Twice during Brian Billick's tenure as offensive coordinator, the Minnesota Vikings were 4-0 during the preseason.

One year, they finished the regular season 11-5. The other, they were 15-1. Now in his first year as a head coach, Billick led his new team, the Baltimore Ravens, to an undefeated preseason record.

However, it might be too much to expect an 11-5 or 15-1 follow-up.

"I'll certainly take somewhere in between there," Billick said with a laugh. Baltimore, with its new coach and new offense led by a new quarterback, opens its season at 1 p.m. today in St. Louis.

Last season, the Ravens were 4-0 during the preseason, but had a 6-10 regular season record. That led to the departure of Ted Marchibroda and the arrival of Billick, who was the architect of the NFL's most prolific offense last season. But don't look for Billick to pull out all the stops of his West Coast offense against the Rams. He is wary of asking too much of his players this early in the season and putting too much pressure on quarterback Scott Mitchell.

"I can't put too much on him or the players, particularly on the road in a loud dome to start the season," Billick said. "That's a lot. You've got to work your way into it."

After starting the first two games for the Detroit Lions last season, Mitchell, a 10-year veteran, was benched in favor of rookie Charlie Batch. But Billick is confident Mitchell will perform well in his system.

"We're going to wrap the offense around Scott," Billick said. "We're going to ask that [he do] those things that we feel like he's the most comfortable with. Scott is a big, strong, physical quarterback. He's got good vision. He understands the protection schemes. That gives us some latitude."

St. Louis also has a new look. The Rams signed running back Marshall Faulk to a $45 million contract and will build their offense around him. The Ravens got a good look at Faulk last season when he rushed for 192 yards on 17 carries against them with his old team, the Indianapolis Colts.

"He's still learning the offense a little bit," St. Louis Coach Dick Vermeil said. "He's just a step off from being what he was against [the Ravens] last year, but it's coming and you see the flashes appearing on the practice field."

Former Redskin Trent Green tore knee ligaments during the preseason and is out for the year, leaving Kurt Warner, a former World and Arena League quarterback, as the Rams' starter. Warner, who has thrown just 11 career passes in the NFL, poses a different kind of challenge for Billick.

"It can't alter a whole lot about our preparation," he said. "You get to chasing some ghosts by trying to guess what they might do differently with him."

The Ravens have problems of their own. Pro Bowl defensive end Michael McCrary has agreed to a contract, but missed the preseason and might not be in shape to play four quarters. Outside linebacker Peter Boulware's time also will be limited because of a shoulder injury; former Virginia Tech standout Cornell Brown will start in his place.



When: 1 today, Trans World Dome, St. Louis.

TV: WJZ-13.

Radio: WLIF-FM-101.9, WSMD-FM-98.3, WJFK-1300, WXTR-820.

Line: Rams by 1.