Ravens won't let run pass them by Marchibroda says offense to focus on boosting ground game

October 07, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

With a much-needed bye week ahead of them and a painful loss to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers behind them, the Ravens will spend the next few days revisiting some fundamentals to help them regain a winning touch.

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda lamented the team's inability to make a big defensive play throughout a nightmarish second half, in which the Steelers erased a 17-point deficit by scoring 35 points en route to a 42-34 victory. He said cornerback Antonio Langham needs to bounce back from a rough day during which he was beaten for two touchdowns and several other key completions. The same goes for quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who lost two fumbles and threw two interceptions in his second straight shaky game.

Marchibroda also said the Ravens need to rediscover their running game, which, despite the return of Bam Morris, has gone from inconsistent to nearly non-existent the past two weeks.

"We could have given ourselves a nice cushion when we started off at 3-1. To blow a 21-point lead, that's tough. We lost a game we should have won, and we lost a game that meant so much to us," said Marchibroda, who relayed a post-game conversation he had with owner Art Modell.

"It was the type of second-half performance that Mr. Modell and I can't tolerate. Nobody's job is safe with a performance like that," he said. "We've got to close the deal and cash in our chips, and we didn't do that."

Consider that, in back-to-back defeats to San Diego and Pittsburgh that have dropped the Ravens (3-3) to third place in the AFC Central, the Ravens passed the ball 89 times, compared with only 43 rushes.

In Sunday's defeat, the Ravens led for more than 50 minutes, but never controlled the line of scrimmage with the run. Testaverde threw 47 passes, and the Ravens ran the ball only 18 times. After gaining nine yards on successive runs in the Ravens' first possession, Morris had back-to-back carries in only one other sequence.

Marchibroda, who has gone almost exclusively with a one-back set this season, said the team will concentrate on expanding its attack with more two-back formations that incorporate rookie fullback Kenyon Cotton's improved blocking skills into the mix.

"We've been going pretty much with one formation, and we need to diversify the offense more, like we were doing in training camp," Marchibroda said. "We're going to get back to basics this week. The running game is one area we have to improve on during the bye week."

On the season, the Ravens have attempted 238 passes to 144 rushes. They are gaining a respectable 3.7 yards a carry, but have rushed for only three touchdowns.

"Sure, we have to run the ball. But to run just to run is not the answer," Marchibroda said. "You have to run it and be effective."

Some players grumbled privately about the Ravens' play selection on Sunday, but Marchibroda defended the play calling against Pittsburgh. It featured 8-for-19 passing for 83 yards by Testaverde on first down while the Ravens held the lead. Testaverde also was sacked three times when dropping back on first down during that stretch.

Marchibroda said the Ravens planned to counter Pittsburgh's relentless, run-blitzing, gap-shooting schemes with lots of first-down passing. The Steelers chose to stick with the regular, 3-4 defense for most of the game, instead of bringing extra defensive backs onto the field. And Marchibroda chose to oblige them by attacking them through the air.

Trouble was, the passing game remained out of sync after the Ravens charged to an early, 21-0 lead.

"They were sending a lot of guys on stunts, and our game plan was to pass a lot on first down, then run on second down," guard Jeff Blackshear said. "I thought we were going to get to hit guys in the mouth more [with the run], but we didn't."

Ravens running backs coach Al Lavan said: "On first and second down, Pittsburgh puts primarily seven guys in the box, and they usually outnumber you or out-gap you. Most times when they are in their regular defense, it's tough sledding [trying to run]. Linemen want to run the ball even if there are eight or 10 guys sitting up there. We don't do things on a time schedule. We do things based on the structure of the defense."

The return of center Wally Williams, scheduled to start against Miami on Oct. 19, figures to help the running game. The re-emergence of rookie Jay Graham wouldn't hurt. Since gaining 51 yards on nine carries against Tennessee two weeks ago, Graham has not carried the ball.

Besides reviving their ground game, Marchibroda said, the Ravens need to get healthy, make more plays on defense, and regain the momentum that quarterback Kordell Stewart and the Steelers took away during their improbable comeback.

Passing over run

How often the Ravens have rushed and passed the ball and the yards gained:

Opp., Result, Rush, Pass

Jax., L, 28-27, 17-72, 41-322

Cin., W, 23-10, 35-146, 36-275

N.Y.G., W, 24-23, 21-63, 35-223

Tenn., W, 36-10, 28-89, 37-318

S.D., L, 21-17, 25-111, 42-228

Pitt., L, 42-34, 18-52, 47-280

Pub Date: 10/07/97

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