Changes loom on Ravens' offense Poor performances, injuries may prompt shuffling of players

October 21, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Because of problems related to health and performance, the Ravens' struggling offense could be in for several changes on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Quarterback Eric Zeier's injured right thumb is on the mend, although Zeier will be replaced by veteran Jim Harbaugh if he fails to impress coach Ted Marchibroda sufficiently in practice over the next two days. The same goes for center Jeff Mitchell, whose groin injury could force the Ravens to start Wally Williams at center and insert backup Ben Cavil in Williams' left guard spot.

One thing is clear. The coaching staff is so dissatisfied with fullback Roosevelt Potts' performance that, although Potts will start, Marchibroda said he plans to take a look at backup fullback Kenyon Cotton at Lambeau Field.

Regardless of what combination takes the field, the Ravens are determined to reverse the lack of productivity that has hampered their attack recently.

The last time the Ravens scored an offensive touchdown was in the second quarter of their 31-24 victory over Cincinnati on Sept. 27. Since then, 10 quarters have passed without an end-zone celebration -- a stretch in which the Ravens' offense has generated a grand total of four field goals.

They remain last in the NFL in red-zone efficiency, with only two touchdowns to show for 12 trips inside their opponents' 20. And their timing is not good. This week, they face a Green Bay defense that is tied (with the Ravens) for the league lead in red-zone success. The Packers have allowed opponents four touchdowns out of 14 chances inside their 20.

"We've moved the football, but when you get down there [inside the 20], you have to get in [the end zone] when you get the opportunity," Marchibroda said. "We just have to come up with the play when it's necessary. You usually get one chance [to score a touchdown in the red zone]. The plays have been there, and we have to execute when they are there."

During consecutive losses to Tennessee and Pittsburgh, which have dropped the 2-4 Ravens into a last-place tie with Cincinnati in the AFC Central, the Ravens not only had trouble scoring, but also sustaining drives. Their offense punted after three downs on eight occasions against the Oilers. Against Pittsburgh on Sunday, only two Ravens possessions did not end with a turnover, a punt after one first down, or a three-and-out scenario.

Although Zeier, who took the starting job from Harbaugh a month ago, has failed to engineer a touchdown drive in his past two games, Marchibroda said he has not played his way back to the bench.

"In Eric's case, I don't think there's any question that the more he plays, the better he is going to get," Marchibroda said. "If he can't go, Jim will. That's a good situation for us to be in."

The Ravens surely will be missing tight end Eric Green for another week, as he recovers from a ruptured air sac in his chest. They are hoping wide receiver Michael Jackson recovers in time to start against the Packers.

Jackson, who sat out the Tennessee game with a groin problem, aggravated the injury while making a tackle after a Zeier interception in Pittsburgh. Jackson came off the bench that day and blocked well, but he did not catch a pass. Floyd Turner was ineffective in Jackson's place.

"You've got to look at some old film to see if I can still catch touchdowns," said Jackson. He has a point. Since catching a career-high 14 touchdown passes in 1996, Jackson has caught four in his past 21 games. He has yet to score this year.

After evaluating Potts on the game tape of Sunday's 16-6 debacle at Three Rivers Stadium, the Ravens decided Cotton, a second-year man who made the team as a free agent in 1997, deserves a closer look. The staff was upset about Potts' blocking, especially in pass protection.

"We haven't been getting a consistently winning performance from the fullback position over the last several ballgames," running backs coach Al Lavan said.

"Rosey is capable of giving that. Cotton showed during the preseason that he's capable of making some plays in this league. He hasn't had an opportunity to play, but he's progressed enough over the last year and a half to warrant more playing time. The bottom line is we've got to get consistent performance at that position, and it doesn't matter who it comes from."

Players were off yesterday, and Potts was unavailable to comment.

NOTES: The Ravens are ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing, which does not bode well this week. Green Bay's defense is tied for the No. 3 ranking against the run. With 7.5 sacks to his credit, defensive end Michael McCrary ranks second in the AFC behind former Seattle teammate Michael Sinclair. Running back Priest Holmes, who has started the last three games, has touched the ball 95 times this year, by far the team high. Punter Kyle Richardson is third in the AFC with a 38.4-yard net average. He has dropped 11 of his 36 punts inside the opponents' 20.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Green Bay Packers

Site: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.

When: Sunday, 1: 01 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Packers by 10 1/2

Pub Date: 10/21/98

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