Ravens try to claw back In short time, Jaguars have become nemesis

November 30, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- If the Ravens want to make a statement as their season heads south, they need to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars today. It doesn't have to be a rout -- maybe a seven-point victory, or even one point, on the last play of overtime.

Just win.

"They [Jaguars] kind of got things going with a win over us last year," Ravens cornerback Antonio Langham said. "We've had some real battles with them, some real close games, but they always came out on top. The difference is they play 60 minutes and know how to finish. Until we learn that, we won't be a good football team."

It's that simple. The Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens have not beaten the Jaguars in five games. It started during the Browns' final year in Cleveland in 1995, when Jacksonville defeated the Browns twice to become the first expansion team since the 1966 Miami Dolphins to sweep an opponent.

Back then, Jacksonville was terrible and so were the Browns. Now Jacksonville (8-4) is tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for first place in the AFC Central, and the Ravens (4-7-1) are playing for pride and a position in the NFL draft in April.

"They've become one of the best teams in the league, and they were right about where we are a year ago at this time," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "They got some victories in some close games, including two against us at the end of last season, and they haven't slowed down since."

Offensive tackle Orlando Brown said: "Maybe we can turn our season around with a win against them."

If the Ravens are to win, they will have to slow Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell and receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. The Jaguars have the No. 9 passing offense in the league, averaging 215.5 yards.

Smith is the second-leading receiver in the AFC with 65 receptions for 1,036 yards and four touchdowns. McCardell, who has tortured the Ravens, has 54 catches for 705 yards and two touchdowns.

"One is a Pro Bowler [McCardell] and the other seems to be headed there," Langham said. "There aren't too many teams that have two complete receivers like these guys. Both are smart and they play well with their quarterback. They have the ability to break off routes, and Brunell seems to know when they are going to do it. They both get my respect, but when it's time to put it on the table, I'll be ready."

The pressure will be on the Ravens' secondary. Cornerback Eugene Daniel is out with a torn hamstring, and safety Rondell Jones, a starter until this week when he was benched in favor of rookie Kim Herring, is doubtful with a groin injury. Strong safety Stevon Moore is questionable with a knee injury, but he probably will play.

Second-year cornerback DeRon Jenkins, who has made solid progress in the past two months, will start for Daniel, and second-year player Donny Brady, benched earlier this season for ineffectiveness, will play at nickel back. The Ravens are so concerned about injuries and depth that they activated John Williams, a rookie from Southern, from the practice squad.

The situation doesn't look too promising against Brunell, the AFC's No. 3-rated quarterback, who has completed 172 of 294 passes for 2,153 yards and 13 touchdowns. The key for the Ravens will be to pressure Brunell, who plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.

"Brunell runs extremely well, which puts a lot of pressure on your defense," defensive end Michael McCrary said.

On offense, the Ravens always have put up big numbers against Jacksonville, and receivers Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander love to talk trash to Jaguars cornerbacks Dave Thomas and Deon Figures. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens go after the Jacksonville secondary or stay with the running, ball-control offense they have used during the past month.

Plus, Marchibroda benched Alexander early last week. Despite being the team's leading receiver with 701 yards on 52 receptions, Alexander has dropped numerous passes this season, which led to his demotion in favor of second-year receiver James Roe.

There also have been hints of dissatisfaction by the receivers because quarterback Vinny Testaverde is no longer throwing the ball all over the field.

"We have to get our offense back on track, and this is a good time to do it," Testaverde said.

Testaverde was surprisingly upbeat during practices this past week.

"We just haven't gotten it done the past couple of weeks," he said. "The coach said if a player wasn't going to get it done, then he wasn't going to be in there. He kept his word.

"Now it's time to move on. We've had a couple of weeks to get adjusted to this offense, so the transition period is over. Teams are no longer giving us the long ball, and we're not seeing the same defenses each week we've been seeing on film. But I expect us to attack them with everything we have."

Cat fights

The fourth-quarter struggles of the Ravens against Jacksonville:

11/10/96: Jaguars win, 30-27, at home when quarterback Mark Brunell scores a touchdown on a run around left end with 41 seconds remaining in the game.

11/24/96: Jaguars win, 28-25, when Mike Hollis kicks 34-yard field goal in overtime.

8/31/97: Jaguars win, 28-27, when Jimmy Smith catches 28-yard touchdown pass with 5: 47 remaining in the game.

Pub Date: 11/30/97

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