Ravens lack essentials to beat top-notch teams

From The Sidelines

September 21, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In their 35-game history, the Ravens have beaten such quarterbacks as Billy Joe Hobert, Jim Everett, Dave Brown and Mike Tomczak.

On the other hand, they've lost to such quarterbacks as John Elway, Drew Bledsoe, Dan Marino and Mark Brunell.

The contrast is obvious.

The Ravens still aren't good enough to beat a franchise-quality ,, quarterback.

Brunell showed they're still the same old Ravens as he passed for 376 yards in a 24-10 victory for the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday.

Brunell can be counted on for an almost automatic 300 passing yards against the Ravens' porous secondary. He's done it in all four games he's played against them. He's only got eight other 300-yard passing games the rest of his career.

The Ravens are a combined 1-9 against the Jaguars (0-5) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4) in their brief history.

As long as the Ravens can't beat the top two teams in their division, they're not going to be a playoff contender.

The only consolation for the Ravens is that they face only two more top-notch quarterbacks the rest of the way -- the rematch with Brunell and one against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers.

But by starting the season by losing to the Steelers and Jaguars, the 1-2 Ravens showed they didn't make as much progress as they thought they did in the off-season.

The acquisition of Jim Harbaugh was an upgrade over Vinny Testaverde, but the fears that he was beat up at age 34 may be justified. He's yet to make it to halftime in the first three games. It's hard for Capt. Comeback to mount comebacks when he's on the bench in the second half.

Eric Zeier wasn't effective in relief and threw his first interception 174 throws, but the Ravens have to decide if he's a long-term answer. If he's not, finding a quarterback has to be a top priority.

At running back, they haven't even replaced Bam Morris. Jay Graham got his turn over Errict Rhett, but gained only 45 yards in 14 carries in the first half and couldn't get a first down with three straight runs on Harbaugh's last series. He wound up with 67 yards for the game. They were supposed to have a power running game this year, but it's almost as if someone pulled the plug.

The Jaguars have two running backs, James Stewart and rookie Fred Taylor, who are better than any of the Ravens' running backs. When Stewart was injured early, Taylor came in and gained 213 yards rushing and receiving. The whole Ravens team gained just 313 yards.

That so-called veteran leadership the Ravens thought would make a difference isn't worth much unless the veterans make plays.

Until the Ravens get a big-time quarterback and/or running back, they won't be able to beat teams that have them.

Going into the fourth game of the year, coach Ted Marchibroda hasn't even selected a starting quarterback or running back. He said he would name the the starters Wednesday for next week's Cincinnati game.

Highlights and lowlights of a loss that showed how far the Ravens have to go to become a contender in the AFC Central Division:

Turning point: When Brunell pulled on his shoulder pads and took the field, the Ravens were in trouble. With a pair of first-rate tackles, Tony Boselli and Leon Searcy, giving him time to throw, he virtually used the Ravens' secondary as a shooting gallery. He has passed for 1,353 yards in four games against them. He set the tone on the Jaguars' first play when he unloaded a 44-yard pass.

Receiving duo: Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, who make a habit of torching the Ravens' secondary, combined for 224 passing yards. Smith and McCardell have each gone over 100 yards in passing yardage three times in the same game -- twice against the Ravens. Most Ravens fans have probably forgotten that McCardell was with the team in its final year in Cleveland, but the Ravens let him get away as a free agent.

Cutback: The Ravens stopped Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin in the first two games, but had trouble tackling rookie Fred Taylor, who gained 128 yards on 23 carries. On his first carry, he started to his left, cut back to his right, eluded Jamie Sharper and went 52 yards for a touchdown.

Just missed: Safety Corey Harris, starting in place of ailing Kim Herring, made a fundamental mistake when he dived at a pass aimed for Smith on the second play of the third quarter. He missed it, and Smith dashed 72 yards for the touchdown that broke a 10-10 halftime tie. Harris should have conceded the reception and made the tackle. Harris also dropped what could have been an interception in the second period.

Ailing: The Ravens suffered a setback when Ray Lewis went out with a dislocated elbow late in the first quarter. He'll be out about two weeks, but the Jaguars had burned the Ravens for plays of 44, 38 and 52 yards before he left.

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