Front seven magic number for Ravens

September 08, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Ted was right -- it's not the same old Ravens.

How can you tell?

By watching the front seven on defense. And by considering these numbers:

Seven: That's the number of second-half points the Ravens have allowed in their first two games.

Believe it or not, the total was even lower at this point last season. But then the injuries hit, and opponents averaged 17 second-half points against the Ravens over the final 12 games.

The Cincinnati Bengals staged one of the most memorable eruptions at Memorial Stadium last Nov. 3, rallying from a 21-3 deficit by shutting out the Ravens 21-0 in the second half.

Yesterday, the Ravens shut out the Bengals 20-0 after halftime.

Final score: Ravens 23, Bengals 10.

Eight: That's the number of sacks the Ravens have registered through two games.

This is a team that had only 30 sacks all last season. But yesterday, with its front seven on the field together for the first time, it finished with five.

Defensive tackle James Jones said opponents already are trying to adjust, "chipping" the outside rushers with running backs, creating three-on-two mismatches on the inside.

Two of those outside rushers, Peter Boulware and Michael McCrary, combined for three sacks yesterday. Jones and middle linebacker Ray Lewis had the other two.

How good is the pass rush?

"Potentially," defensive end Rob Burnett said, "it's almost scary."

164: That's the number of yards rushing the Ravens have allowed through two games.

Jones and Tony Siragusa make a huge difference in the middle, enabling Lewis, the team's leading tackler, to play like a Pro Bowl player behind them.

Both Earnest Byner (75 yards) and Jay Graham (73) finished with more rushing yards than the Bengals (56) yesterday.

The difference in the running games was reflected in the times of possession -- 33: 42 for the Ravens, 26: 18 for the Bengals.

Last season, it was just the opposite, with the Bengals recording two of their four highest times of possession against the Ravens.

Yesterday, Cincinnati ran the ball only 14 times.

"The time of possession was atrocious," coach Bruce Coslet said. "That affected my play calling. We didn't get any semblance of a running game going."

Three: That's the number of turnovers the Ravens have forced through two games.

All right, it's nothing to make Deion Sanders jealous, but it seems that the Ravens' defense already has made as many big plays as it did all of last season.

There was the fumble recovery by Kim Herring with 1: 08 remaining against Jacksonville. And there were the two interceptions by Stevon Moore yesterday.

Here's what's so maddening: The Ravens might be 2-0 if they hadn't committed six turnovers in the first two games -- three in the first half yesterday.

Indeed, the franchise's entire identity might be about to undergo a transformation, with the defense keeping the team in games rather than the offense.

It happened yesterday, when the Bengals went three-and-out on their first three possessions and ran only six plays in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, the Ravens entered Cincinnati territory on each of their first five possessions, and scored only three points.

Ultimately, they needed a kick-start from coach Ted Marchibroda's no-huddle offense. And those three botched field goals by Cincinnati in the second half sure didn't hurt.

Still, a win is a win, and this one was the most significant in the Ravens' brief, sorry history.

They managed only one victory against the AFC Central last season, and it didn't come until Dec. 1 against Pittsburgh.

Now, they must erase an even more dubious mark -- their 0-8 road record since coming to Baltimore.

Their next three games are at the New York Giants, Tennessee and San Diego. All three are winnable if the defense plays the way it did yesterday.

Heck, the front seven was so good, the secondary looked almost presentable. Even DeRon Jenkins was making plays in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens' coverage was designed to protect cornerback Donny Brady -- "they had three safeties back deep the whole game," Blake said. And it wasn't always effective, with the Bengals compiling 204 yards in the second half.

Still, the front seven should only get better, making the secondary better, too. Boulware is still not in peak condition after his training-camp holdout. And McCrary is not yet 100 percent coming off knee surgery.

They're still learning about each other, but yesterday they held one of the NFL's most sophisticated offenses to a point total that matched its lowest since Dec. 18, 1994.

"I'll take how we played," Siragusa said. "There's always room for improvement. But we've got guys who can stop the run, guys who can rush the passer, people who make big plays. It's up to us. We can be as good as we want to be."

Same old Ravens?

Not with the front seven healthy.

Not when there finally is hope.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: New York Giants

Site: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Giants by 3

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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