Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Brian Billick is being confronted with an elementary question that carries an indictment:

If he is so smart, how come his football team is so dumb?

The Ravens are a mixed-up, upside-down cast that appears finished after only four games.

Their lack of punch on offense is a testament to the cunning genius of Billick, as only genius can be measured by the Mensa-obsessed students of the game.

Billick earned the genius label as the offensive coordinator of the Vikings, aided in part by the presence of Randall Cunningham, who could do no worse than what passes as the quarterback of the Ravens today.

Billick has reveled in being a genius, despite a pedestrian offense that has accompanied his tenure in Baltimore and a 5-0 loss as a contestant on Gene Rayburn’s “Match Game PM” in 1977.

Billick won a Super Bowl because of defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and the ferociousness of linebacker Ray Lewis, a chest-thumping cartoon character on some level but with substance galore.

That inflated the genius of Billick, in line with the grade inflation of the last generation of schoolchildren. Billick did not allow his Super Bowl quarterback to do much more than breathe on his own power. There was a brilliance in that.

Now Billick’s intellect apparently is so deep that he needed a day to accept the responsibility of his team’s implosion in Detroit, where 21 penalties revealed an absence of character.

Two players also were ejected after each made contact with an official, and another player made an obscene gesture to the crowd. This was egregious conduct even by the plummeting standards of me-first professional athletes.

Billick probably could borrow a coaching lesson from Joe Gibbs, old Joe as he was before the season but now back with conviction. Incidentally, that brings to two the number of invigorated old Joes in football, Gibbs and Paterno.

Gibbs could be heard anew this week explaining the mysterious condition of linebacker LaVar Arrington, the three-time Pro Bowl selection who never left the sideline in Denver. The parsing of the condition is obtuse, even strained, for Arrington is merely the serial freelancer who has been deemed incorrigible up to now.

Arrington makes one spectacular play that leads to four defensive breakdowns.

Intended or not, the startling irrelevance of Arrington sends a fairly convincing message to the locker room. No one, not even the one-time face of the franchise, is allowed to work outside the team.

The Ravens have a collection of mavericks who answer to their base emotions, impervious to the exultations of the coaching staff, starting with Billick, the genius who fails to grasp this fundamental principle.

He elected not to fine the culprits after assessing the quality of remorse in the locker room.

Billick undoubtedly would object to the questioning of his decision, as is his proclivity. He likes to fill the room with his genius, insufferable as that can be, as if he is administering his duties in a white lab coat instead of coaching garb. He prefers to talk down to those who fan the flames of publicity, which is the lifeblood of the business.

It must be difficult to come down to the discourse level of, “How does it feel, coach?”

The Ravens talked of making a Super Bowl run going into the season. Now the talk concerns glaring behavioral issues and the suddenly daunting challenge of the Browns, a precipitous decline in aspirations. It is up to Billick to reset the agenda, assuming his intellect is up to the challenge.

No chortling is necessary, for Billick did not invent the genius label. It has been around forever. It is the favored application of the empty-minded.

Yet it has been especially faulty with Billick. He has not found an offense in Baltimore in seven seasons, and yet the inner workings of the offense remain his genius.

Not surprisingly, his genius is a diminishing resource.

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