If overhauled defense keeps retreating, someone will pay

October 20, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Now the questions turn ugly.

What if this is 1996 all over again?

What if the Ravens again finish with the worst defense in the NFL?

The answers aren't that complicated.

Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and most of his assistants would be fired.

It wouldn't necessarily be fair, but in the bottom-line world of the zTC NFL, it almost certainly would happen.

The Ravens appear on the verge of collapse with their next three games on the road against the Redskins, Jets and Steelers.

The sellout crowd of 64,354 booed repeatedly during yesterday's disheartening 24-13 loss to Miami.

And with the new stadium opening next season, owner Art Modell is going to need a scapegoat.

Firing coach Ted Marchibroda would be too drastic.

But Modell is trying to sell personal seat licenses, trying to fulfill his promise of an elite team by '98, trying to reach his first Super Bowl in 37 years as an owner.

He called yesterday's loss "not acceptable," promised an "internal examination" and concluded, "To say I'm disappointed would be the understatement of the century."

Lewis?

"He doesn't work for me. He works for Ted Marchibroda," Modell said. "Ted has responsibility for his staff. I have some private thoughts about different positions, different players, but they are only private thoughts.

"I suggest and stimulate thought processes. I don't mandate anything. I'll find out about Marvin Lewis. But I can't answer that question. And even if I could, I wouldn't tell you."

Lewis was unavailable to comment.

But it didn't take Marchibroda long to identify one of the Ravens' many problems in his post-game news conference.

"Teams that can't throw, when they hit us, we get them well. Teams that can't run, when they hit us, we make them well," Marchibroda said.

Marchibroda wasn't talking about Lewis directly, and he wasn't even targeting the defense specifically, not on a day when his offense lost two first-quarter fumbles and blew a fourth-and-one at the Miami 25 with a botched snap.

All things considered, this might have been the sorriest performance in the Ravens' sorry two-year history. They needed to recover from the Pittsburgh disaster. They had an extra week to prepare. And they never were in the game.

Remember the same old Ravens?

At least they were interesting.

The brand-new Ravens just stink.

The Dolphins were a team that couldn't run, a team that averaged 2.9 yards per carry, a team that ranked last in the league in rushing entering yesterday's game.

But against the Ravens, running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar turned into Mercury Morris and quarterback Dan Marino didn't even need to throw a touchdown pass.

Abdul-Jabbar ran for a career-high three touchdowns in the first half, became the first Dolphin to rush for 100 yards this season, again looked like the player who set the team rookie rushing record last year.

"There's no reason for them running against us the way they did, none whatsoever," Modell said. "We prepared for Marino all week, and they jammed it down our throats with the running game. I find that somewhat distressing.

"We've yet to put it together. I want to find out why. We have a better team than last year. We have plenty of time to come out of it. But today was a very, very big disappointment to me."

Modell and the front office spent the entire off-season trying to rebuild the defense. The Ravens used eight of their 12 draft picks on defensive players, signed free agents Michael McCrary and Tony Siragusa to bolster their line.

And now this.

The Ravens have allowed 87 points during their three-game losing streak. After recording eight sacks in their first two games, they have only six in their past five, including none yesterday.

Everyone knew the defense was young. Everyone knew it would require patience. But everyone thought it would get better as the season went on, not worse.

Which brings us back to Lewis.

The Ravens might have played his preferred 3-4 alignment if they had signed free-agent defensive end Raylee Johnson in the off-season. But they wound up with McCrary, and promised him they'd stay in a 4-3.

So, Lewis is like a player out of position -- he became a 3-4 expert as the linebackers coach in Pittsburgh. If the Ravens fired him, they'd be saying that they've got the right players, but the wrong coaches.

But how do they even know that?

Their linebackers are young, their defensive backs are suspect, and their defensive line has been slowed by injuries. Heck, even with the line at full strength, the Dolphins went a stunning 9-for-13 on third down yesterday.

It's not Lewis' fault the Ravens opened the season with Donny Brady at the right corner. It's not his fault they waited so long to sign Eugene Daniel. And it's not his fault that he's coaching so many rookies.

Still, the bottom line is the bottom line. Lewis wanted Peter Boulware to rush the passer, but too often he drops Boulware into pass coverage. Sometimes, his schemes are too cute. Other times, they're too conservative.

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