-caliber quarterback should wait until the end of 2008.

So how does the prognosis for each work out?
Billick – iffy.
McNair – iffy.
Boller – iffy.

Not very encouraging. Of all three, Boller appears to be in the best position. His future is largely in his own hands.

McNair’s comments that if he were replaced he couldn’t blame the team suggest that he is done. While it’s admirable for him to take responsibility, athletes who realize that there are better options than themselves are usually finished.

And Billick? I’m uncomfortable saying that the coach is at fault. However he’s had only 4 winning seasons in eight so far. The team has never been so far away from contention that he hasn’t been able to redeem himself.

Arguing for keeping him is that the team’s performance last year earned him a 4 year extension suggesting that owner Steve Biscotti realizes that his commitment is long term and is willing to take some lumps along the way.

Arguing against his continued service as Ravens coach is, I guess, Rex Ryan.

The Ravens know what is at stake for Ryan. He almost became the head coach of the San Diego Chargers in the offseason.

Since he became the Ravens’ coordinator in 2005, the team has had the No. 2- and No. 1-ranked defenses in the league. With one more good season — the Ravens are currently ranked fifth — Ryan will become a top head coaching candidate again.

If Billick is fired, Ryan would become a serious candidate here, especially because he is so popular with the players.

The Ravens have lost a lot of talented coaches over the years for head coaching jobs elsewhere. True, the results of those moves have been mixed. It also speaks well of the franchise that it recognizes coaching talent. But maybe now it’s time for the Ravens to say, “enough” and give one of their coaching stars the chance to be promoted.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad.

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I agree with that, right now Boller appears to have the best position out of all three of them. McNair is not nearly as good as he used to be and Boller Definitely kept us in the game today.

Posted by Al Car | November 18, 2007 | 09:24 pm | Permalink

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