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Archive for Sunday, July 29, 2001

Grbac’s task: Improve Ravens’ offense

Super Bowl champions expecting big things from former Chiefs quarterback

July 29, 2001

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During the Ravens' Super Bowl run, the offense played sidekick to the team's history-making defense.

The attack unit was defined by a predictable game plan, a five-game touchdown drought and a mediocre quarterback.

Exit the limited range of Trent Dilfer. Enter the Pro Bowl arm of Elvis Grbac.

With Grbac in the mix, the Ravens envision opening their offense, their playbook and ultimately, some eyes.

"I think there's a sense of urgency to say, 'Hey, we are great, too,'" Grbac said. "We want to dictate the tempo of games. We don't want to shoot to score 14 points and sit on it. We want to score as many points as we can and let's do our thing."

When training camp kicks off Monday, coach Brian Billick's project of transforming a lethargic offense into a top 10 attack begins.

The Ravens' three biggest acquisitions Grbac, right tackle Leon Searcy and tight end Todd Heap have jazzed up Billick's expectations. He and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh are dusting off formations and routes that had just sat in the playbook.

The Ravens compiled a 16-4 record and made it to Tampa by taking the ball out of Dilfer's hands. They have vowed to repeat as champions this season by putting it in Grbac's.

"Obviously, the X-factor will be Elvis," receiver Qadry Ismail said.

The Ravens ran the ball 48 percent of the time, several points higher than the league average, relying heavily on the league's fifth-ranked ground game. Teams would drop down an extra safety closer to the line, daring either Dilfer or Tony Banks to beat them over the top. But Dilfer lacked the arm and Banks lacked the confidence.

The result: They scored 333 points during the regular season, making them the lowest-scoring champion since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. In the three AFC playoff games, Dilfer didn't complete more than nine passes. His postseason completion percentage was 47.9.

The Ravens didn't win because of their quarterback but in spite of him.

"Yeah, we broke a lot of conventional thinking," said Billick, who in 1998 was the coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings' record-breaking offense. Billick had to adapt his style to suit the Ravens' defensive dominance.

"To try to apply those type of numbers to our championship," he said, "you're going to come away scratching your head.

"The biggest mistake you can make is to not look at your team just because you won a Super Bowl. You can't say, 'Geez, we must be fine and let's go do the same thing as before.'

"That's a sure-fire equation to get beaten."

Missing from the Ravens' offensive equation has been balance. Grbac's passing efficiency may restore it.

The game plan last year relied primarily on compact formations, using either two tight ends or fullback Sam Gash. Whenever the Ravens went to three receivers, opponents considered it a bluff.

But there are no poker faces at Western Maryland College now.

The Ravens are figuring to throw about 55 percent of the time, and expect that Grbac will find his receivers with his trademark tight spirals. That would result in a modest increase to 14th or higher for a passing offense ranked 22nd in the league last season.

The key to those projections is Grbac, who turns 31 next month. Coming off the best season of his career, at Kansas City, he has never had the support of such a running game or defense.

Jamal Lewis set the team rushing record last year with 1,364 yards, and the Ravens still plan to turn to their grind-it-out style when necessary.

It's a scenario where Grbac doesn't need to carry a team like he did last season, merely complement it.

"Any offense has to wrap itself around the quarterback," Billick said. "We're going to find what that fingerprint is going to be for Elvis."

Want Grbac to throw deep? His 55 completions of 20 yards or longer ranked third in the NFL last year.

Want him to throw in the intermediate range? Grbac connected 58 percent of the time on passes between 11 and 20 yards.

For the season, he completed 59.6 percent of his passes for 4,169 yards and 28 touchdowns despite 34 drops.

"As far as I'm concerned, he's the most accurate guy we've had in here," said Cavanaugh. "He also throws the deep ball as well as the other guys we've had in here. He can do it all. He's got a great touch and can get the ball downfield."

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