There's nothing like fourth-and-one and third-and-one plays inside its own 5-yard line to test the mettle of a defense.
The Ravens, playing under new defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, faced that test twice in the second quarter last night in their first exhibition game and passed both times.
Although it's difficult to make many judgments on a first exhibition game -- after all, the Ravens got their 10 second-period points when their first-string offense was playing against Philadelphia backups -- the two big defensive plays were probably more significant than the 17-9 victory over the Eagles.
They were a sign that the players are adjusting to the new attacking defense that Lewis brought from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"These guys have been holding their breath to see what was going to happen, and I think now they'll exhale and go forward now," Lewis said.
The Ravens also won the chess match on the two short-yardage plays.
On the first one, fourth-and-one at the Baltimore 4, the Eagles went with their short-yardage offense and tried to run Vaughn Hebron on left side.
The Ravens countered with their goal-line defense that featured six defensive linemen, and right tackle Dan Footman knifed through the line and stopped Hebron for no gain.
The Eagles then forced the Ravens to punt and took over on the Baltimore 47.
Ty Detmer replaced Rodney Peete at quarterback, and, on his first play, Detmer threw deep to Irving Fryar.
Issac Booth, who's taking over for the departed Don Griffin on the right corner, was beaten by the play. Booth grabbed Fryar's arm for a pass-interference penalty that gave the Eagles a first down on the 4, but saved a touchdown.
Two plays later, the Eagles faced a third down at the 1.
After failing to make it on a run the previous time, the Eagles went to their four-wide-receiver offense.
The Ravens countered with their dime defense -- six defensive backs. Their coverage was so good that Detmer had to hesitate, and linebacker Mike Caldwell jumped up and knocked the pass down. The Eagles had to settle for a field goal.
It may be a sign that the Ravens' defense will be better than expected.
"It's hard to judge on paper how good a football team can be," Lewis said. "We've got some good players. Some of our players are as good as any in the league at their position. And if we play together as a football team, we'll be where we need to be come January."
When Lewis was asked to name the players who are as good as any in the league, he singled out safeties Eric Turner and Stevon Moore.
He then added: "The ends [Rob Burnett and Anthony Pleasant] have an opportunity to be, and [cornerback] Antonio Langham is coming into his own. We've got some guys who are doing it."
Because the regular season ends Dec. 22, Lewis' mention of January shows that he already is thinking about the playoffs.
Another positive sign was that rookie Ray Lewis had a good debut at middle linebacker, with seven tackles and a sack.
Marvin Lewis didn't seem surprised by Ray Lewis' play, even though rookies rarely start at middle linebacker.
"I think people now will just be quiet. It shouldn't be talked about. There's no rookies. He's a linebacker. That's why he was drafted where he was drafted," the coach said.
From a long-term view, the most ominous development was the Ravens' failure to show any signs of a running game.
Leroy Hoard gained 16 yards on nine carries, and the team had 44 yards in 20 carries.
But if the defense keeps playing as well as it started out, the Ravens could stay in games, regardless of how well they run the ball.
Pub Date: 8/04/96