Ravens' secondary is primary concern Pass-happy Bengals only add to pressure

September 06, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Although he is only a second-year player, Ravens cornerback Donny Brady understands the trappings of his position.

Cornerbacks thrive largely by eliminating the long-range pass play. They survive by learning from their mistakes, forgetting about them and gaining confidence as they improve on them.

Brady and the rest of the Ravens' secondary still have some learning, forgetting and improving to do.

A glance back at last week's season-opening, 28-27 loss to Jacksonville illustrates their struggle. Of the 303 passing yards the Ravens surrendered to the Jaguars, 203 were allowed in just nine plays. Two of those plays went for touchdowns to wide receiver Jimmy Smith.

tTC A look forward to tomorrow's game against the visiting Cincinnati Bengals illustrates the pressure on the Ravens' secondary. While Jaguars quarterback Rob Johnson (20 of 24) was making his first pro start, Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake and wide receiver Carl Pickens have teamed up for a league-high 38 touchdowns since 1994. Then there's receiver Darnay Scott, who has added 15 touchdowns over the same span.

"I definitely wasn't pleased with my first performance. It needs improvement," said Brady, who surrendered both touchdown passes and expects to match up primarily with Scott tomorrow.

"I can't worry about last week. I can't look back. I have to keep pushing myself forward. I have to come out and do my job this week. The defensive line and the backers are doing their jobs. It's time for the team as a whole to put everything together."

The Ravens, seeking to upgrade the league's worst defense from a year ago, showed some encouraging signs in the opener. They stuffed the run, holding power back Natrone Means to 2.7 yards a carry. They pressured the passer, sacking Johnson three times and knocking him out of the game twice.

But their pass coverage broke down on numerous occasions, particularly on the corners in man-to-man coverage.

That's not a good sign with the Bengals coming to town.

"They are a big-play outfit, and they make those plays against everybody," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "We certainly have to play better in the secondary than we did last week."

The Ravens' problems in the backfield last week were not limited Brady and fellow cornerback Antonio Langham.

Rookie linebackers Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper sometimes were caught out of position, where they could not give Brady or Langham necessary help on inside routes. On other big plays, safeties Stevon Moore and Rondell Jones did not rotate properly, sometimes leaving the corners or the middle of the field exposed.

Jones, who signed with the Ravens as a free agent in the off-season, said inexperience and a lack of communication are the main culprits at this early stage. Brady and cornerbacks DeRon Jenkins and Dorian Brew are each in their second season. The Ravens are waiting for one of them to emerge. Jones has never started until this, his fifth season.

"We've had our problems at corner, but we had problems all over the place last week," Jones said. "In the defensive backfield, you're always going to be in the spotlight because you're the last line of defense."

Expect Blake to test the last line often.

"I think the Ravens are going to try confusing us a little bit. They'll blitz, put eight men up front to stop us from running," Blake said. "We're going to concentrate on the best part of our game, and that's throwing the football. I think you will see us trying to throw the football to set up the run, instead of vice versa."

Langham, still trying to regain the form that made him one of the league's most promising rookies in 1994, said tomorrow would be a fine place to start in a new direction.

"Sometimes, people don't know where they're supposed to be in our schemes. Some of that is inexperience, but there's no more room for excuses. We can't blame anyone but ourselves," he said.

"We [in the secondary] are kind of in a drought right now. Sometimes it takes one play to start a good trend. Somewhere along the line, we have to step up and make a big play when it needs to be made."

Dynamic duo

The Ravens should have their hands full again tomorrow against receivers Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott, who put up fine numbers in the Bengals' two victories over the Ravens in 1996:

Pickens ... Rec. .. Yds. .. Avg. .. TD

Game 1 ..... 6 ..... 65 ... 10.8 ... 0

Game 2 ..... 7 ..... 75 ... 10.7 ... 1

Totals .... 13 .... 140 ... 10.8 ... 1

Scott ..... Rec. .. Yds. .. Avg. .. TD

Game 1 ..... 6 ..... 70 ... 11.7 ... 0

Game 2 ..... 8 .... 103 ... 12.9 ... 0

Totals .... 14 .... 173 ... 12.4 ... 0

Overall ... 27 .... 313 ... 11.6 ... 1

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

When: 1 p.m. tomorrow

Site: Memorial Stadium

TV/Radio: Blacked out on local television; WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Bengals by 1 1/2

Tickets: About 6,800 remain

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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