Special teams coverage is spotty Blown, missed tackles give Arizona a break on returns

Ravens Notebook

Cardinals 16, Ravens 13

November 24, 1997|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Alan Goldstein contributed to this article.

At least kicker Matt Stover held up his end of the deal by going 2-for-2 on field-goal attempts, including a 46-yarder that tied the game 3-3 just before halftime.

As for the rest of the Ravens' performance on special teams, let's just say it was all downhill after Stover.

Punter Greg Montgomery was inconsistent on an unusually busy day that featured nine punts for a 41.8-yard average. But the worst reviews in yesterday's 16-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals go to the kick return and coverage teams that recalled the Ravens' porous production in those areas three weeks ago in a 19-16 overtime loss to the New York Jets.

How bad was it yesterday? Consider that the Cardinals (3-9) began drives three times in Ravens territory, two other times past their own 40. In their 12 possessions, the Cardinals took over on average at their own 35.

Contrast that field position with that of the Ravens, who, on their 12 possessions, started on eight occasions at or inside their own 20.

Whether by blown coverage, penalty or missed tackle, the Ravens' special teams found a way to do Arizona a favor. Repeatedly.

"I just don't know what's wrong, but we're not covering kicks at all," said special teams captain Bennie Thompson. "We haven't had a tackle inside the 20 since I don't know when. Penalties are killing us. I know everybody is tired of hearing it. I'm tired of hearing it myself."

The Ravens stumbled quickly. Following their first punt, Arizona's Kevin Williams broke off a 33-yard return to the Baltimore 44, where Tony Vinson saved a touchdown. That set up a 40-yard drive that ended with a 22-yard field goal by Joe Nedney.

Another lowlight came with 4: 30 left in the third quarter, after the Ravens had driven 80 yards on 12 plays to score a touchdown -- only their third in the last four games -- to take a 10-6 lead. Following Stover's kickoff, Kevin Williams dashed 34 yards to the Arizona 36. As the Memorial Stadium crowd grew quiet, the Ravens' defense stepped up to stop the Cardinals with a Rondell Jones interception.

Then in the fourth quarter, following a low punt by Montgomery, Williams cut through the coverage for 23 yards to the Baltimore 31. Ten plays later, the Cardinals took a 13-10 lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass by Plummer.

Williams returned six punts for 110 yards and two kickoffs for 60 yards. The Ravens also drew four penalties on special teams.

'A horrible waste'

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis (11 solo tackles) and defensive end Michael McCrary did not try to hide their disgust, as the Ravens slipped out of playoff contention by failing to win their second game since routing Tennessee, 36-10, on Sept. 21.

"This is a horrible waste of a team. In the beginning of the year, I was bragging about this team," said McCrary, who recorded his eighth sack of the year. "Look at the talent we have, and we just go out there and stink up the field. It's a shame we can't come together as one force. What a waste. It's embarrassing."

"It comes down to asking yourself [over the last four weeks] when are we going to get over the hump?" Lewis said. "Each player has to look himself in the eye and ask if they are playing football just to pick up a check or if they really want to play."

One of the most intriguing, one-on-one battles waged yesterday was between Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden and Arizona right end Simeon Rice, who was the third pick of the 1996 draft -- one selection ahead of Ogden.

The Cardinals changed up by moving tackle Eric Swann outside to challenge Ogden, but Rice gave Ogden the most trouble.

"He [Rice] wasn't trying to do anything but come hard, bull rush and push me back into the quarterback," said Ogden, who did not allow a sack. "He got me off balance a couple of times, but it wasn't like he was trying to get the sack. He was just trying to pressure the passer, and he did a good job of that."

Graham, J. Lewis limited

Wide receiver Jermaine Lewis and running back Jay Graham, who battled ankle injuries all week, tried to play, with limited success.

Lewis, who caught two passes for 13 yards early, gave way to Ryan Yarborough in the first half, although the Ravens mostly went with a two-tight end, two-receiver set, thereby eliminating the slot position.

Lewis stayed in as a punt returner, although he clearly looked bothered by the ankle.

Graham left the game after re-injuring his sore left ankle on the Ravens' second series. He gave way to Bam Morris, who responded by rushing for 88 yards and catching a team-high six passes for 35 more.

Morris, who is scheduled tomorrow to face charges in a Rockwall County (Texas) courtroom that he violated his six-year probation, earlier had predicted that he would finish yesterday's game no matter who started.

"We've got to make plays. We've got to be on the same page," said Morris, who scored the Ravens' only touchdown. "People do things. People make mistakes. It's a pride thing now."

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