Bottom line: Pride at stake Basement Bowl' pits 3-7 Ravens, 2-8 Bengals

November 22, 1998|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

There is little at stake for the Ravens except pride and another possible embarrassing third straight last-place finish in the AFC Central Division.

The Ravens (3-7) travel to Cinergy Field today to play the Cincinnati Bengals (2-8) in the Basement Bowl. The Bengals have lost five in a row and the Ravens five of their past six, but who's counting? The Ravens have the league's No. 21-ranked offense and No. 19 defense, and the Bengals have the 30th-ranked defense and the 20th-ranked offense.

There is parity even at the bottom of the NFL.

"We're going to be in close games," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "We're not good enough to dominate anyone, and we believe we can play with anybody. That's why we have to play smarter and take advantage when we have a chance to make the big play."

The Ravens have more than a chance going into this game. Cincinnati is one of the three teams the Ravens have beaten this season. In a rare show of offensive production, the Ravens had 411 yards of total offense in a 31-24 win on Sept. 27.

It was a breakout game for second-year running back Priest Holmes, who had 173 yards rushing on 27 attempts. But the Ravens have had some changes since then. Eric Zeier, who threw for 254 yards that night and has a history of being a Bengals killer, is no longer the starting quarterback. He has been replaced by Jim Harbaugh, who has won only one game as the starter this season.

Wally Williams was at left guard but is now playing center, and James Atkins will be getting his first start at left guard today.

"That's the question a lot of people keep asking me, 'What is wrong with this offense?' " said Harbaugh. "If I knew, I would have fixed it. But I believe in my abilities, I believe in this team."

The Ravens will stay with their same game plan for the rematch. They'll run the ball, trying to have offensive tackles Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown out-muscle defensive ends Michael Bankston and Clyde Simmons. The Ravens also want to challenge the Bengals' two starting inside linebackers, Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes, both rookies.

If the Bengals crowd eight players around the line of scrimmage, the Ravens will go after rookie right cornerback Artrell Hawkins.

"On defense, they're playing three rookies and they're attacking quarterbacks," said Marchibroda. "The linebackers can all run, especially those two kids they play inside. We were able to jump on them (21-0) early the last time, but they fought back and had us scrambling in the end. I expect this will be another tough, close game."

This will be the second straight week the Ravens will face an unproven quarterback making his first start of the season. Third-stringer Paul Justin (3-4 as a starter) will start in place of Neil O'Donnell. The Ravens have a habit of making little-known players into stars, like Jacksonville quarterback Rob Johnson, Jaguars running back Fred Taylor and San Diego quarterback Craig Whelihan, who had been 0-7 as an NFL starter until he beat the Ravens last week.

Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis was polite in discussing Justin. Defensive end Michael McCrary was more direct.

"He is a good quarterback, seems to know what he is doing," Lewis said. "He has a strong arm, is accurate, makes his pre-snap reads and then makes up his mind quickly where he wants to throw."

McCrary said: "It's hard to really think about this guy. There is not a lot of film on him, but I've read some of his statements about how he wants to win this game and take advantage of the opportunity.

"We've made a lot of guys stars. We made that Jacksonville quarterback five million dollars last year and he didn't even call to say thank you."

The Bengals have a lot of weapons, but the problem is their offensive line. The Bengals have surrendered 35 sacks for minus 236 yards. The Ravens have to be aware of running back Corey Dillon, a cutback artist, who has rushed for 846 yards on 199 carries this season.

Then there are receivers Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott, who have combined for 1,134 yards on 79 catches this season. The Bengals will go after Ravens rookie cornerback Duane Starks, who has been beaten on big plays the past three weeks.

"If the system dictates it, we'll go that way," said Justin.

Ravens today

Ravens at Bengals

Site: Cinergy Field, Cincinnati

Time: 4:15 p.m.

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

Line: Bangals by 1 1/2

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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