Fixing the scoring machine Ravens try to get offense untracked

December 04, 1997|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

For most of the season, Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda has spent most of his time running the defensive video and attending meetings. That all changed two weeks ago. Marchibroda is back on the other side of the ball trying to put a spark in the offense.

The offense is apparently at a crossroads, trying to find a balance of pass and run. Last year, the Ravens were labeled a passing team. For the first four weeks this season, they also relied on the pass. Then, when Bam Morris returned from a four-game suspension at the beginning of the season and the Ravens sufferered a devastating loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they became a running team. Now they are simply a 4-8-1 team, out of playoff contention and facing a lot of questions.

What has gone wrong with the offense? Who is the offensive coordinator and who calls the plays? What style will the Ravens play in the future?

"Maybe last year we were labeled a passing team because we always had to come from behind," Marchibroda said. "I'd like to think we're a club that can both pass and run, but our basic premise is to go into a game running the ball.

"The major problem with our offense is we never really came together. We started off the season without Bam and Wally [center Wally Williams], and then when we got both of them back, Jermaine [slot receiver Jermaine Lewis] got hurt and then we had injuries to our other receivers. We really haven't been able to give a lot of work to one unit."

The Ravens have the No. 9-ranked offense in the league and are not far off last year's production when they averaged 109.1 rushing and 248.6 passing yards and 23.2 points per game. This year, they are averaging 107.4 yards rushing yards and 20 points a game, but the big differences from a year ago are the average of 224.6 passing yards per game and 6.3 yards per reception compared with 7.5 a year ago.

Both the rushing and passing attempts for both years are similar, with the team averaging about 26.5 rushing and 36 passing attempts a game. Receiver Michael Jackson cites another major change.

"A year ago, we had more confidence in our offense compared to other teams in this league, even the NBA," Jackson said. "Now, we just have a lot of unsatisfied individuals. We have a philosophy, but not everyone knows what the philosophy is."

Asked if he was referring to coaches as well as players, Jackson replied: "Everybody."

The offense is run more by committee than is the defense, which is basically the sole responsibility of defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. According to Marchibroda, assistant head coach and offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz is "technically" the offensive coordinator and puts in the running offense for the week, and Marchibroda and quarterbacks coach Don Strock design the passing offense.

On game day, Strock calls the plays with advice from Ferentz. Marchibroda, who was extremely successful as the offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills during their Super Bowl runs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, defended his approach.

"It's basically the way I've always done it," said Marchibroda. "It's a combination on offense. I brought in the offense. Since then, I've sort of turned it over to Don and Kirk. Last year, I was involved from the standpoint of presenting the offense to the players. I ran the video. I still get involved in putting in the passing plays."

The Ravens started 3-1 and quarterback Vinny Testaverde was putting up some impressive numbers, throwing for more than 300 yards in two of those games and 266 in the other. But after blowing a 21-point lead in the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers and losing, 42-34, in Game 6 on Oct. 5, the Ravens decided to become more run-oriented, and the offense still struggled.

But it wasn't just the Pittsburgh loss that made the Ravens change. Testaverde was struggling, and his interceptions (he has thrown 15) and fumbles were hurting the team. The Ravens may have become conservative, using shorter routes across the middle and safer patterns such as hitches to build his confidence and keep their ineffective defense off the field.

But the Ravens found that they have a hard time running 13- or 14-play drives without committing costly mistakes. It's either a dropped pass, a fumble, an interception or a holding penalty. Always something. The special-teams play has been horrendous, giving the team some bad field position as well.

Also, early in the season teams doubled Jackson in pass defense, taking away his big-play abilities, but the Ravens countered by going in the slot to Lewis, who had become the team's primary weapon until an ankle injury slowed him at midseason. Jackson also struggled with a back and biceps injury, and Marchibroda has benched Derrick Alexander, a Pro Bowl alternate a year ago, twice in the last month because he wasn't happy with Alexander's performance on or off the field.

There were also receivers who were unhappy about the Ravens no longer being a passing team. Simply put, some of them didn't play as hard.

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