In the heat, a cold night in trenches

August 25, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Brown and Jeff Blackshear lingered on the field with 11: 21 left in the third quarter, wanting to stay in the game.

They knew it hadn't been the offensive line's finest hour.

They wanted to atone, right then and there.

"All us felt we hadn't played the best we could," Brown said. "We wanted to stay out there until we played better."

Well, coach Ted Marchibroda had seen enough.

"They had the whole first half to do what they wanted to do in the third quarter," the coach snapped after the Ravens' 23-6 victory over Philadelphia.

Yes, it was only the preseason, but this was a glimpse of the Ravens on a night they lacked a running game.

It wasn't pretty, to say the least.

Jay Graham running nowhere. Jim Harbaugh scrambling out of the pocket. Eric Green catching only two passes.

And Marchibroda ripping his offensive line.

"I don't know what happened to them," he said. "This is an outfit we're counting on, one of the cores of our football team. We couldn't run the football. Our pass protection wasn't the best. We were making mistakes, making errors."

Marchibroda was so upset with the line, he again backed Graham as his starting running back, even though the second-year player gained only 14 yards on 10 carries.

"It was one of those ballgames where there was nothing Jay could do," Marchibroda said. "It wasn't Jay's fault. Jay just couldn't get started."

And if Graham can't get started, and Errict Rhett can't get started, and quarterback Harbaugh winds up the leading rusher, the Ravens are in trouble.

"I was working on my conditioning," Harbaugh joked after repeatedly getting flushed out of the pocket.

He gained 42 yards on five carries.

"Is that all?" he asked.

Granted, it was only Wally Williams' first game back at left guard, only Jeff Mitchell's third preseason start at center. But the first-team line was subpar, and everything else fell apart.

Graham continued to struggle. Harbaugh had a Vinny moment, throwing a gift interception to Bobby Taylor. Michael Jackson never even saw the ball.

Indeed, this was a wake-up call for the first-team offense on a night on which Patrick Johnson showed his electrifying potential, catching three passes for 95 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown.

Yes, it's only the preseason, but Marchibroda is in the last year of his contract, and he wants to play smash-mouth football with his new two-back offense.

He should play it with Rhett.

The veteran running back converted two third-and-ones, a third-and-two and a fourth-and-one, and also caught a third-and-five pass for a first down. How can he not start the season opener against Pittsburgh on Sept. 6?

Graham is averaging only 2.3 yards per carry in the preseason. He's too tentative, too inexperienced for a team that believes it can contend for the playoffs, at least at this stage of his career.

Then again, Marchibroda is right -- Rhett or Graham, it won't matter who starts unless the offensive line again emerges as the team's most effective unit.

The Ravens dominated both sides of the ball in their first two preseason games, in a way they never had in their two-year Baltimore history. Last night was a step backward, but only a preseason step.

Brown said the Eagles slanted to the tight-end side more than the Ravens expected. Marchibroda hinted at the effect of Williams' holdout, saying, "We may have played our 11 best -- but maybe not our best 11."

"I don't think it had anything to do with me coming back -- Philadelphia did a good job playing defense," Williams said. "It's going to come with time. We'll definitely be ready by the Pittsburgh game."

Whatever, Marchibroda screamed at the offensive linemen in the second quarter, gesturing with both hands. It was a steamy Baltimore night, but none of the linemen used that as an excuse.

"We're lucky it's the preseason and doesn't count," Brown said. "As a unit, we need to play better. We're lucky this one is not going in the books."

Said Ogden: "During the season, we're going to be more prepared. We're not going to go in quite as blind. But it's no excuse. We can't go out there and miss blocks like that."

This is a mean group, fiercely proud, fiercely competitive.

Rhett better fits the unit's personality than Graham.

He entered last night's game with 3: 40 remaining in the second quarter, touched the ball three straight times and, just like that, the Ravens had a first down.

Here's all you need to know about the two backs: Graham got tackled by a free safety on the game's first play. Rhett bowled over a defensive back and knocked his helmet off in the third quarter.

Rhett carried 13 times for 30 yards and caught three passes for 17. He's averaging 3.69 yards per carry, mostly behind the second-team line. That's more than 1 1/2 yards better than Graham.

Again, though, it all starts with the line.

"I look at it like this," Brown said. "If we would have game-planned for these guys, I know what we would have done. We didn't run half our stuff."

The bottom line is, no one should get too upset by any of this. The Ravens escaped without any serious injuries. They're 3-0, for heaven's sake. And they play only one more of these meaningless exhibitions, Friday against the New York Giants.

Maybe Marchibroda will calm down by then.

He sounded very much like a coach in the last year of his contract last night.

Pub Date: 8/25/98

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