Ravens make turn, hit quarter pole in stride Stabilizing Bengals win lifts Marchibroda, team

October 05, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

If the Ravens go on to have a winning season and perhaps appear in the playoffs, the team's 31-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday night might be the turning point.

Not only did the Ravens possibly find their quarterback and running back of the future in Eric Zeier and Priest Holmes, respectively, but coach Ted Marchibroda may have saved his job as well as regained the respect of his players.

This was a team on the brink of an early-season collapse. It had just lost, 24-10, to Jacksonville to fall to 1-2, and Marchibroda was swapping starting quarterbacks and running backs as often as Bill Clinton was changing his Monica Lewinsky stories.

Then came the win against the Bengals. And a 15-for-20 performance for 254 yards by Zeier. And 173 rushing yards by Holmes. The Ravens found themselves at .500 and still in playoff contention.

"We have the players here who can get the job done," said left guard Wally Williams. "If we lose against the Bengals, the finger-pointing starts and you can't point at the players all the time. We have a coaching staff which is in the last year of their contract and we've heard about them getting pressure from the front office to win. When you don't, it all starts at the top."

Defensive end Michael McCrary said, "The media definitely would have gone after Coach Marchibroda. The headlines would have read: 'Same old Ravens, just look at them.' We needed that win, or it would have been three losses within the division. It was a key game for us to win. Huge."

The Ravens' 2-2 record at the first quarter pole of the 16-game season isn't bad. Sure, they should be 3-1, but let's keep it in perspective. The Ravens lost their starting quarterback in the first half of the opener and didn't find a running back until Game 4. The team's best tackler hasn't played the past seven quarters, the starting free safety hasn't played the past 10, and three of the first four opponents were considered playoff-caliber.

"We played as well as we possibly could in three of the four ballgames," Marchibroda said. "We're happy with our performances up until this point. We should have beaten Pittsburgh, but that's water under the bridge. What's more important is that I think we found our ballclub last week."

Marchibroda could have found it a week earlier, when he should have started Zeier against Jacksonville instead of Jim Harbaugh. Big mistake. After Harbaugh hyper-extended his ring finger in the opener against Pittsburgh and then couldn't make it through the first half of the New York Jets game a week later, Zeier should have been the starter.

Marchibroda defended his stance.

"No, I don't think I made a bad decision there," he said. "Zeier had performed well coming off the bench and we still should have gone into the halftime with a 10-7 lead."

Run-in with indecision

Marchibroda has been unfairly criticized for not starting Holmes earlier this season. That's a joke. Both veteran Errict Rhett and second-year player Jay Graham were more impressive than Holmes in camp, even though Holmes became a factor in the preseason. The only mistake was Marchibroda's indecisiveness about Rhett and Graham.

That decision should have been made after four preseason games, not juggling the two in the first three regular-season games.

"What people in general don't know about is pass protection," Marchibroda said. "Years ago, the running back just blocked a guy wherever he wanted. Now you see more zone blitzes. A running back has to know more about pass protection than ever before and it's not an easy thing to learn coming out of college.

"It's not always who is the toughest guy and the best runner. How many callers on those talk shows mention pass protection, huh?"

The coaching staff, though, has to take the blame for the conservative offense. It goes back to Harbaugh. With him as the starter, the Ravens couldn't throw the mid- to long-range passes. They became predictable. Run Rhett on first down. Run Rhett on second. Throw to fullback Roosevelt Potts in the flat on third. Boring.

Only when Zeier was inserted did the Ravens use some imagination. And play-action passes. Then they finally got their big-play receivers, Michael Jackson and Jermaine Lewis, involved.

Again, it took too long. The passing game opened up the running attack.

"Everybody knew we could throw the football," Williams said, "but we had to prove we could run. The pass has definitely helped our running. When one part of your offense is successful, the other part falls into sync.

"I'm glad we settled on one [running back] and we stick with it. That gives him a chance to work with us where he reads us better and we all go into a game better prepared."

On the defensive vs. Jaguars

The Ravens' defense hasn't been as unsettled, but defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis sometimes strays from his strength, even though not as much as in his first two seasons. The defense has played well except for the stinker in Jacksonville.

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