Fickle Ravens attack turns back to the basics After trying many sets, Strock limits scope to 'what we do best'

October 13, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

In the first five games, the Ravens have tried two quarterbacks, started three running backs, used a two-back set, gone with the three-wide-out approach, fired up the no-huddle, abandoned the no-huddle and installed the two-tight-end set.

Wing-T anyone?

"I don't think we played as well as we could have," Ravens quarterbacks coach Don Strock said about the 12-8 loss to the Tennessee Oilers on Sunday. "We had opportunities to make big plays, but we didn't make them. I think now we go back to the basics.

"We've fooled around with a few things, moved and mixed some personnel," said Strock, who also calls the plays. "Now, we'll go back and see what we do best."

The Ravens today will begin preparing their game plan for Pittsburgh (3-2), and it's safe to assume the team will go back to the two-back set after generating only 263 yards of total offense Sunday with the two-tight-end look. There also are no plans to change the Ravens' play-calling-by-committee approach.

The Ravens had 411 yards of total offense against Cincinnati two weeks ago running the two-back set.

"We're more of a run zone-type team, one that has to play-action or drop back on first and second down from the two-back," Strock said. "The three-receiver set will be more of a passing formation. We've established the fact that we're a two-back team and we have the personnel to do it. The two-tight-end formation will be used in a game-to-game situation. It will always be there, always be available."

But the formation was not the Ravens' biggest problem. They had breakdowns all over, and had to make a major adjustment when starting tight end Eric Green left the game at halftime with a ruptured air sac. The Ravens also were without starting wide receiver Michael Jackson, who strained a groin muscle two days before.

The injury exposed the Ravens' lack of depth at the position, and coach Ted Marchibroda will be second-guessed for using Ryan Yarborough to replace Jackson instead of Floyd Turner.

Yarborough, in his fourth year, entered the game with just one catch for 6 yards. Turner, a nine-year veteran, had four catches for 90 yards, but spent a couple of years with Marchibroda in Indianapolis. Turner has more than 250 catches and 3,000 yards during his career compared with 43 receptions for Yarborough.

Yarborough had two receptions for 15 yards against the Oilers. Marchibroda said he went with Yarborough because Turner had been playing behind Jermaine Lewis on the other side and Yarborough was No. 2 behind Jackson. In addition, the Ravens used rookie Patrick Johnson (two catches for 42 yards) instead of Turner.

"I was brought in for a purpose, and now I really don't know the purpose," Turner said. "As far as a role goes, I guess I'm kind of backing up everybody. It's out of my control. I just do what they say."

Jackson should be ready against the Steelers, but Green might be out for another two weeks. Veteran tight end Brian Kinchen performed well in Green's absence with four catches for 55 yards. The only problem is that Green is considered a much better blocker.

That has been another problem area. The Ravens have been inconsistent on the offensive line, especially run blocking. Two weeks after running for 173 yards in his starting debut against the Bengals, second-year player Priest Holmes had 29 of a franchise-low 36 rushing yards.

Because of personnel, the Ravens are limited in the moves they can make on the offensive line. Marchibroda said he didn't think about replacing Holmes with veteran Errict Rhett even though Rhett had been the designated short-yardage runner two weeks ago.

Rhett, who earlier lost his starting job to Jay Graham, is another player who has no designated role.

"I know I can play football," said Rhett, who had 1,000-yard rushing seasons for Tampa Bay in 1994 and '95. "I can do something. Just sitting on the bench ain't no fun. They didn't bring me all the way up here just to do that. Hopefully, something good will come out of this for me and the team. I'm a competitor. They know what I can do. Life ain't fair. Football sure ain't fair."

Quarterback Eric Zeier also had his world come crashing down around him Sunday. He overthrew and underthrew receivers. He stood in the pocket and took hits when he should have run or thrown the ball away. He missed a couple of audibles he should have made and missed reads on blitzes, which seems to be his Achilles' heel.

He'll get a lot of blitzes Sunday from the Steelers.

"It wasn't an extremely fine game for Eric," said Marchibroda. "I don't want to get into the quick hook [replacing Zeier with Jim Harbaugh], and he moved the club well in the second half. It wasn't all Eric's fault."

The Ravens weren't in a panic mode, but a repair mode yesterday. Strock defended the team's play-calling and answered criticism about the team's not making the proper adjustments at halftime or having an offensive coordinator. The Ravens have been outscored 37-13 in the third quarter.

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