Three Rivers basics spell domination STEELERS 37, RAVENS 0

From The Sidelines

November 10, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- Watching football at Three Rivers Stadium is like being in a time warp.

This is the way things used to be in the NFL. There are no PSLs, no club seats and no cheerleaders. There are no-frills luxury boxes that aren't very luxurious. There are $35 seats on the 50-yard line.

In Pittsburgh, the fans like the status quo. A proposal for a half-cent hike in the sales tax to fund new stadiums for the Steelers and Pirates did about as well last week as Alf Landon did against FDR.

Steelers fans like Three Rivers, and one of the things they like about it is the way their team dominates AFC Central Division opponents there.

When the Browns became the Ravens, they left their records in Cleveland, but they're doing no better than the Browns did in the stadium. They're now 0-2 after losing to the Steelers, 37-0, last night, although the Browns' worst loss here was 30-0.

The Browns were 4-23 in the regular season at the stadium, plus a playoff loss. But Cleveland's futility here got a lot of notice because it lost its first 16 here.

The other division foes haven't done much better. The Steelers are 66-19 in the regular season in the stadium, 70-19 if you throw in their four division playoff victories.

Of course, it's not really the stadium; it's the players the Steelers have that make the difference.

The team has a history of having the best players in the division, but you can make a case that the Ravens were psyched by the stadium because of the way they played. It was a game the Ravens lost more than the Steelers won. The Steelers had only an 87-82 edge in first-half yardage and were 1-for-9 on third downs in the first half, but led 20-0.

That's because the Ravens had five penalties in the first four minutes and four interceptions in the first 17 minutes. They wound up turning the ball over an incredible seven times.

The coaching wasn't much better.

Vinny Testaverde was suffering from the flu and two of the Ravens' starting receivers, Michael Jackson and Jermaine Lewis, didn't start because they weren't well enough during the week.

So did the Ravens try to button it down with a two-back or two-tight-end offense and run Bam Morris?

No!

They opened with their usual three-wide-receiver offense, with Ryan Yarborough and James Roe starting. They even passed on five of their first seven first downs.

Testaverde, who suffered bruised ribs after throwing his first interception, came out in the second period, but Eric Zeier wasn't much better and Testaverde came back to start the third period after taking some pain-killing medication.

But the game was already over because the Steelers, who overcame a 21-0 second-period deficit in the first game against the Ravens, weren't about to blow a 20-0 lead.

Highlights and lowlights of one of the Ravens' worst showings: Turning point: On the Ravens' first offensive play, Jeff Blackshear jumped offside. That put them into a hole before they took their first snap, and they never got out of it.

Testaverde file: OK, Testaverde had the flu, suffered bruised ribs and two of his four interceptions were tipped. And he was a standup guy after the game who didn't use his health as an

excuse. So let's give him the benefit of the doubt. But do the Ravens really believe they can be an elite team with him at quarterback?

Zeier file: Zeier looked like a quarterback making his first appearance of the year. He completed one of five passes for 3 yards in the second period. His first pass was intercepted, he fumbled twice and he even had a tipped pass hit an official's head. The Ravens have to wonder if he has a future.

Ground game: On the Ravens' third series, trailing 10-0, Morris ran for 3 and 9 yards on the first two plays for a first down at the team's 43. On the next play, Testaverde threw an interception. If the Ravens can't run the ball more than two straight times, they'll never develop a running game. They will have the usual excuse that they couldn't run because they fell behind, but last year they fell behind the Ravens 21-3 at halftime, ran 39 times and pulled out the game, 24-21. It would also help if the Ravens would junk the three-wide-receiver offense and put a running offense in their arsenal.

One-step rule: The Ravens have to give linebacker Peter Boulware a primer on the one-step rule -- a defender can't take more than one step to hit a quarterback after he releases the ball. He got away with it last week when he wasn't called for a penalty on a late hit on Glenn Foley, although he received a $7,500 fine. Yesterday, he cost the Ravens four points when he did it on a third-and-two play at his team's 17 on the first Pittsburgh drive. The late hit on Kordell Stewart helped the Steelers go in for a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal.

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