Grounded Ravens need Zeier's lift

September 22, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Pick a quarterback. Pick a running back. Throw downfield.

That should be Ted Marchibroda's checklist for this week. If the Ravens' coach continues to act indecisively, he can expect his offense to do the same.

His quarterback Sunday should be Eric Zeier. His running back should be Errict Rhett. His game plan should lean more to his wide receivers than his fullback.

The offense wasn't solely to blame for Sunday's 24-10 loss to Jacksonville, not when the special teams were brutal and the defense allowed 519 yards.

But remember all the Ravens' talk about controlling the ball, keeping the Jaguars' offense off the field?

It didn't happen.

They went 0-for-6 on third downs in the second half. They held possession for 10: 04 compared to Jacksonville's 19: 56. They ran plays on nine of their 15 "drives" for the game.

The Jaguars played with a depleted defensive front, but the Ravens' vaunted offensive line couldn't be trusted to produce holes. And Jay Graham, while improving, shouldn't be expected to carry the entire load at running back.

Marchibroda now plans to simplify the running game, apparently believing that the backs and linemen need to read at Andy Katzenmoyer's grade level.

But the problems on offense run deeper than that.

It's too soon to question the acquisitions of Rhett, Jim Harbaugh and Roosevelt Potts, and whether the Ravens possess the proper talent to run a power offense.

But they were out of sync in a one-back set with quarterback Vinny Testaverde last season, and they're out of sync in a totally different system now.

Jermaine Lewis is the team's most dangerous weapon, but his 56-yard touchdown reception was his only catch until late in the fourth quarter Sunday.

Michael Jackson is the team's most experienced receiver, but he has caught only three passes the past two weeks.

Rhett and Priest Holmes both might be better than Graham, but they combined for a grand total of zero carries Sunday.

Hello?

With the exception of Lewis, the Ravens lack big-time playmakers. But it's Marchibroda's job to maximize the talent that he has.

He didn't do that in Jacksonville.

He can't do it with Harbaugh, at least not right now.

Harbaugh didn't get much of a chance Sunday, but he managed only two first downs in five series and outside of Eric Green's 56-yard catch-and-run, completed three of eight passes for only 3 yards.

Marchibroda should have just started Zeier if he wasn't going to stick longer with Harbaugh. But opponents are using eight-man fronts, taking away the run while daring Harbaugh to throw.

And he can't beat them.

"I want to be fair to Jim -- he threw downfield in this game more than before," Marchibroda said. "But I feel since the [finger] injury, Jim has sort of backed off a little bit. In practice, he hasn't thrown downfield as much."

Zeier is more capable of getting the ball to the wide receivers even when Harbaugh is healthy. But why even debate the point when the Ravens air it out so infrequently?

The Jaguars understand the value of stretching defenses -- Mark Brunell hit Jimmy Smith for a 44-yard completion on their first offensive play Sunday and a 72-yard touchdown on the second play of the second half.

Why can't the Ravens do the same?

"That's what we used to do the two previous years," Marchibroda said. "Our goal now is that we want to get a running game going. We haven't gotten the running game going the way we had anticipated.

"We've got a different style of play now. We can't be a football team that throws the ball 35 to 40 times a game. Jacksonville has the quarterback, the receivers, the back, the line. They do a good job."

The Jaguars are more talented at all of the offensive skill positions, balanced enough to set up the run with the pass. Zeier, at least, would offer the Ravens that option -- if Marchibroda elected to use it.

Perhaps this all starts with the line, which for all its accolades, hasn't proven it can play smash-mouth football. But eight of the Ravens' first 12 first-down calls Sunday were runs. That's too predictable.

Let's see Zeier play the whole game for once. And let's see more of Rhett, who accounted for 92 yards from scrimmage in the season-opening loss to Pittsburgh, then was benched in the second quarter against the New York Jets.

Rhett was available Sunday, but he missed the last two practices entering the game, and Marchibroda didn't use him. Graham still offers more potential, but it's wasted if the Ravens won't spring him outside. Frankly, Holmes might be the most promising of all, not that he's Barry Sanders.

It's a team game. Jackson needs to do a better job getting open. The line needs to raise its run-blocking to the level of its pass-blocking. Potts needs to start breaking tackles -- he's averaging less than 3 yards per touch.

Still, it all comes back to Marchibroda.

He needs to start Zeier, and stick with him -- Harbaugh will play eventually. He needs to put the fiery Rhett in a position to provide a spark while mixing in Graham and Holmes. He needs to open up the attack.

Enough fooling around.

Fix the offense.

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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