Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick may have found his quarterback. Billick, who's been nicknamed Compucoach, established performance projections for Tony Banks last winter, and Banks is on schedule.
"What he has shown very clearly in his interception ratio is he's pretty good about being careful with the ball. His touchdown ratio per throw is excellent, so it shows he's willing to take that shot and will complete it as well as most quarterbacks," Billick said.
Banks was the difference in week two, when he rallied the Ravens for a 39-36 win over the Jaguars. Sunday, the Jaguars (2-3) host the Ravens (4-1) in a rematch that is a must-win game for the Jaguars.
Billick projected Banks' totals for 10 starts last year over 16 games, then worked up new projections based on Banks completing two more passes per game. Four games into this season, Banks' numbers were right where they were supposed to be. He had completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 846 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
"The biggest thing you have to worry about when a quarterback's efficiency starts to climb is, what's that touchdown ratio, what's the explosive ratio? If that comes down too dramatically, then you're paying too high a price," Billick said.
In Banks' case, the blend of efficiency and explosiveness has been perfect. He lulled the Jaguars to sleep with short passes to his fullback, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, then hit tight end Shannon Sharpe deep over the middle for the game-winning touchdown pass in week two in Baltimore.
"When I tell a quarterback, 'We're only going to be so good as long as this is my offense, but we're going to be really good only when this becomes your offense,' they like to hear that," Billick said.
"It takes awhile for them to truly understand what I'm saying. I think he's beginning to understand," Billick said of Banks "What I mean is, when your fingerprints start showing up on this offense, when your strengths starting showing up, and the game plan and the players are responding to your strengths, that's when it becomes your offense. We're beginning to show signs of that."
The quarterback position was one of three big puzzle pieces the Ravens had to produce to become a playoff contender. They drafted running back Jamal Lewis and wide receiver Travis Taylor with the fifth and 10 picks of last spring's draft, and both players have already established their impacts. Banks has done the same.
Through four games this season, the Ravens were averaging 330 yards and 24.5 points per game. Billick said that if his offense maintains those averages over 16 games, "we're going to be pretty good. I don't want to minimize what we can do, but I'll take it."
The big reason Billick can live with those averages is that he has a defense that was ranked fourth in the league and first against the run, through week four. However, the Jaguars exposed the Ravens secondary as being run of the mill, as Mark Brunell and Jimmy Smith burned cornerback Duane Starks repeatedly in a 386-yard passing performance.
Clearly, Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis will attempt to find ways to help Starks against Smith. In the second half of the Ravens' come-from-behind win over the Jaguars, Lewis turned his troops loose with the blitz. It was a far more effective tactic than the conservative approach he took in the first half, when the Jaguars went out to a 23-7 halftime lead.
"Team is what's going to win ballgames," Sharpe said. "People keep saying we've got great defense. Well, Tampa has proved you can't win Super Bowls, can't win championships, by playing great defense and not having an offense. We're going to take the approach that we're going to carry the stick as far as our side of the ball, and let the defense do their thing."
That'll work fine, as long as Banks continues to do his thing.