Pressure cooks Ravens' QBs, leaves offense in major funk Neither Zeier, Harbaugh able to cope with blitz, hit passes in the crunch

October 19, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH -- Eric Zeier stared at his injured thumb, shaking his head at the futility that has engulfed the Ravens' offense, not to mention his own recent performance. A few feet away at an adjacent locker, Jim Harbaugh sighed in frustration, the memory of a forgettable return to action still painfully fresh in his mind.

Such is the state of the quarterback profession in Baltimore.

For the first three quarters of yesterday's 16-6 loss to Pittsburgh, Zeier tried, tried and tried again to spark an offense that is desperately in need of it.

Don't let Zeier's respectable numbers fool you. Although he completed 17 of 26 passes for 173 yards, he ran into the same problems that hampered him a week earlier in a 12-8 loss to Tennessee.

He had trouble hitting receivers while under the pressure of Pittsburgh's relentless blitzing. He had trouble running out of the pocket to evade pressure. He missed open receivers. He missed Floyd Turner wide-open in the end zone on a play that should have ended in a touchdown. He was intercepted in front of the Pittsburgh end zone to end the same promising drive.

By the end of the third quarter, Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda had seen enough. Enter Harbaugh, who had not seen action since getting pulled in the first half of the Ravens' 24-10 loss to Jacksonville a month ago.

Harbaugh looked like a guy who had been away for a while. Trailing 10-6, he read the Steelers' blitz well and sent a pass to Priest Holmes in the right flat. Dropped. It was all downhill from there. Harbaugh ended up red-faced, an 0-for-6 showing with two interceptions beside his name in the statistics list.

"It's embarrassing," Harbaugh said. "They have got a good rush, but I didn't make any plays, that's for sure. I felt comfortable going in, but I just didn't make any plays. The defense is playing really well, and you feel like you're letting them down, which we are."

Talk about letdowns. Zeier's scintillating showing in the Ravens' 31-24 victory over Cincinnati three weeks ago collected another layer of dust yesterday.

"It's frustrating," Zeier said. "We're moving the ball pretty well, but when we get into the red zone, we're stopping. We're stopping ourselves."

Plenty of bad things continued to happen. After Harbaugh entered the game and threw ineffectively -- his down-the-middle long ball to Jermaine Lewis was badly underthrown and picked off by Carnell Lake -- Marchibroda reinserted Zeier to run the Ravens' two-minute offense with 2: 19 left.

During the drive, Zeier hit his throwing hand on the helmet of offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, injuring his thumb. X-rays were negative, although Zeier will be re-examined today. Out went Zeier. Back came Harbaugh, who completed the final, futile drive with an interception.

"I went with Jim because I think he has a little better mobility [to counter the blitz]. They were getting to us in there," Marchibroda said. "I went back to Eric because he runs the two-minute offense better, and I went back to Jim because Eric's hand was hurting."

Zeier's touch was hurting at key times while he remained healthy. With the Ravens down 10-6 near the end of the third quarter, Zeier drove the Ravens from their 35 to the Steelers' 14 -- into the red zone, where the Ravens remain the league's most inept offense.

They showed why on the next two plays. On second-and-eight, Turner lined up wide right, with Lake covering. Originally, the play called for Turner to run a fade route into the right corner of the end zone, but Zeier and Turner decided to improvise when Lake took away the outside route with his pre-snap coverage.

The trouble was, as Turner broke open across the middle of the end zone, Zeier threw the ball out of the end zone in the face of a blitz.

Another touchdown chance aborted. On the next play, Zeier said he saw Michael Jackson open to the left, but his pass hit leaping defensive end Kevin Henry in the chest. The deflection fell to cornerback Dewayne Washington, who returned the interception 43 yards, underscoring a problem the Ravens have at the game's most important position.

Pub Date: 10/19/98

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