Ravens need to get real about offense

October 19, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

PITTSBURGH -- When will they face reality? When will they admit the obvious? When will they understand that they need to fire their coach and rebuild their offense?

The sooner, the better.

The Ravens can't deny the truth any longer.

Yesterday's 16-6 loss to Pittsburgh should be just the slap in the face that this organization needs. The elite team promised by owner Art Modell is 2-4, soon to be 2-6 and likely headed for its third straight losing season in Baltimore.

It's clear that the Ravens need to fire coach Ted Marchibroda at the end of the season -- the players are losing confidence in him with each defeat.

It's also clear that the Ravens need to find a quarterback, because neither Eric Zeier nor Jim Harbaugh is the answer.

They lost yesterday to a Pittsburgh team that was booed all day at Three Rivers Stadium. A team with a quarterback who threw like Steve Sax. A team that played without five injured starters, including running back Jerome Bettis.

"I thought they were ripe for the taking," Ravens left guard Wally Williams said. "That's

something we kind of preached all week. It was their turn to fall."

It should have been their turn.

But as usual, the Ravens stumbled first.

This was Marchibroda's Super Bowl, perhaps his last chance to save his job. His team responded by committing a season-high five turnovers, allowing a season-high seven sacks and blowing a 6-3 halftime lead.

Firing Marchibroda now would be pointless -- there's no one on the staff with head-coaching experience to replace him. Still, the Ravens are 1-4 in the AFC Central. Does anyone seriously believe that Marchibroda is getting the most out of his players?

Let's not hear a word about big, bad Three Rivers Stadium, where Team Modell is 4-26 lifetime, and 0-for-the-'90s. The crowd barely made noise yesterday, except to register displeasure with Kordell Stewart and Co.

And let's not hear a word about the Ravens' defense, which has allowed only 28 points in back-to-back losses to Tennessee and Pittsburgh. When you produce five sacks and hold your opponent to 2.6 yards per carry -- when you manhandle the Steelers for the second time this season -- you deserve to win.

To its credit, the defense isn't pointing fingers.

"We're not going to be divided," defensive end Rob Burnett said. "This team is too close for that. We have too much respect for each other. You guys [reporters] might try to divide us, but we spend too much time around each other to let that happen. We're going to hang in there."

Fair enough, but in three years, the Ravens have come full circle, going from a team with no defense to one with no offense. Since erupting for 21 points in the first half against Cincinnati, they've gone 10 quarters without an offensive touchdown.

It almost makes you long for Vinny.

Almost.

"2-4, that's awful, that's absolutely terrible," defensive end Michael McCrary said. "How deep can you dig? We're way down. We've really dug ourselves a nice hole.

"I don't know why we did it, but we did. It's something I would never have expected at the beginning of the season. There's too much talent. Every team says that, but we have it. There's too much talent for us to be in this situation."

Not at quarterback there isn't.

Marchibroda said he will wait until Wednesday to decide whether Zeier or Harbaugh will start against Green Bay. Right now, Wally Richardson is looking good.

Quarterbacks are measured by how often they reach the end xTC zone, and that's why Marchibroda was justified in pulling Zeier after a botched red-zone sequence late in the third quarter.

With the Ravens trailing 10-6 but with the ball at the Pittsburgh 14, Zeier failed to adjust when Floyd Turner found a seam in the end zone after an audible, and threw the ball away. On the next play, he bounced a pass off defensive end Kevin Henry's chest, and it landed in cornerback Dewayne Washington's hands for a killer interception at the 4.

Harbaugh played three series and recorded only one first down, describing his performance as "embarrassing." The truth is, Captain Comeback never had a chance, not the way the Steelers were coming.

Marchibroda switched again with 2: 19 left, figuring Zeier would be more comfortable in the hurry-up offense. Harbaugh returned once more with 43 seconds left, after Zeier injured his right thumb, and threw his second interception.

Wally Williams questioned the play-calling afterward, and not without reason -- the Ravens lack imagination, and in 12 trips to the red zone, they've scored only two touchdowns.

Still, you can't put all of this on the coaching staff. The quarterbacks aren't good enough. And Williams' vaunted offensive line isn't good enough, either.

One solution would be to bench Jeff Mitchell, move Williams back to center and insert Ben Cavil at left guard, but in all likelihood, the Ravens would be just spinning their wheels.

The line talks better than it plays. And at this rate, it will be impossible to justify big money for Williams and right tackle Orlando Brown when their contracts expire at the end of the season.

Ten games remain, but it's already time to start talking about 1999. Ten games remain, and it's time for the Ravens to face reality, something they've avoided doing for too long.

Pub Date: 10/19/98

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