Ravens, short on line and run, make an ailing team look good

From the Sidelines

October 20, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Ravens gave a textbook lesson on how to lose yesterday.

When teams can't run, can't stop the run and turn the ball over, they lose.

The Ravens did all three in their 24-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

They let the league's worst rushing team shred them for 148 yards on the ground, they ran the ball just 16 times for 54 yards and they fumbled twice and gave the ball up a third time on a fourth-down fumbled snap that didn't count as a turnover.

The result was their third straight loss, and even quarterback Vinny Testaverde said that doubts are starting to creep in among some players.

That's easy to understand. They have to wonder if they're good enough to win.

In the last game, the Pittsburgh Steelers brought the league's worst passing offense into Memorial Stadium and Kordell Stewart threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns. The Dolphins are the league's worst rushing team and had failed to run for 100 yards in a game, yet Karim Abdul-Jabbar rushed for 108 himself.

As coach Ted Marchibroda pointed out, the Ravens make ailing teams well. They held Dan Marino to 189 yards passing and no touchdown passes and still were dominated.

They lost this game in the trenches. The offensive line didn't open holes and the defensive front seven was manhandled by an offensive line that is noted mainly for pass blocking.

For most pro football observers around the country, an 11-point loss to Miami would seem respectable because the Dolphins still have a mystique they don't deserve. In reality, the Dolphins are a one-dimensional team and the Ravens should have been able to give them a game if they're as good as they looked when they were 3-1.

With three straight road games coming up, the Ravens soon will find out if 3-1 was a mirage. It may turn out that they're not much better than they were a year ago.

Highlights and lowlights of a loss that could send the season into a tailspin:

Turning point: Trailing 14-3 in the second quarter, the Ravens went three-and-out and punted to the Dolphins' 40. The Dolphins then put together an 11-play, 60-yard drive that featured an 18-yard pass on third-and-17 at their own 33 to take a 21-3 lead. The Ravens know how to blow leads of 21-0 and 21-3, but not how to overcome them.

Testaverde file: Testaverde put up his usual good numbers, passing for 331 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. But he can't overcome his habit of making at least one critical mistake. This time, it was a fumbled snap while working with new center Wally Willams on a fourth-and-one play at the Dolphins' 25 in the second quarter. Testaverde, though, does get credit for being a stand-up guy after the game and patiently answering questions about a frustrating loss.

Ground game: The Ravens ran the ball just 18 times against Pittsburgh after leading 21-0. This time, they fell behind 21-3 and ran just 16 times. The Ravens ran from a three-wide-receiver set (the two-back set was nowhere to be seen) as Bam Morris gained 6, 8, 9 and 6 yards on the first four plays. But he was then stuffed for a 4-yard loss on second-and-three and the Ravens had to settle for a field goal after an incomplete pass. They lost the ball on fumbles on their next two possessions. They tried to go back to the run in the third quarter, but three first-down runs gained just 7 yards.

Fumble: The Ravens started to unravel when Morris fumbled on the second play of their second possession. Morris appeared to lose it before he got hit and said he never got control after the exchange. On the Ravens' next possession, Derrick Alexander fumbled after making a reception and getting hit by Terrell Buckley.

Poor judgment: On a first-down play at the Ravens' 42 in the first quarter, Tony Siragusa was two steps away from Marino when the quarterback released the ball. But Siragusa drove into Marino's knees for a personal-foul penalty that cost the team 15 yards to the Ravens' 22. Abdul-Jabbar then ran 4, 13 and 5 yards on the next three plays and the Dolphins had their first touchdown.

Alert: Since the Ravens were burned by Pittsburgh's fake reverses two weeks ago, it figured the Dolphins would try a reverse. But the Ravens were ready when the Dolphins ran one on the final play of the first quarter, and wide receiver Charles Jordan was thrown for a 6-yard loss.

Percentages: With the Ravens facing fourth-and-two at the Dolphins' 5 in the third quarter and trailing 21-3, Marchibroda played the percentages and took the field goal to cut the deficit to 15. Testaverde said he would have liked to have gone for it, but it was a coach's decision. It showed Marchibroda didn't have much confidence in his team making a big play, but maybe he remembered that fumbled snap in the second quarter.

Short route: On the Ravens' first drive of the second half, they faced a third-and-eight play at their 30. Derrick Alexander ran a 7-yard pattern, caught the pass and was a yard short when Calvin Jackson made a solid tackle. Alexander said he wasn't the primary receiver on the play.

Swinging gate: The Ravens used a strange formation after their fourth-quarter touchdown, with three players lined up on one side and three on the other. They could have tried a run for the two-point conversion on a play called the "swinging gate." But when the Dolphins appeared to have it defensed, the Ravens kicked the extra point.

Looking ahead: The Ravens now play the game that Baltimore fans have been looking forward to all year -- the William Donald Schaefer Bowl -- when they go to Jack Kent Cooke stadium next Sunday to play the Washington Redskins.

It was Cooke who once told Schaefer that Baltimore would never get a team as long as he was alive. He was right that Baltimore didn't get an expansion team, but didn't anticipate that Maryland's stadium deal would lure the Browns. Since the 3-4 Ravens can't afford another loss, the game will probably mean as much to the Ravens players as it does to the Baltimore fans.

Pub Date: 10/20/97

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