The Baltimore Ravens take the field against the Buffalo Bills today with a new starting quarterback, a healthier offensive line and 10 days of rest. The question is, will any of that make a difference?
Baltimore (2-4), which hasn't played since an Oct. 21 loss to Kansas City, comes into its 1 p.m. game at PSINet Stadium with a two-game losing streak. Although the defense played well in those games, the offense struggled--prompting Coach Brian Billick's decision on Monday to bench his starting quarterback for the second time this season. Tony Banks makes his first start as a Raven against Buffalo (4-3).
"It's too much of a dogfight right now," said Billick, whose team ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense, but 26th in total offense. "We're too close to being on the verge of a team that competes for me not to try something."
Banks, who started the past three seasons for St. Louis before being acquired by Baltimore, is a strong-armed quarterback with good mobility and experience. Last season with the Rams, he threw for 2,535 yards and seven touchdowns. However, he did not take a snap in a game this season until the fourth quarter against Kansas City, when he took over for Stoney Case.
This week at practice, Banks said the biggest hurdles he faces are getting his timing back and becoming more comfortable with whom he is throwing the ball to.
"I haven't worked with the first-team receivers in a while," he said. "But we have confidence in each other, so we should get it going."
Billick said one of the hurdles Banks's offense faces as a whole is Buffalo's 3-4 defense. Because so few teams use the three-linemen, four-linebackers configuration as a base defense, its unfamiliarity can present problems.
"Any time you uncover your guards, you have to do a number of different things to try to handle which two linebackers they are going to bring," Billick said. "You can't just block the guy in front of you, because then you end up with your backs on their outside people a whole lot more than you want."
It also changes how the offensive line protects the quarterback. Baltimore's offensive line has been in a state of flux recently because of a number of injuries. Four of the six players listed on the Ravens injury report are offensive linemen. Backup tackle Spencer Folau (knee) is not expected to play. However, starting right tackle Harry Swayne (lower leg contusion), backup guard Mike Flynn (back) and backup tackle James Atkins (thigh) are likely to get in the game.
While Billick sets out to plot an offensive strategy against the 3-4 defense, the Ravens seem more concerned about a single player.
"The biggest thing they've got over there is not the 3-4, but Bruce Smith," Banks said. "Luckily, we've got a pretty good left tackle in Jonathan Ogden, so he doesn't present much of a problem to us as he would some other teams who don't have a Jonathan Ogden. But you still have to account for him, because he's capable of making plays at any time anywhere on the field."
Smith, a 15-year veteran at defensive end, ranks second behind Reggie White on the list of the NFL's all-time sack leaders with 166. This season, he has 43 tackles and two sacks.
"He may be in his 15th year, but he's still dangerous to me," Ogden said. "What can you say? The guy is going in the Hall of Fame on his first ballot."
Ogden hasn't been as effective the last couple games for Baltimore since suffering a cervical strain Oct. 3 in Atlanta. He is healthy enough to play, but fears reinjuring his neck. If he remains hesitant against Smith, it could be a long afternoon for Banks.
This is Baltimore's last home game for almost a month. The Ravens play their next three games on the road before hosting Jacksonville on Nov. 28.