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lamberts-lost-tooth
10-22-2006, 08:10 AM
Billick finds a fall guy

By John Harris
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, October 22, 2006


With friends like Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, former Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel doesn't need enemies.
Billick dismissed Fassel with the quickness of an Olympic sprinter and the callousness of a Mafia hit man.

At 4-2, the Ravens are in first place in the AFC North. But the Ravens have lost two straight after winning their first four games.

So what did Billick do upon entering the Ravens' bye week?

He dismissed Fassel on Tuesday for overseeing an impotent offense currently ranked No. 28 in a 32-team league, while covering his own backside in the process.

Since his Ravens won Super Bowl XXXV with a stingy defense and a sorry offense, excuse-making seems to be what Billick does best.

Either his dog eats the gameplan, his offensive coordinator calls the wrong play, his quarterback throws an interception, or his running back fumbles the ball.

It's always something with Billick, whose Super Bowl victory is probably the only thing keeping him off the unemployment line.

On a lighter note, you better believe former Pitt quarterback and current Panthers offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh is enjoying a good belly laugh. Billick fired Cavanaugh a couple of years ago and replaced him with Fassel.

There's still plenty of football left in the NFL season, which makes the timing of Fassel's departure suspicious. The Ravens are 4-2, not 2-4.

Billick and Fassel are allegedly good friends, yet Billick didn't hesitate to sacrifice Fassel even though everyone knows the Ravens offense is Billick's pride and joy.

Kyle Boller, Billick's hand-picked quarterback, was supposedly the problem. So Billick benched Boller and acquired veteran Steve McNair, a former league MVP.

But even with McNair, coupled with wide receiver Derrick Mason, McNair's favorite target at Tennessee, along with former 2,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis, Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap and mammoth offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, it's the same old result.

The Ravens can't score points. And their defense, still led by linebacker Ray Lewis, isn't what it once was.

Last year, Fassel called the plays except for inside the opponent's 20-yard line. This year, Fassel called all the plays, although Billick still had final say. In 2005, the Ravens ranked No. 24 in total offense, 21st in rushing and 22nd in passing. In 2006, the Ravens are worse. They dropped four spots in total offense and are 24th in rushing and 27th in passing.

The Ravens still struggle to score points inside the red zone. Of their 42 possessions inside the opponent's 20-yard line a year ago, the Ravens had 16 touchdowns and 16

field goals, tied for the fourth-worst percentage in the NFL. This year the Ravens have eight touchdowns and seven field goals in 18 possessions inside their opponent's 20, good for the seventh-worst percentage in the league.

If nothing else, Billick is a shrewd cookie who's made a career out of not owning up to his mistakes. If you're on a golf course when lightning strikes, stand next to Billick. He's untouchable.

And running out of chances. Some believe the only reason Billick wasn't fired after going 6-10 last season was owner Steve Bisciotti didn't want to pay the final two years remaining on his contract. Consider that in recent years Billick hired a new running backs coach, a new offensive line coach, a new receivers coach, a new quarterbacks coach, and now another offensive coordinator -- himself.

Here's a thought. Billick was Dennis Green's offensive coordinator at Minnesota. Green's now coaching at Arizona, where he fired his offensive coordinator, also on Tuesday. What's most interesting about the coincidental firings isn't that Billick and Green made offensive coordinators scapegoats for their own failings. It's that both head coaches still have their jobs.