Ravens plan to take to the air Zeier may deliver long ball vs. Bengals

September 27, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

After three games of running a conservative offense and trying to establish a rushing attack, the Ravens may revert to form and open up the passing game tonight at home when they play the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Ravens (1-2) have tried to feature a balanced attack paced by a power running game, but they are averaging only 105 rushing yards, ranked No. 20 in the league. The Bengals (1-2) have a pass defense rated No. 23, allowing 231 passing yards, and start a rookie cornerback named Artrell Hawkins.

And with quarterback Eric Zeier making his first start of the season, the chances have increased dramatically that the Ravens will try to get more intermediate- to long-range passes to outside receivers Michael Jackson and Jermaine Lewis instead of the usual handoffs and passes in the flat to fullback Roosevelt Potts and tight end Eric Green.

"We certainly have some things in [the offense] that can stretch a defense," Zeier said.

"It depends on the defense and the situation. There are certain things that they might show, and we will attack it. But, obviously, we're going in with the goal of running the football."

The Ravens need some spark in an offense that is averaging only one touchdown a game. Zeier puts the long ball back in the attack because he has a stronger arm than former starter Jim Harbaugh, who has yet to complete a half in the three previous games because of injuries to his throwing arm -- a hyper-extended right ring finger and tendinitis in his right elbow.

The Ravens may be able to open up their running game with a passing attack, providing that an offensive line that hasn't run-blocked well can open some holes for second-year back Priest Holmes, who will be making his first start.

"I don't know if we're able to call it more wide open," said coach Ted Marchibroda. "But the biggest thing for us will be pass protection because Cincinnati has the zone-blitz scheme."

This is a pivotal game for both teams, especially the Ravens, who have an open date next week, then play Tennessee at home before facing Pittsburgh and Green Bay on the road. It's also a chance for the Ravens to redeem themselves on national TV after losing to Jacksonville, 24-10, last week and allowing 519 yards of total offense.

"It's no disgrace to lose at Jacksonville," Marchibroda said. "Lots of teams have done that the last two years, and more will do it this year. But I am disappointed with the way we played. We've worked too hard to have a game like that -- too hard in the off-season, too hard in training camp and too hard in the last couple of weeks. Every team is going to have a game when things don't go well, but it shouldn't have happened to us then.

"We believe we have playoff potential. We have a level playing field this season. We've got two games coming up at home against division opponents, and we need to start winning at our new stadium."

The Bengals have a proven running back in Corey Dillon but an unestablished running game, one that is averaging only 76 yards a game. Dillon has 196 yards on 52 attempts. The Ravens had shut down running backs Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin in the first two games but allowed Jacksonville rookie Fred Taylor to rush for 128 yards.

When Taylor wasn't running, Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell was passing, completing 25 of 34 passes for 376 yards and two touchdowns. Jacksonville sent the Ravens' defense back to the drawing board.

The team got good news Friday morning when defensive tackle Tony Siragusa was cleared to play by team doctors after suffering a neck injury last week. But the team will be without two other starters: middle linebacker Ray Lewis (dislocated elbow) and free safety Kim Herring (dislocated shoulder). Tyrus McCloud will replace Lewis, and Corey Harris will start for Herring for the second straight week.

"The key for us is to go out and play like we did during the preseason," said defensive end Michael McCrary. "We have to stop trying to make big plays and play as a unit. We don't have anything to prove to anyone but ourselves after last week. We can talk about it all we want, but until we go out and do it, it's just talk."

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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