Ravens seek a 1st: 3 straight Momentum, hopes high against Tennessee

September 21, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Ravens are at a point in their rebuilding where they are no longer talking about just winning a game, but putting together a streak.

Against the Tennessee Oilers (1-1) today at the Liberty Bowl, the Ravens (2-1) will attempt to win their third straight game, the second consecutive one on the road. Last year they finished 4-12 without consecutive wins or a road victory.

"We have a lot more momentum going into this game," said quarterback Vinny Testaverde. "We're starting to feel a lot more confident, we're feeling good about ourselves. No longer do we have to answer questions about can this team win on the road.

"We've won two in a row and we're going for three against the Oilers. That's our next step, putting together some kind of streak."

Said coach Ted Marchibroda: "To me, playing ball on the road is like playing at home. I'm not uncomfortable on the road. It's about playing your opponent, the guy across from you. We're not playing the guy in the stands. It's more about learning to win wherever you play, and we're getting there. We beat a good Cincinnati team, and then won at the Giants when we didn't play our best. Now we have to learn to continue to win."

The Oilers have given the Ravens problems. Dating to 1995 when the Ravens were the Cleveland Browns and the Oilers were from Houston, Tennessee has won three straight games, including a 29-13 victory last year at the Astrodome and a 24-21 win to close the season at Memorial Stadium.

A year ago, the Oilers relied more on the pass than the run. But that has all changed with the development of second-year running back Eddie George, who has rushed for 322 yards on 58 carries and two touchdowns. The Oilers are the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL, with a talented and physical line led by Pro Bowl left guard Bruce Matthews and center Mark Stepnoski.

"Eddie is a special, special player and he has the ability to take over a game," said Oilers coach Jeff Fisher. "It's hard not to give him the ball every play."

The Oilers' running game against the Ravens' run defense presents a key matchup. The defensive line of tackles Tony Siragusa, James Jones and Larry Webster and ends Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett have been the heart and soul of the team.

But last Sunday, the New York Giants smashed their pride by rushing for 121 yards. Neither McCrary, Burnett, Jones nor rookie outside linebacker Peter Boulware got much pressure on quarterback Dave Brown, who was content to throw short passes in the flat and over the middle for 269 yards.

The Ravens' rushing defense is ranked No. 6 in the league, allowing 95.0 yards a game.

"They are pretty good, real good," Webster said of the Oilers' running game. "I would rate them the same as Jacksonville. They are big, strong, physical and they have some veteran players to go along with the younger guy. Eddie George is running well. He seems to get stronger as the year goes on."

The Oilers are equally strong at stopping the run, allowing a league-best average of 49.5 yards in their first two games against Oakland and Miami. Tennessee plays a style similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers, attacking the line with eight or nine players.

The Oilers have also had great success against Testaverde.

"What the Oilers lack in size, they make up in intensity," said Ravens left guard/center Leo Goeas. "There are no big names on the defense, just a bunch of guys who give you a full day's work. They don't have a lot of 300-pounders, just guys who utilize their speed. They have guys who line up on the edge of you, then they shoot and penetrate gaps. We have to be on top of our games and assignments."

Testaverde needs to be especially sharp. If the Oilers shut off the run, they'll blitz him often. One key will be the matchups between Ravens receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander and Oilers cornerbacks Steve Jackson and Darryll Lewis.

The Ravens have a clear advantage there.

"They have one of the better tandems in the league, and we're very aware of that," Fisher said.

The Oilers also had an extra week to prepare because they had a bye last Sunday. But Marchibroda doesn't seem too concerned. Last week he watched his team play an ugly game, but the big-money players like Jackson, Alexander, Testaverde and middle linebacker Ray Lewis finally made the big plays in the fourth quarter to turn the game.

Maybe those plays and players helped the team turn the corner.

"Your best players have to step up when the game is on the line, and we didn't get that last year," Marchibroda said. "You're not always going to have things work. We were struggling against the Giants on both offense and defense. That's going to happen. But you can always fight for a win, and we did that. We want it to carry over into the Tennessee game."

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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