Open holes are a rush for the running backs Ground game gets out of blocks vs. New York

September 01, 1996|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Ravens' search for their running game ended with authority on Aug. 10 at Giants Stadium.

And it ended early. On the first possession of their 37-27 victory over the New York Giants, the Ravens began to erase the futility that marked their ground game in the previous week's preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Ravens took a 3-0 lead with a 15-play, 73-yard drive that consumed nearly seven minutes. The drive featured Leroy Hoard running through some wide holes between the tackles, to the tune of seven carries for 34 yards. Hoard, who later left the game with a bruised knee, had set the tone that the Giants never would change.

The Ravens, who rushed for only 44 yards in their 17-9 victory over the Eagles, pounded New York on the ground for 177 yards on 43 attempts -- a 4.1-yard average.

Veteran Earnest Byner (seven carries, 47 yards) showed he still has some spring left in his 33-year-old legs, particularly on his 16-yard burst for a touchdown in the second quarter. Earnest Hunter (13 carries, 40 yards) and Ricky Powers (four for 25), both second-year players, also had some impressive moments in the second half.

The key to the running game's awakening was up front. Unlike its preseason opener, the Ravens' backfield had room to operate. Both offensive line units knocked the Giants off the line of scrimmage repeatedly.

"It was a combination of blocking a lot better, and of being in certain situations," center Steve Everitt said. "We weren't starting out on our 3-yard line, like last week. And we threw the ball early [on first down], which set [the running game] up. We're not there yet, but this is definitely a step in the right direction."

As much as rookie left guard Jonathan Ogden struggled with his run-blocking last week, the Ravens' top draft pick settled into his new position with a few devastating shots against New York. Several times, Ogden drove Giants defensive tackle Ray Agnew out of the picture to clear a running lane.

"We had our blocking down together much better this week," Ogden said. "We have to make the same calls, know where we're trying to go with the ball, which we were better at today. Even after last week, I knew we were a better running team than we showed. We're not even close to our potential."

Hoard said the line did a good job "getting a man on a man and giving us a place to run. I think knowing you can run the ball and not being able to go out there and do it, is just a matter of execution. We did a better job of executing today."

Besides manhandling the Giants on the line, the Ravens played closer to true-game situations in their second trial run. For example, in their opener, the Eagles sometimes brought eight players close to the line of scrimmage on first down, and the Ravens stuck to their game plan by trying to run anyway.

The Giants' defense lined up more honestly, usually with no more than seven players up close. On top of that, the Ravens chose to throw often on first down, and did so with success.

That stretched the Giants' defense enough to give the Ravens more flexibility with their play-calling. Throw in an offensive line that is more in sync than a week ago, and presto, you have a potent running game.

"People didn't realize we were trying to get the basics down last week, that we weren't going to audible even if they had eight players in the box," Hunter said.

"Today, we checked off more and that opened things up. Those big bodies [up front] give us a chance to cut inside or dart outside, as long as they're engaged. With that big offensive line, I feel real powerful."

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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