Burress could be answer for Ravens

Once again, the Ravens lost a game in which they got very little production from their receivers.

Originally Published: December 26, 2004
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers face an interesting decision with wide receiver Plaxico Burress, and the Ravens better follow whatever happens.

Burress is a free agent and could command major money. It's not out of the question for the Steelers to slap Burress with the franchise tag, and watching the Ravens, they better.

The Ravens can't be in the Christmas spirit because they have no one to receive. They lost Sunday to the Steelers, 20-7, with an offense that makes the Steelers' ball-control running offense look space age, and their close-to-vest scheme look prehistoric.

This team is not scoring points. You don't get anything for stats. You get them for scoring points.
Ravens coach Brian Billick

Ravens coach Brian Billick isn't a dummy. He has one of the brightest offensive minds in the sport. But the Ravens desperately need some receivers. Former first-round choice Travis Taylor was healthy, but inactive Sunday because the Ravens wanted to look at quarterback-turned-receiver Randy Hymes. The 45-man active roster features four tight ends and three wide receivers.

Billick opened in a three-tight end, one receiver set. Occasionally, the Ravens mixed in some two- and three-receiver sets, but their game plan was simple. Watch for the Ravens to be the most active team in the offseason for wide receivers (like they tried to be this offseason when it looked like they had acquired Terrell Owens) and if Burress is on the open market, watch out.

"They let you know they want to run the football," Steelers linebacker Joey Porter said. "It's telling you up front, they are not going to put much pressure on Kyle Boller. They are going to try to control the game by running the ball if they can. And why not? They had a 2,000-yard rusher last year in Jamal Lewis. You have to know they want to come in and run the football."

Lewis rushed for 130 yards on 20 carries in a 30-13 Ravens win in Week 2. This time, the Steelers were better prepared.

"We made sure we had our gaps covered," Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior said. "Jamal likes to pound it up in there, but we tried to make him move more laterally. When you get Lewis to go more laterally, he's not as effective."

Lewis was limited to 26 yards on 14 carries, and when the Ravens lost control of the game in the third quarter, he was held to five second-half carries.

With so few wide receivers as threats, the Ravens were hurting offensively without Lewis pounding the ball.

"Jamal is such a guy who can wear on you," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "Probably at some point, it's one of those games where the score probably took a little bit away from Jamal. I think he is one of those guys who can wear you down in the third and fourth quarter when the game is close, and they still have the element of the run involved."

The Steelers opened a 17-7 lead in the third quarter, and with a drive that lasted 8:34 and included 12 running plays after halftime. That was the ballgame and probably the season for the Ravens.

There are a lot of good things about Boller. He's got speed to run the ball when needed. He has a strong arm. But the three active receivers for the game -- Hymes, Kevin Johnson and Clarence Moore -- combined for only five catches for 69 yards, four of them by Hymes and none by Moore.

At 8-7, the Ravens' run for the playoffs is about to end. They are dependent on a lot of things happening to make that last wild-card slot.

"It's frustrating, it's tough," Boller said. "They put together some drives now and got into the red zone and put some points on the board. We kind of got delayed, stalled a little bit, but I'm proud of the guys. We battled. Guys were playing hurt out there. I think it's going to be a great game to learn from. It's a great lesson for everybody."

The lesson is find a Burress. He returned from a hamstring injury and caught three passes for 97 yards. His big-play ability put the Ravens defense into a Cover 2 scheme and opened up running lanes.

"This team is not scoring points," Billick said. "You don't get anything for stats. You get them for scoring points."

The Steelers, meanwhile, gained 404 yards of offense and ran the ball 42 times. They've had back-to-back games in which they haven't punted the ball.

"That sounds like the Indianapolis Colts, not the Pittsburgh Steelers," Cowher said. "This is the best thing we do. We are able to control the ball."

Billick may be a little envious of the Steelers' three receivers, but that might not continue if Burress hits the open market.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

ALSO SEE