Ravens already talking 'must win' Facing 3 road Dames, team aims to avoid 0-2

September 07, 1997|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,SUN STAFF

It's only Week 2, but the Ravens' game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Memorial Stadium today already has been put into the "must win" classification.

This will be the second straight AFC Central game for the Ravens (0-1) before they hit the road for successive games against the New York Giants, Tennessee Oilers and San Diego Chargers. The Ravens franchise hasn't won on the road since the eighth game of the 1995 season, when the Cleveland Browns defeated the Bengals, 29-26, in overtime.

"Without a doubt, for this team specifically, this is the biggest game of our short history here for a number of reasons," veteran running back Earnest Byner said. "We need to win at home, to get a lift and hopefully have it carry over into unfriendly territory. We need a win to help our psyche. The only way to overcome losing is to begin a streak."

Cincinnati (1-0) also has put a significant emphasis on this game. A win would give the Bengals victories over two division rivals heading into a bye week before playing at Denver on Sept. 21.

"This is a very important game for us," said Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake. "Anytime you play within the division, you prepare and concentrate that much more. This is a two-win game for us."

It also shapes up to be a shootout. The game features two of the best receiver tandems in the league in the Ravens' Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander, and the Bengals' Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott.

Last Sunday in the Bengals' 24-21, come-from-behind victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Pickens had eight catches for 79 yards, including the game-winning, 6-yard touchdown reception from Blake with 41 seconds left in the game. Scott had five catches for 75 yards.

Jackson and Alexander combined for 10 catches for 166 yards, with Jackson turning a short pass into a 54-yard touchdown early in the third quarter. Neither team believes it has a strong enough defense to stop the other, or a secondary that can halt long passes.

"They score on everybody," Bengals coach Bruce Coslet said of the Ravens. "It's not a question of stopping them, but slowing them down a little. I would prefer not to get into a shootout with them, but you have to go with what the game dictates."

Ravens cornerback Antonio Langham said, "They have a great tandem. We're going to face two receivers who, when they get rolling, can bring it to you if you let them.

"I'm expecting Scott to come in and go at it and play hard. It's going to be a good matchup. I'm expecting Pickens to compete to the very end. It's going to be a challenge."

The Ravens' best weapon against the Bengals' offense may be a strong running game. Coach Ted Marchibroda wanted to establish the rush last week against Jacksonville, but couldn't after falling behind 14-0 on the Jaguars' first two possessions.

The Ravens will try to run Byner early, but also put rookie running back Jay Graham and his explosive speed into the lineup early. The Ravens don't want to put the entire game in the hands of quarterback Vinny Testaverde, Jackson and Alexander as well as Langham and fellow cornerbacks DeRon Jenkins and Donny Brady.

"Each week, we mention the running game as He of the keys," Byner said. "We have to make them respect it. I don't know if it's the key to this game, but it has to be one of our focuses."

The Bengals will present the Ravens with a new defensive look this season. Coslet hired Dick LeBeau away from the Pittsburgh Steelers during the off-season to become the team's defensive coordinator.

The Bengals will run a 3-4, but will zone blitz a lot like the Steelers and Ravens, a scheme used to confuse offensive linemen and the quarterback.

But one area in which the two teams differ is in winning close games. The Bengals are 8-2 since Coslet replaced David Shula last Oct. 21, outscoring opponents 108-45 in the fourth quarter. The Bengals swept the series against the Ravens last season, rallying from a 21-3 half-time deficit to win, 24-21 on Nov. 3, then staging a goal-line stand in the final minute of the fourth quarter to preserve a 21-14 victory on Dec. 8.

Cincinnati pulled off another miracle finish last week against Arizona after trailing 21-3 in the fourth quarter.

"Unfortunately, it's becoming a trademark," Coslet said. "We can't obviously afford to do that week in and week out. I'd rather play a complete ballgame."

Marchibroda will take a win any way he can get one. The Ravens have blown second-half leads while losing nine of their last 11 games.

"I think all of us have done it before, but it seems like we have forgotten," Ravens renter Quentin Neujahr said about holding leads Marchibroda said: "This is a tough, tough league and you have to have toughness to play in it. And, just when you start doing all the things you need to win at this level, you have to dig deeper and find more ways to win. We have to dig deeper. We have to get tougher. We have to find a way."

Ravens today

Bengals at Raven

Site: Memorial Stadium

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Bengals by 2

TV/Radio: None/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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