Let’s all settle down just a bit, shall we?
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the past month involving Steve Bisciotti and his handling of the "Will Brian return or not?" question, and specifically how it all went down yesterday at the Bellagio, let’s try to analyze the numbers that are the REAL reason for BB’s ouster.
Billick was hailed as an offensive genius, fairly or not, when Art Modell hired him in January 1999. He was fresh off a season in which he schemed plays for Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter, Robert Smith, Jake Reed and an astonishing rookie named Randy Moss. That team set a single-season record for points scored with 556 (just broken by this year’s Patriots – who also have a guy named Moss at wideout – hmmmm…). In reality, I don’t think anyone expected him to come here and immediately replicate those kinds of numbers, but it would have been fair to expect an improvement in a few years’ time.
Instead, the offense, and particularly the quarterback position, never found consistency in nine years. And the blatant disparity between offensive failure and defensive dominance was Billick’s fault and the ultimate cause of his firing yesterday.
Consider these numbers in nine years under Brian Billick: Offense average ranking: 21.5. Defense average ranking: 5.5. In fact, the Ravens finished in the top half of the NFL rankings in offense just two times, in 2000 and ’01. They averaged 316 yards per game combined those two years. The worst year defensively was 2002, when Ray Lewis was injured and the season went very bad very quickly. The Ravens finished 22nd that year. Otherwise, they never finished lower than 6th overall.
Now that’s the kind of obvious disparity that leads to locker room dissension, fan unrest and general tension. This isn’t to suggest that all those numbers and problems were solely Billick’s fault; obviously injuries, blown draft picks and bad luck were factors over that period. But ultimately, there has to be better balance on both sides of the football for a team to achieve extended success.
I recognize that achieving that balance in today’s NFL, with the salary cap and all its implications, is extremely difficult. It’s truly close to impossible to address needs on both sides and have enough money to go around. Teams make choices as far as philosophies and plan accordingly. The Colts have spent a larger amount of their payroll on their offense than their defense. It’s worked because they have the franchise quarterback. The Bengals have followed a similar path, and that hasn’t worked out quite as well, has it?
So here in Baltimore, on this first day of 2008, the Ravens stand at the "fork in the road." They once hired a supposed offensive mastermind to guide what was a maturing, defensively dominated team. This time, under a different owner, the circumstances are slightly different. The defense is growing older, and the offense has a very young line, a potential franchise running back, and an enticing young quarterback who has us all wondering how good he can be after an encouraging two starts in the league.
One more thing to bear in mind: Steve Bisciotti inherited Brian Billick as his head coach when he took over the franchise in 2004. I think he gave him plenty of opportunity, and plenty of money, to get the job done. Bisciotti’s no fool; he’ll get his chance now to put his stamp on the team’s future.
As long as the new coach can average better than 22nd overall offensively, this team will improve. Lord knows there’s plenty of room for that.
RAVENS TOTAL OFFENSE UNDER BILLICK (Final Ranking By Year – 1999 – present): 24th, 16th, 14th, 26th, 21st, 31st, 24th, 17th, 22nd.
RAVENS TOTAL DEFENSE UNDER BILLICK (Final Ranking By Year – 1999 – present): 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 22nd, 3rd, 6th, 5th, 1st, 6th.