'Special formation' leaves RB Graham sitting on sideline Holmes backs up Rhett

Ravens Notebook

coach says game plan was the deciding factor

September 07, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Eduardo A. Encina, Ken Murray and Vito Stellino contributed to this article.

What happened to Jay Graham? Less than a week before the season opener, Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda was calling Graham his starting tailback, despite his struggles throughout the preseason. Four days before the game, Marchibroda changed his mind and named Errict Rhett the starter.

Rhett vindicated the decision with a fine effort, rushing for a game-high 72 yards on 16 carries, and adding 20 receiving yards in yesterday's 20-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Graham was merely conspicuous in his absence.

He never left the sideline, although he did watch second-year back Priest Holmes carry the ball six times for 23 yards.

Has Graham gone from starter to third string?

"Jay is going to be around for a long time. He's got a long career ahead of him. He's going to do well in this league, no question about that," Marchibroda said.

"We had a special formation we wanted to use, and we thought Priest was the best guy fitted for it. Jay is going to be all right."

Holmes, the team's second-leading rusher in the preseason, wasn't satisfied with his performance.

"I had the opportunity to make plays today," Holmes said.

Holmes did have a 12-yard run in the third quarter to get the Ravens into Pittsburgh territory, but he also had a major blunder in the first quarter.

On third-and-five at the Steelers' 27, Holmes ran left, got a couple of good blocks and had a wide-open path to the end zone. But he ended up tripping over his own feet and fell a yard short of the first down. The Ravens were forced to settle for a field goal. Instead of a 7-3 lead, it was 3-3.

"I tripped and I thought it was a defensive guy who tripped me up so I stayed down, but it wasn't," Holmes said. "It was a mental lapse on my part."

Graham was unavailable to comment after the game.

Williams off his game

Veteran Wally Williams, who held out for most of training camp and eventually was moved from center to left guard -- partly because of center Jeff Mitchell's progress, partly due to the Ravens' need at guard -- drew notice for all of the wrong reasons.

Williams lived an offensive lineman's nightmare in the second quarter. Twice, with the Ravens in third-and-short situations, Williams committed a false-start penalty. In both cases, his mistakes helped to stall a drive. In both cases, the team's franchise player hurt the franchise.

"Third-and-shorts are crucial situations," Williams said. "It's my responsibility to be onsides. I'm not making any excuses. I've got to get that situation straight. We can't afford to make mistakes like that against a team the caliber of Pittsburgh."

Williams' first miscue stopped momentum that began with Ralph Staten's interception early in the quarter, with the game tied at 3.

The Ravens had taken over on the Pittsburgh 40 and had moved to the 25, where a third-and-one awaited them. Penalty flag. Third-and-six. On the next play, quarterback Jim Harbaugh's pass to Michael Jackson fell incomplete. That was followed by Matt Stover's missed, 42-yard field-goal attempt.

Williams did it again in the closing minutes of the half, with the Ravens in a third-and-two at their 47. Two plays later, they punted.

"I think third down probably beat us overall, from the standpoint that we didn't do anything. We have to cut down on the mistakes," Marchibroda said.

Good day for Mitchell

With his first training camp and his first preseason behind him, Mitchell had been feeling good about passing those two important tests.

The stakes increased greatly yesterday. The only thing standing between Mitchell and another good day was the Steelers' All-Pro nose tackle Joel Steed. Consider Mitchell, 6 feet 4, 300 pounds, one step closer to establishing himself in the NFL.

The Ravens averaged 4.0 yards on 28 rushes against a defense ranked first against the run last season, with much of their 112 yards coming up the middle. Part of the reason was Mitchell's continued improvement as a run blocker against a guy known for preventing ground gains in the Steelers' 3-4 defense.

Steed finished with one tackle. Mitchell finished with another dose of confidence.

"I'm still learning every day in practice, and I learned a lot out there today," said Mitchell, a second-year pro out of Florida who missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury he suffered early in training camp.

"I was anxious coming in. After the first series, I felt good. From then on, I held my own."

'Bad day' for J. Lewis

Wide receiver Jermaine Lewis had never dropped two passes in a game as a pro before yesterday. Yes, it was one of those days, even though he also caught a 64-yard scoring pass.

During the Ravens' first possession of the second half, Lewis had cornerback Carnell Lake beaten deep, where Eric Zeier laid a beautiful pass out for Lewis. He slid off Lake to the inside, stretched out his hands, and watched the ball slip between them at the Steelers' 5.

There goes a touchdown.

Lewis later dropped another Zeier pass over the middle, after Lewis had deftly slipped behind the Pittsburgh zone defense.

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