Running is option vs. Bengals Past success, statistics dictate rushing emphasis

Ravens notebook

November 20, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

The last time they played the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens rushed for a season-high 181 yards on 35 attempts, led by halfback Priest Holmes' 173, in a 31-24 win that amounted to the team's best offensive showing of the year.

The Ravens (3-7) would like to see the same game plan Sunday when they travel to Cincinnati's Cinergy Field in a rematch with the Bengals (2-8).

"Hopefully, we don't do anything differently, that we come in with the same game plan and we attack," said Ravens center Wally Williams.

"I'm sure Cincinnati is well aware of what happened and there will be more stunting, more blitzing. Hopefully, we'll stay with our game plan and make it work."

Neither Williams nor backup quarterback Eric Zeier, who started the last game against the Bengals, said he would be surprised to see the Bengals put eight players in the box early in the game.

"It's not really their thing, but we'll see some of it," Williams said.

The Bengals, who have the worst rushing defense in the league, allowing 167.1 yards a game, have been going more to a 4-3 look lately.

"We're going to mix it in every now and then," said Bengals coach Bruce Coslet, whose team also has the worst overall defense in the NFL.

"You try to keep the offense off guard as much as you can," Coslet said. "Surprises like that are a change of pace. When we put an extra lineman on the field, we're taking off one of our linebackers, who tend to be playmakers. But it gives you more size and strength up front."

Jones repeats success

After Ravens defensive tackle James Jones' great season last year, there were those who wondered if he could do it again and if his body would hold up. After all, Jones, 6 feet 2, 290 pounds, is far from the hulking prototype.

But after 10 games, Jones has 49 tackles, eighth-best on the team, and 4 1/2 sacks, third-best behind defensive end Michael McCrary and outside linebacker Peter Boulware. Jones, in his eighth season, may also be the best technician on the team and possibly the squad's unsung hero.

"I get to make a lot of plays because of what he does in front of me," said middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "James keeps the

guards and centers off me, but he also makes a lot of plays by himself."

Said defensive line coach Jacob Burney: "You wish every player gave you the effort James gives. He's always prepared, he works hard in the off-season to get better and he gives you everything he has.

"Beyond that, he plays when he's hurting and he's the first guy to help a teammate to get better, even if that player could take his playing time."

Said Jones: "The season is not over yet, and you don't reflect on how you played until it's over. I thought we would have won more games than we have, but we still have time to put a stretch together and make some things happen."

Staying away from Lewis

Coslet won't be making the same mistake twice with Ravens receiver/punt returner Jermaine Lewis.

In the first game between the teams, Lewis, possibly the best return specialist in the game, returned a punt 87 yards for a TD in the third quarter, after the Bengals had pulled within 21-17.

Lewis has returned two punts for touchdowns this season and had a third of 90 yards called back because of a blown call by an official Sunday in San Diego.

"We're a directional kicking team, and we make no bones about it," Coslet said. "I would say that Jermaine Lewis is a threat every time he touches the ball as either a return guy or receiver.

"His college coach [Mark Duffner, then at Maryland] is our line- backers coach," Coslet said. "He told us about him. We've seen him up close and personal."

Seeking 'special' win

The Ravens brought in veteran linebackers Jerry Olsavsky and Jeff Kopp to strengthen their special teams, but even they haven't been able to cut down on the penalties generated by the units.

Olsavsky was with the Pittsburgh Steelers for nine seasons before signing with the Bengals and later the Ravens.

"We lost a close game on Sunday, and we're getting hurt by the little things. And that's what makes it so tough," Olsavsky said. "If Jermaine Lewis scores that touchdown, then we win. If we make a block here or a block there, then we score another touchdown, not with Jermaine, but on kickoff returns with Corey Harris and Patrick Johnson, who are good return guys.

"We have to win special teams every week," Olsavsky said. "Then, if you win on offense or defense, you've won two of three and that means you're probably going to win games. Last week, we came close, but we didn't get it done. The little things, like penalties, cost you big games."

Et cetera

The two leverage calls against the Ravens on Sunday have been the only two in the NFL this season. The Ravens have had 34 offensive series that were three plays and a punt. Free safety Kim Herring will miss his second straight game because of a dislocated left shoulder. The Bengals own a 3-2 lead in the series against the Ravens and are 2-0 against them at Cinergy Field.

Pub Date: 11/20/98

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