Reality check: Ravens need more upgrades

December 02, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

As always, Art Modell sees the glass as half full.

"I think we're two or three players from being a very, very competitive team," the Ravens' owner said yesterday. "They'll either come by free agency or the draft -- preferably free agency, where you get experienced players."

Two or three players, huh?

Brett Favre, Jerome Bettis and Deion Sanders would be ideal, but the Ravens are convinced that they could become playoff contenders with less-spectacular upgrades.

They need a new quarterback and at least two new starters in the secondary, but the party line is that this is the best little 4-8-1 team in football.

Vice president of pro personnel Ozzie Newsome said last week, "I think we are one quality player on defense, one quality player on offense and some veteran leadership away from going to the playoffs."

And coach Ted Marchibroda fell right into step yesterday, adding: "I feel the same way, I really do. What we're talking about is that hardened veteran who leads."

The Ravens' brain trust might indeed be right, given the narrow gap that exists between the contenders and pretenders in today's NFL. But Modell, in particular, has a history of over-rating his talent.

It would be nice if just once, his fantasy turned to reality.

The Ravens haven't shown the "significant progress" that the owner predicted for the second half of the season. And they're not going to be the "elite team" he predicted for 1998, either.

Their defensive front seven is certainly adequate, but they still need two strong cover corners to join safeties Stevon Moore and Kim Herring.

And that's not the half of it.

"We need to take a hard look at the offense," Modell said. "The offense has caused us a lot of problems."

And your quarterback, Art?

"All I'll say is the offense has caused us a lot of problems," Modell said. "It would be counterproductive for me to say this guy can't do it, that guy can't do it. The fact remains we have to address the offensive problems."

That's the closest Modell has come to indicting Vinny Testaverde. And if he truly believes the Ravens are two or three HTC players away, then one of them had better be a quarterback, or he's just fooling himself again.

That's what happened after the Cleveland Browns went to the playoffs in 1994. Modell gave several veterans fat new contracts, thinking he was on the verge of a Super Bowl. Actually, he was on the verge of collapse.

The news of the move to Baltimore helped ruin the 1995 season, but Modell stuck with Testaverde and Co. in '96, figuring he was only one year removed from the playoffs.

He's now in a three-year hole, and counting.

It probably would take two seasons for a rookie quarterback to develop, and Marchibroda has only one year left on his contract. In other words, the Ravens could be looking at back-to-back transitions.

But why get ahead of ourselves?

The Ravens need only two or three players.

Two or three players, and an offensive philosophy.

Is this a running team or a passing team? The Ravens no longer are certain, and it's one reason the offense is such a mess.

If they're a running team, they should junk the three-wide receiver set and draft another big back to go with Jay Graham.

If they're a passing team, they should resume throwing downfield and find a big-time receiver to replace Derrick Alexander.

The bottom line is, they're 1-7-1 since their 3-1 start. The only team with a worse record over that stretch is Indianapolis, which is 1-12 overall.

Mike Ditka seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown last week, but his New Orleans Saints own a better record than the Ravens. The Atlanta Falcons started 1-4, but they own a better record than the Ravens, too.

Both of those teams are 5-8, which is where the Ravens might be if not for their overtime tie with Philadelphia. Of course, they also could be 4-9, angling once again for the fourth pick in the draft.

As it stands, they would select eighth. Modell's stat of the week is that five of their losses have come by a total of 13 points. But the league is so weak, shouldn't the Ravens be winning some of these games, too?

The Saints, Rams and Bills all recorded upsets Sunday. The Eagles are unbeaten in Bobby Hoying's three starts. The Bengals are playing 90-year-old Boomer Esiason, for crying out loud.

The league is so unpredictable, the Colts' only victory is over the defending Super Bowl champion Packers. Yet the one constant, week after week, is that the Ravens find a way to lose.

They're 8-20-1 since coming to Baltimore.

Doesn't that mean something?

"There's an oddity here," Modell explained. "This is the exact reverse, the mirror image of the Cardiac Kids in 1980 in Cleveland. They won game after game the way we're losing game after game.

"When you're this close, things can turn very quickly. You can start winning these games. I have a lot of hope for the future. But we've got to get it started."

Any Sunday now would be fine.

Modell talks of one fewer penalty, one more first down. He says that Vince Lombardi taught him that the breaks of the game will even out. And with the Ravens' salary-cap woes easing, better days might indeed be ahead.

For now, though, it's all just fantasy.

Eight wins in 29 games, that's the reality.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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