Ravens are off-key on a major scale Offense sings sad tune of mistakes, turnovers

November 12, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Midway through the second quarter of Sunday night's fiasco in Pittsburgh, Ravens left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden captured the frustration of an entire offense.

The Ravens, already in a 17-0 hole with four turnovers behind them, allowed Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd to blitz freely from the blind side of backup quarterback Eric Zeier. Lloyd's hit forced a Zeier fumble that Pittsburgh recovered at the Ravens' 8.

Ogden had seen enough. He ripped off his helmet and flung it onto the Three Rivers Stadium turf while screaming a few choice words. Penalty flags flew. An unsportsmanlike conduct foul was assessed, making it easier for Pittsburgh to extend its lead to 20-0.

In the aftermath of the 37-0 rout, which marked the Ravens' fifth loss in six games, virtually killed any scant playoff hopes and represented the lowest point of the team's two-year history here, Ogden was still seething.

"I don't apologize for the emotion I displayed out there," he said. "That makes me the player I am. If I get mad like that, it's because of all the stupid things we're doing to beat ourselves."

Ogden has a point, as the Pittsburgh disaster underlined a trend that has marked the Ravens' 1-5 slide. While the defense has shown steady signs of life over that stretch, the offense, formerly one of the league's more potent, has grown increasingly unproductive.

Consider that, since the bye week last month, the Ravens (4-6) have scored only 49 points in four games. Through 10 games, their 210 points leaves them ranked ninth in the AFC, a long way from last year's unit that ranked near the top of the league all season. Since blowing out Tennessee, 36-10 in Week 4, they have managed more than 20 points just once, in last month's 42-34 loss at home to Pittsburgh.

What is galling to the Ravens is that, for the most part, they have continued to move the ball effectively. They have found their running game. Running back Bam Morris' 345 yards in the past three weeks is second only to Denver's Terrell Davis.

Questionable play-calling and a lack of execution have hindered the Ravens. Witness their red-zone problems. Twenty-nine trips inside the opponents' 20 have yielded only 12 touchdowns, a 41.4 percent success rate that ranks near the bottom in the AFC. Thank goodness for kicker Matt Stover, who is having a Pro Bowl season (22-for-24 on field-goal attempts).

But nothing wipes out a good drive or impressive statistics like a turnover or an ill-timed penalty. And the Ravens, particularly quarterback Vinny Testaverde, have become familiar with those statistics lately.

During their 1-5 streak, the Ravens have sustained few drives, while committing 20 turnovers and forcing only eight. Testaverde has thrown eight interceptions and fumbled eight times, negating his seven touchdown passes.

Against Pittsburgh, the Ravens turned the ball over seven times and committed 11 penalties. Testaverde, bothered by the flu and a rib injury he suffered on the game's third play, threw interceptions on the Ravens' first three possessions before giving way to Zeier. After the game, a Pittsburgh radio station dubbed the Ravens' starter "Vinny Interceptaverde."

"We're playing our best defense ever, and we know we can move the football," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said. "But we've got to get our house in order. We've got to move the ball without the turnovers and the penalties."

"Last year, we knew we had to score 27 points to have a chance of winning," center Wally Williams said. "This year, we have a better defense. But now, mistakes are killing the offense. We know we can score. We're just not putting ourselves in good situations when we keep giving the ball back to the other team."

"We've all played a part in this. I'm responsible for part of it," said Morris, who failed to pick up the blitzing Lloyd on Zeier's fumble. "Now it's gut-check time for everybody, especially the offense."

To improve the attack, Marchibroda is considering re-inserting Leo Goeas as the starting left guard in place of Ben Cavil. Marchibroda also said that the Ravens' special teams need to help the offense's field position by playing better.

"If we keep moving the ball the way we have -- and I'm eliminating the Pittsburgh game -- we're going to win. Field position is the name of the game," Marchibroda said.

Wide receiver Michael Jackson has felt frustration on multiple levels this season. Jackson, who is bothered by a torn right biceps, has not scored a touchdown in seven straight games.

"The problem is what we're doing to ourselves, not what defenses are doing to us," Jackson said. "Until we fix things, the offense is going to keep going down the drain."

NOTES: The Ravens will mark the final NFL game at Memorial Stadium with a series of ceremonial gestures on Dec. 14 against Tennessee. A special, stadium-closing salute after the game will conclude a daylong celebration that will begin with former Colts players greeting fans as they enter the stadium.

A military jet fly-by will take place during the national anthem, former Colts will be introduced throughout the game, and Colts quarterback legend Johnny Unitas and a Ravens receiver will team up for one last play. The ball will be delivered to the new stadium at Camden Yards.

Rookie Kim Herring could replace veteran Rondell Jones as the Ravens' starting free safety this week.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Philadelphia Eagles

Site: Memorial Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m. TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Eagles by 1

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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