Ravens warned 1-3 Oilers may ignite Desperate for win, Tenn. at 'most dangerous'

key will be containing run

October 11, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Though the Tennessee Oilers have lost their last three games and the Ravens beat them twice last season, coach Ted Marchibroda has warned his players to be wary of a team desperate for a win.

The Ravens (2-2) will meet the Oilers (1-3) today at the new Camden Yards stadium. A 1-4 record would almost eliminate any playoff hopes for the Oilers.

Another loss and Tennessee might have trouble selling tickets in Nashville, their third home in three years.

One more loss and Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, in his fourth full season, will be pushed closer to the exit door.

"It might be a little early to say this, but they're clearly better than their record," Marchibroda said. "They've had some tough breaks and they played head to head with two of the best teams in the league, Jacksonville and New England.

"We know their backs are to the wall. Any time a team is in that position in the NFL, that's when they are the most dangerous.

"We need to realize," he said, "that it's just as important for us as it is to them."

A victory would put the Ravens over .500 for the first time since Week 5 last season. But for that to happen, the Ravens have to stop running back Eddie George.

And why not? Everyone else has. George has only 222 yards on 77 attempts.

"We're seeing a lot of eight-man fronts, similar to last year," Fisher said. "We have better people at the skill positions, but we haven't been able to take advantage of it. Our running game is not going to be ranked No. 29 at the end of the season. Nobody is happy with our production. We're missing too many opportunities to make big plays."

The Ravens are fearful that they could provide George with his breakout game.

In the last two games, the Ravens have given up 128 yards rushing to Jacksonville's Fred Taylor and 116 to Cincinnati's Corey Dillon.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens' leading tackler, has missed the last seven quarters with a dislocated elbow.

He isn't expected to play today.

"They have a decent line," said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary. Center/guard Bruce Matthews "is a veteran who knows all the old, dirty tricks. [Tackle] Brad Hopkins is a great athlete with good feet. He comes out low and tries to dominate you. We've got to get back in our groove. We've been in a funk, and I'm sure Ray makes a difference. If we don't start stopping the run, then everybody is going to try it on us."

This game also could be the final test for Ravens right cornerback DeRon Jenkins, who has been picked on the last couple of weeks by receivers Keyshawn Johnson, Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell and Carl Pickens.

Marchibroda has hinted that if Jenkins doesn't play well, he might go with rookie Duane Starks, the team's top draft pick from the University of Miami.

Offensively, Ravens quarterback Eric Zeier and running back Priest Holmes can take major steps toward proving they are the team's answers at their respective positions for the future.

Zeier, starting his first game of the season two weeks ago against Cincinnati, completed 15 of 20 passes for 254 yards in the Ravens' 31-24 win.

Holmes, in his second season, had 173 yards rushing in his debut as a starter.

"You're happy for a young man like Priest Holmes, who kept working and showing us that he deserved more playing time," Marchibroda said. "What we didn't know about Priest is how he would react to the pressure of a big game, and he responded in a big way.

"Beyond his running, he did a really good job of picking up the Bengals' blitzes. Priest is a solid blocker.

"What's not to like about the way Eric Zeier is playing?" Marchibroda added.

"The front office made a commitment to him in the off-season, and he's proven that was the right thing to do."

Tennessee is ranked No. 14 overall in defense and has been especially stingy against the pass, allowing 187 yards per game.

The Ravens are ranked No. 6 in total offense and No. 9 in passing, with 233 yards per game. But the team could be without starting receiver Michael Jackson, who is questionable with a strained groin muscle.

The key for the offense is how well Zeier reads Tennessee safeties Blaine Bishop and Marcus Robertson, particularly Bishop, who does a lot of moving around in defending against both the run and pass. The Oilers like to crowd the line of scrimmage with seven to eight players.

"They have a very active, aggressive defense," said Ravens quarterback coach Don Strock. "They are always around the football. Their two safeties are Pro Bowl caliber."

Said Zeier: "They give you a lot of different things to think about. The key in every game is reading the safeties, but it's even more important in this one."

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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