Ravens talk 'must win' already Team aims to answer coach's challenge

September 15, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON -- It's only the third week of the NFL season and the Ravens are using such phrases as "character building" and "gut check."

The Ravens' game against the Houston Oilers at the Astrodome today could have playoff ramifications, and definitely postseason intensity.

The Oilers are 1-1, an inexperienced team looking for a second consecutive win and more confidence. The Ravens (1-1) had their psyche hurt last week when they were pummeled by the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-17.

A win restores some faith and inner calm in the Ravens, whose coach accused the team of lacking a proper work ethic and veteran leadership early last week.

The Ravens want a decent farewell heading into the bye week.

"Last week was the character week when we went into Pittsburgh and failed the test," said Ravens guard Wally Williams. "We needed to see how we would respond against the champions who were down because of injuries.

"Now we're into the gut check," Williams added. "We'll find out what kind of team we have, if there is potential, because we're on the road for the second straight week. All games are big, but this one is in the division. A big game just got bigger."

The Ravens were hit hard by injuries in the Pittsburgh loss. Williams is expected to miss the Houston game because of an ankle sprain. Starting defensive end Anthony Pleasant will miss his second straight game, also because of an ankle injury, and decisions won't be made on starting outside linebacker Mike Caldwell (knee) and reserve safety Bennie Thompson (groin) until game time.

That's what makes this game even more important to the Ravens. They will have a week to heal before facing the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, both currently 0-2, on consecutive weekends at Memorial Stadium.

"The season is young, but this is almost a must win for us," said safety Stevon Moore. "We talk about winning a division championship, but the champs beat people in the division. We win this one, we go into the bye week with a chance to get better physically and the opportunity to work out some problems.

"Then we get the Saints and Patriots at home, and we have a chance to go on a real roll," he added. "We have lost some xTC confidence at this point, but a win gets it back in a hurry. We'll find out a lot about the character of this team."

Last week Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda virtually said the team didn't have much character. One day after the Pittsburgh loss, he said the team had to learn how to win and continue to win.

He said the veterans had not stepped forward to lead. He pointed out that the former Cleveland Browns had five losing seasons in their past six years.

Simply put, he called them losers. Then he issued a challenge.

Today, Marchibroda will find out if the Ravens got the message.

"Look, this is our team, and we're the ones who are going to have to win ballgames," said Ravens running back Leroy Hoard. "When Ted says something, he doesn't beat around the bush. I think a lot of the players took his speech to heart."

The Ravens had a sharp week of practices. The sessions were crisp. Marchibroda said there has been a change in attitude.

"It has not been phony," said Marchibroda. "I think we're ready. I think we're focused."

The Oilers are a team that resembles the Steelers offensively. They pound the ball behind an underrated but physical offensive line that features center Mark Stepnoski and left guard Bruce Matthews.

The Oilers also have the Heisman Trophy winner from a year ago in running back Eddie George, who has not been a Heisman flop: 193 yards on 38 carries. Then there is quarterback Chris Chandler, who is off to a strong start.

"They could be 2-0 with that close loss to Kansas City in the opener," said Marchibroda. "They seem to have a nice blend of veterans and good young players. This is going to be a tough game, and we have to bounce back after a loss."

Defensively, the Oilers like to play an eight-man front. Their secondary and linebackers are talented, and safeties Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson can play the run as well as cover.

"We now have to face two of the best defenses in the conference back to back," said Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde. "For the second straight week, we can't afford to make any mistakes."

Despite the small crowds that have witnessed Houston games because of the team's proposed move to Nashville, Tenn., the Oilers have a home-field advantage.

"I think it has helped them to create an us-against-the-world attitude," said Hoard.

Williams said: "I would say we were going into a hostile environment, but there won't be anybody there."

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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