Road to .500 starts today Ravens hope to gain as soft schedule looms

November 15, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- With just about all hopes for the playoffs gone, the Ravens start on the road to possible respectability today when they meet the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Ravens and Chargers mirror each other in other ways besides their 3-6 records. Neither team has been able to get much consistency from its offense, especially from the quarterback.

Both teams have largely solid defenses with suspect secondaries, and neither has serious playoff aspirations.

But after San Diego today, the Ravens travel to Cincinnati (2-7) and then play host to the Revenge Bowl, as the former Baltimore Colts, now residing in Indianapolis (1-8), visit Baltimore to see what might have been, a new $223 million stadium at Camden Yards.

When were the Ravens a .500 team 12 games into the season? Never. Oh, how they dream. "I never think about losing," said Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary. "Regardless of who we're playing, it's a chance for us to turn this thing around. We started last week against Oakland; let's keep it going."

But winning streaks have not been a big part of the Ravens' three-year history in Baltimore. They have had just one three-game winning streak, and two two-game winning streaks.

Let's not even discuss the losing streaks.

"That's all part of the maturation process, part of growing up," said Ravens defensive tackle James Jones earlier this week.

"We can build on the win against the Raiders," said coach Ted Marchibroda of last week's 13-10 victory. "That was a shot in the arm for us. We played pretty sound football, didn't have many penalties and got some big plays at the right time."

"When you have a losing streak like we had [four games], a team starts doubting itself," he said. "It starts wondering why the hard work is not paying off. This team worked through it. It keeps fighting and giving good effort. Wins are the rewards. Hopefully, we'll get more."

Don't expect to see a lot of points on the scoreboard today. While the Ravens seem to have settled on their quarterback and running back, the Chargers are still shuffling players.

Early last week, Chargers interim coach June Jones (yes, they've shuffled coaches too) replaced franchise quarterback Ryan Leaf, chosen No. 2 in the college draft last April, with Craig Whelihan, who is two years removed from the Chargers' scout team.

The Chargers may also start receiver Charlie Jones in place of Bryan Still, because Jones plays better with Whelihan and the coaching staff isn't particularly happy with Still's practice habits. Whelihan has completed 22 of 44 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns, but San Diego will try to run the ball first, with Natrone Means rushing behind a solid offensive line led by tackle John Jackson and guard Aaron Taylor.

"On offense, you start with the improvement to their offensive line," said Marchibroda. "They've added two free agents: John Jackson from the Steelers and Aaron Taylor from the Packers. They can run the ball behind this group and they have the big-time back with Means, who already has 800 yards."

The Ravens are ranked 17th against the rush, allowing 110.6 yards per game, but those yards usually have come after the opponents have softened up the defense with the pass. Both defensive tackles Tony Siragusa and James Jones are having excellent seasons.

"If we could get a little passing attack going, it would open up a lot of things for Natrone Means," said Chargers linebacker Junior Seau.

But San Diego's forte is a defense that is ranked No. 1 in the NFL. The Chargers are allowing only 68.1 rushing yards on average per game, best in the league, and 185.6 passing, which is ranked No. 11. The middle of the defense has been superb, with tackles Norman Hand, John Parrella and inside linebackers Seau and Kurt Gouveia.

The Ravens may have to use some trickery against the Chargers and hope for a big play, especially since the team has scored only five touchdowns in 18 trips inside the opponents' 20 yard line. Tight end Eric Green will return to the offense after missing last week with a dislocated pinkie. The Ravens have the 17th-ranked offense in the league.

"They play the gaps well and are being very aggressive in their coverage," said Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh, citing the Chargers' man-to-man defense. "They're getting [opponents] in second-and-12 and third-and-12 a lot."

Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden said: "On paper, it definitely looks like one of those 10-7, 10-3 ballgames."

Ravens today

Ravens at Chargers

Site Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

Time : 4:05 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 1

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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