Oilers knocked off their balance Play-action game plan foiled by falling behind

September 22, 1997|By Brian Douglas | Brian Douglas,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The time for going easy on Steve McNair was over.

Tennessee Oilers coach Jeff Fisher used a week off to upgrade the passing attack. They were to throw at all costs yesterday against the Ravens, and they paid for it with a 36-10 loss, thanks largely to the sputtering play of the Oilers' offense.

"Our plan was to open the offense up," Fisher said. "We wanted to use some play-action passes and do some things off our running game. But we got behind and got away from our game plan."

Fisher had the luxury of easing his quarterback into the season in the first two games, mostly because of the effective running of Eddie George. The Oilers had thrown the ball 39 times in two games, compared with 81 passes by their opponents.

George had rushed 58 times for 322 yards, second in the league despite the Oilers' bye last week.

But Fisher decided to use George as a decoy and let McNair take his game to a new level, for better or worse. At first, it seemed to be working.

The Oilers overcame an early McNair fumble and took the lead, 7-3, in the first quarter, when McNair connected with former Maryland player Frank Wycheck for a 36-yard touchdown when Ravens linebackers failed to stay with their coverage.

"The fake to Eddie worked to suck their linebackers in," McNair said. "Wycheck can go one-on-one with any linebacker, so I was looking for him.

"At first, their pass rush was not so tough, but it got tighter and tighter as the game went on."

The Ravens' rush was helped by the part of the offense Fisher hadn't counted on -- turnovers. Linebacker Jamie Sharper picked off McNair at the start of the second quarter, which led to a Ravens touchdown.

The Ravens then put together a 12-play, 87-yard drive for another touchdown to take a 17-7 lead. As the Oilers fell behind, the offense fell into disarray.

The result was sloppy ball-handling and five fumbles. In all, turnovers led to 19 Ravens points.

Trailing the entire second half, McNair found himself scrambling to throw and abandoning the running plays that had been so effective in the first two games. George carried eight times for 40 yards in the first half. He carried twice in the second half for no yards.

"We knew we were going to throw a little extra," said Oilers offensive coordinator Les Steckel. "But we found ourselves behind before the short passing game could take over."

Tennessee finished with 97 yards rushing, and McNair was 22-for-30 for 199 yards passing, just 64 of those in the second half.

"They were committed to stopping Eddie, and we were committed to balance," Wycheck said. "We did a great job, but unfortunately we turned the ball over and they turned them into points."

McNair's scrambling to get off passes rarely yielded a positive outcome, and one try resulted in his second fumble of the game.

Trailing 30-10 early in the fourth quarter, McNair tried to scramble away from a host of tacklers, but was stripped of the ball. Rob Burnett recovered on the Tennessee 22, and, three plays later, Matt Stover kicked a 34-yard field goal.

"We don't need to change our style, we just need to execute our plays," McNair said. "We hurt ourselves."

Stopped cold

One of the keys to the Ravens' victory yesterday was stopping Eddie George, the Oilers' star running back, who was held to a career-low 40 yards. A look at George's worst rushing games:

Date, Opponent, Att-Yds

9/22/97, Ravens, 10-40

12/8/96, Jacksonville, 16-45

9/29/96, at Pittsburgh, 11-47

9/1/96, Kansas City, 21-50

11/17/96, Miami, 15-60

Pub Date: 9/22/97

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