Work in Sports
QB Banks is wild card in team's postseason hopes
The Baltimore Ravens, 8-8 last season, won five of their last seven games to get to .500 and had the second-best defense in the league. But, oh, there are questions. Here are a few from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Ravens this season. You can find SI's season preview on CNNSI.com on Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) Last year the Ravens hired Minnesota's offensive guru Brian Billick to run the show. So what happened? The offense finished 24th in the league. The defense climbed to second. Have they done enough to bring those two units closer together?
2.) Here comes the answer: All-Pro tight end Shannon Sharpe was imported from Denver. RB Jamal Lewis and WR Travis Taylor were both drafted in the first round. Tampa Bay QB Trent Dilfer was hired to breathe down Tony Banks' neck.
3.) So what is it with Banks, anyway? Under Billick, who certainly knows his quarterbacks, he had the best numbers of his career, and he certainly had his share of big games. Billick, at least for the record, seems to be solidly in his corner. Is Banks the man to lead Baltimore to its first playoff game since the days of the Colts, or could we possibly see Dilfer in there at some time in the season?
4.) Top draft Lewis has unlimited potential, says Ravens player personnel director Ozzie Newsome, pointing to his fabulous size-vs.-speed numbers (231 pounds, 4.37 40). Others say he's just a workout warrior, better in shorts and a t-shirt than in uniform. Which will it be?
The Ravens can make the playoffs if ... head coach Brian Billick, an offensive mastermind in Minnesota, can do something with quarterback Tony Banks. Or former Tampa Bay starter Trent Dilfer, who came over in free agency. Or rookie Chris Redman. They need someone to throw to free agent tight end Shannon Sharpe and wide receiver Qadry Ismail. Rookie running back Jamal Lewis of Tennessee will have to chip in, too, as a probable starter. Now that Ray Lewis is through with his murder trial and won't miss any time, the defense seems solid enough. Free agent defensive tackle Sam Adams helps a strong front line.
Pivotal Games : Sept. 10 against the AFC Central favorite Jaguars in Baltimore will provide an early test, along with a night game against the Jags on Oct. 8. The next week, though, is a true test and a bit of a regional rivalry when the Ravens play at Washington.
On the Hot Seat : A new owner in Baltimore is willing to spread the cash, which means Billick will have to come up with the team's first winning season in four years in town if he's going to stick around. But before Billick goes, expect him to wear out Banks/Dilfer/Redman until one of them produces.
Up-and-comers : Rookie wide receiver Travis Taylor from Florida is a deep threat the Ravens sorely need, especially if their ground game falters. If only someone can get the kid the ball.