2nd-half adjustments come early Marchibroda turns to get-tough policy, more reliance on run

Midseason Report

November 02, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

As the Ravens begin the final half of their regular season today against the New York Jets, coach Ted Marchibroda will be under the microscope.

The focus is no longer on the move from Cleveland. Most of the team's malcontented veterans are gone. The big-name rookies such as outside linebackers Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper and safety Kim Herring have had eight games to settle in. And Marchibroda has worked with the club for a year and a half.

Marchibroda apparently has decided on a tough-guy approach with this team, forsaking the "good guy, players' coach" image he brought to Baltimore when hired by owner Art Modell. The switch began three weeks ago, when Marchibroda benched left guard Leo Goeas and Sharper, and it continued a week later after the Ravens were humiliated by the Miami Dolphins, 24-13.

At a team meeting the next day, Marchibroda told his players that some of them were "stealing money" by not hustling on game day. He said that if a player didn't practice during the week, he wouldn't start on Sunday. He ordered the Ravens in full pads that Wednesday, a practice he had stayed away from last year.

The Ravens responded with a 20-17 win against the Washington Redskins last Sunday. If the Ravens are impressive against the Jets today, Marchibroda may be on to something special. If not, then Modell has to keep a keen eye on Marchibroda for the rest of the season to see if he can motivate this team.

"At the time, it was just something they needed," Marchibroda said of the new approach. "I can't answer as to the effect of it, but they played pretty well [against Washington].

"We're 4-4 at the midway point. I think we're probably a little better than what everybody expected, but yet we had the opportunity to be a little better," said Marchibroda, who has a year left on his contract. "It's all about what we do from here on in."

Marchibroda had to make a change, because he may have given his players too much freedom in the previous weeks. After the Ravens were beaten, 21-17, by the San Diego Chargers on Sept. 28 in one of the team's worst defensive efforts, Marchibroda allowed offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden to stay a few days in California to meet with his agent and friends.

Also during the same time span, injured defensive tackle Tony Siragusa was watching practice for a few minutes from a golf cart with Modell. Those things don't go unnoticed.

"Every injured player has to watch practice, not socialize. There is no time off during the season," said one player who didn't want to be identified. "I think Ted had to correct things like that to promote the team concept and he did. Things are back on an even keel."

Another advantage for the Ravens heading into the season's second half is that they may have discovered a running game, because quarterback Vinny Testaverde is no Jim Kelly running the K-Gun offense in Buffalo.

But who could blame Marchibroda for trying?

In the first four games of the season, Testaverde was as hot as any quarterback in the league. So, why not enjoy the streak? But once the Ravens couldn't throw on their first series after taking a 21-0, first-half lead on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Marchibroda should have tried to run. But he didn't.

And the Ravens couldn't run two weeks later because they fell behind early to the Dolphins.

But that all may have changed against the Redskins last week, when Bam Morris pounded out a career-high 176 yards on 36 carries.

The Ravens now have a formula for success: Run Morris behind an offensive line that averages about 330 pounds, and have Testaverde throw 19 to 29 times a game. It worked for the Cleveland Browns in 1994 when Testaverde led them to the playoffs.

"I love smash-mouth football. We did that against the Redskins," said right tackle Orlando Brown. "I know we have to do everything and take advantage of what defenses give us, but we offensive line] would rather just line it up and beat 'em up. Good football, ugly tough and mean."

If the Ravens can run, it also takes pressure off their defense, which remains one of the worst in the league. The Ravens' defensive line, the strength of the team, basically had two bad games against the Steelers and Dolphins.

The unit rebounded well against the Redskins, but Washington was without running back Terry Allen, so it remains to be seen if they have stopped their problems against cutback runners. But one thing is for sure: Boulware and Sharper are now familiar with the defense and should be accountable for the rest of the season.

Marchibroda agrees. He expects the defense to play better.

"Our young linebackers have now played eight games together and they're getting better each time out," he said. "They'll make some mistakes, but the way they run makes up for some of those. Jamie has become more aggressive in the last two games, and you know what Peter does best, and he is going to improve even more."

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