Steam bath produces watered-down play


August 25, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

On a muggy August night in Maryland, it might be a good idea to walk the beach in Ocean City.

It wouldn't be a good idea to play a football game. The weather would be too steamy.

That may explain why the Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles didn't play very well last night.

The Ravens wound up posting a 23-6 win, but the victory wasn't as impressive as the score. The Ravens' first-string offense produced only a field goal before departing after the first series of the second half.

The tone was set in the first quarter, when each team was penalized three times.

The Eagles managed the neat trick of returning an interception to the Ravens' 1-yard line and then punting. A penalty on the runback and an intentional grounding penalty on a sack ended that drive.

The officials got into the act in the second quarter when they called a defensive penalty on the Ravens' No. 89, who plays on offense (tight end A.J. Ofodile).

Of course, it would be a mistake to overreact to this showing. It was still a meaningless exhibition game.

But it's worth noting that the Ravens beat the Eagles, 24-13, in the third exhibition game a year ago in Philadelphia on a steamy August night.

At the time, the Eagles were coming off two playoff seasons but didn't appear to be any better than the Ravens. It turned out they weren't. The teams played to a 10-10 tie in the regular season, and both went 6-9-1.

This year, the Ravens like to think they'll be better than the Eagles, but they didn't provide much evidence last night to back up that theory.

They have to wonder if they have enough playmakers, especially when Jermaine Lewis, who has a history of being injury-prone, doesn't play. He sat out with a sore ankle and was missed. Rookie Patrick Johnson made a couple of big plays, but they came against the backups.

Then there's the running game. Jay Graham is supposed to be the starter, but he was ineffective for the third straight game, gaining just 14 yards on 10 carries. Errict Rhett's stats weren't much better (30 yards in 13 carries), although he did convert four short-yardage situations into first downs.

Coach Ted Marchibroda didn't blame Graham because he said there wasn't much blocking up front. The Ravens had their first-string line together for the first time now that Wally Williams is back, but the line wasn't very effective.

The one consolation for the Ravens is that they always figure to be entertaining with Jim Harbaugh at quarterback. He pulled off his Houdini act as he scrambled five times for 42 yards and often threw on the run. But he didn't get the team in the end zone.

Highlights and lowlights of a night that won't be long remembered: Turning point: The Ravens were leading 10-6 in the third quarter when Johnson streaked past Alundis Brice and hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Eric Zeier.

Reunion: This was a big night for the Harbaugh family. Jim's brother, John, is the Eagles' special teams coach, and both their wives and children attended, along with an uncle, aunt and cousin. Without much help from the running game, Harbaugh was a one-man show as he often had to dodge tacklers while completing 11 of 16 passes in addition to his running. One pass into double coverage was intercepted.

Running game: What running game? Harbaugh got nearly half of the Ravens' 101 rushing yards. In 12 days, they take on Levon Kirkland, Joel Steed and the rest of the Steelers. Are they ready to run against them?

Speed: Johnson flashed his speed while catching the touchdown pass and a 50-yarder that set up a field goal. He earlier dropped a long one from Harbaugh.

The $3.5 million man: Rod Woodson, the Ravens' most expensive off-season veteran acquisition, returned a fumble 26 yards for a touchdown after Jamie Sharper's hit on Kevin Turner. He also lined up at times against Irving Fryar in a battle of old warhorses. Fryar beat him once with a double move on a 23-yard pass, but Woodson came right back with a good break to break up a pass. Still, Woodson hasn't been really tested yet in the exhibition season.

Return: Wally Williams, who ended his holdout last week, got a long workout as he played into the fourth quarter. but he didn't help much. The first-string line had one of its poorer showings. Orlando Brown, Jonathan Ogden and Jeff Blackshear were yanked after the first series of the second half, even though they tried to go back in.

Punting duel: The Ravens punted only five times, with Kyle Richardson averaging 41.7 yards with three punts and veteran Greg Montgomery averaging 38.5 yards on two punts. But Montgomery's average was misleading since he had one punt to the Eagles' 11. If the edge goes to the veteran, Richardson hasn't won the job, but this duel will go to the last game.

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