There's no defending Ravens' offense

November 24, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

Thirty-nine points in the past four games.

Thirty-nine points from a once-prolific offense.

Thirty-nine points, and the Ravens' best offensive player might be headed to jail.

Coach Ted Marchibroda finally conceded the Ravens don't have enough talent after yesterday's 16-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Last season, it was the defense that required an overhaul.

This season, it's the offense.

Quick, someone throw another birthday party to help the front office trim the roster.

All the Ravens need is a running back to replace Bam Morris, a receiver to replace Derrick Alexander, a fullback, another tight end and a new left guard.

And, oh yes, a young quarterback to replace Vinny Testaverde.

Three weeks ago, we tried to defend Testaverde, saying that for all his faults, he was still one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL.

Three non-victories, five interceptions and thousands of boos later, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain that position.

Testaverde is not a winning quarterback. End of story.

Please, not a word about how the running game is hurting the passing game. The running game is supposed to enhance the passing game, for crying out loud.

And yet Marchibroda, a coach with a knack for getting the most out of his quarterbacks, no longer is willing to risk Testaverde throwing downfield.

Indeed, yesterday was the fourth time in the past five games that the Ravens have passed for under 200 yards.

Why is the offense struggling?

For now, the Ravens are pleading the fifth.

"I have no idea," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said.

"I honestly don't know," Marchibroda said.

"Whatever the reasons are, I really can't say," Testaverde said.

Testaverde did not throw an interception yesterday -- progress! -- but he also did not throw a touchdown pass against a team that hadn't allowed fewer than 19 points all season.

It wasn't entirely his fault -- the Ravens dropped at least three balls and committed three holding penalties -- but the 53,976 fans at Memorial Stadium didn't care.

They booed early and they booed often, and they're not going to be satisfied until the Ravens attempt to trade up to draft Tennessee's Peyton Manning or Washington State's Ryan Leaf.

The team is likely to explore that possibility this off-season. And if it can't complete a blockbuster, it can always select a quarterback later in the draft.

In the meantime, they should strongly consider playing Eric Zeier in the final four games, and even Wally Richardson.

What would happen to Testaverde?

The Ravens can attempt to trade him. Or make him an expensive backup. Or dump him and take a big salary-cap hit, the least appealing option.

Testaverde, 34, might not be a fiery leader, but he's a company man. He could help groom a young quarterback. And he could still contribute off the bench.

But again, not all of this can be pinned on No. 12.

Wide receiver Jermaine Lewis has missed four games with injuries, and that's part of the reason the offense is so out of sync.

Without Lewis, the Ravens' three-wide receiver set becomes less dangerous. And without a quality fullback, they're limited in the number of looks they present.

They opened with two tight ends yesterday, and used fullback Kenyon Cotton on Morris' 1-yard touchdown run. More, Ted, more: Few teams win with three wide receivers.

Heck, the Ravens might not have had time to score at the end of the half if the Cardinals hadn't foolishly called a timeout before punting.

And their drive for the tying field goal would have been aborted if not for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on former Raven Mike Caldwell.

Testaverde, playing with a sprained right wrist and forearm contusion, fumbled on that drive.

Morris -- the Ravens' Ol' Reliable -- recovered.

What will the Ravens do without the Bamster, who caught a team-high six passes and accounted for 123 yards of total offense in what might have been his last performance as a free man?

Another good question.

Morris' uncertain future and Jay Graham's inexperience make it critical that the team obtain another running back.

Then there's Alexander.

He caught three passes yesterday, including a 12-yarder to set up the field goal at the end of the first half.

But he's an unrestricted free agent who has been late for team meetings and dropped numerous passes this season, and doesn't deserve to be back.

Say this for Alexander -- at least he didn't criticize the play-calling on a day the Ravens out-gained the Cardinals, 314 yards to 273.

"Sometimes I think we can call different plays," Alexander said. "But a lot of times we mess up.

"I missed a pass today. Something will happen. That deters the coaches from calling different plays."

Michael Jackson, the Ravens' other wide receiver, has made no secret that he wants the ball more, but he turned cryptic when asked why the offense has sputtered.

"It's a lot of things about us that's different than last year," Jackson said.

What kinds of things?

"They're all noticeable. Just look and see. Think back -- everyone has a memory. If there was anything to remember about last year, it was our offense. Think back to then. Look at now."

Thirty-nine points in four games.

It is not a pretty sight.

Pub Date: 11/24/97

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