Three Rivers silence far from golden

From The Sidelines

October 19, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't even need their fabled Three Rivers Stadium advantage yesterday.

The fans were too busy booing the inept showing of the Steelers' offense and their quarterback, Kordell Stewart, to bother the Ravens.

"It wasn't very loud," said tight end Brian Kinchen. "You could hear all the snap counts and everything. It didn't really bother us today."

What bothered the Ravens was the Ravens. This was a replay of their 12-8 loss to the Tennessee Oilers seven days earlier. The Ravens once again beat themselves in a 16-6 loss to the Steelers. The Steelers were missing five starters, including bruising running back Jerome Bettis, and still found a way to win.

The Steelers made only one offensive play all day -- a 55-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to Charles Johnson -- but that was enough to win because their defense became the latest team to handcuff the Ravens' offense.

Pittsburgh stretched the Ravens' string of quarters without an -- offensive touchdown to 10. The physical Steelers put 10 Ravens on the injury list, not counting Jay Graham, who strained his knee during pregame warm-ups.

This was a significant loss for two reasons. No. 1 involves the quarterbacks. Eric Zeier -- who was yanked, came back and was then injured -- flunked his test to prove he can be the quarterback of the future. And Captain Comeback, Jim Harbaugh, was ineffective in a comeback attempt. The bottom line is the team doesn't have a quarterback who has proved he can win for them.

The second reason is that it puts even more heat on coach Ted Marchibroda, who's 2-4 and looking at a 2-6 mark at the halfway mark with Green Bay and Jacksonville coming up.

The problem is that firing Marchibroda probably won't solve anything. The last two times Marchibroda was pushed out the door, in Baltimore in 1979 and in Indianapolis in 1995, the teams collapsed to 2-14 and 3-13, respectively, within two years. This game showed that the Ravens really need more playmakers on offense. But it's easier to fire the coach than find playmakers.

Highlights and lowlights of a game that once again showed that the Ravens don't have an offense:

Turning point: The Ravens were protecting a 6-3 lead at the start of the third quarter when the Steelers faced a third-and-five play at their 45. Johnson escaped from Duane Starks at the line of scrimmage, broke open and Stewart simply lofted the pass to him for a play that went 55 yards for the game's only touchdown.

Starks said Johnson held him, but hand fighting at the line of scrimmage is normal.

"That's part of football. That's what playing the position is all about," Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said of Starks' rookie mistake. It didn't help that the Ravens didn't get to Stewart with the blitz on the play. "It's always not one guy," Lewis said. "I wish we would have sacked the quarterback."

Quarterback controversy: What the Ravens have now is more a problem than a controversy at quarterback. Neither Zeier nor Harbaugh was effective, although it didn't help that the Ravens allowed seven sacks.

After Zeier failed to get a touchdown in the first three quarters, Marchibroda went to Harbaugh, who got one first down in three series. He then went back to Zeier for the two-minute drill, but Zeier hurt his thumb. Marchibroda wouldn't name his starter for next week, but Harbaugh may get the call by default because of Zeier's thumb injury.

Red-zone woes: The Ravens continued to have problems inside the 20. They had a first down on the Steelers' 17 late in the first quarter and wound up moving 7 yards backward to the 24 when Zeier was sacked on third down. Matt Stover then kicked a 41-yard field goal.

More red-zone woes: The Ravens had a second-and-eight at the Steelers' 14 on Zeier's final series in the third quarter before he got the hook. Zeier audibled to wide receiver Floyd Turner for a fade route into the corner of the end zone. The Steelers changed their defense and covered that play. Turner appeared to break open when he adjusted inside, but Zeier overthrew him.

On the next play, Zeier drilled a pass toward Michael Jackson. Zeier said it wasn't too low, but it appeared to hit defensive end Kevin Henry in the chest. It popped up and Dewayne Washington intercepted it and returned it 43 yards. The Ravens have been in the red zone 12 times this year and have only two touchdowns to show for it.

Close to the red zone: The Ravens seemed ready for another fiasco inside the 20 when they had a first down at the Steelers' 23 in the second quarter. But Kinchen's false-start penalty moved them back 5 yards and they didn't get to the red zone, so it won't count against their red-zone tally. They wound up at the Steelers' 22 before settling for another field goal.

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