A tale of two teams in purple

December 12, 1998|By KEN ROSENTHAL

When Ravens owner Art Modell predicted that Baltimore would see an elite team in 1998, he wasn't lying.

An elite team will appear tomorrow at the House With No Name, wearing purple and white, no less.

It's a team that began the season with a lame-duck coach. A team that starts a 35-year-old quarterback. A team that revolves around a 6-foot-4 wide receiver.

But it's not the Ravens.

The Minnesota Vikings (12-1) are the first team since the 1970 merger to score 45 or more points in consecutive games.

Forty-six against Dallas, 48 against Chicago 50 against Baltimore?

"This is an opportunity for us to beat an elite team and do it in front of our fans," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said.

The Orioles stand a better chance of landing Kevin Brown.

Carmen Electra stands a better chance of keeping Dennis Rodman.

Mike Tyson stands a better chance of winning Sportsman of the Year.

The Vikings were seemingly headed to San Antonio when new owner Red McCombs took over in July.

Now, they could be headed to Miami for the Super Bowl.

The Ravens' only chance to keep this game close is to sustain long drives and keep Randall Cunningham, Randy Moss and Co. off the field.

But with their offensive line in shambles, that's not going to happen unless John Randle turns into Tony Randall, Dwayne Rudd turns into Naomi Judd and Derrick Alexander turns into the "other" Derrick Alexander.

Statistically, the defenses are similar -- the Vikings rank 19th overall, the Ravens 20th; the Vikings rank 25th against the pass, the Ravens 23rd.

It's on offense where the separation occurs faster than Moss will separate from whatever poor Ravens cornerback tries to cover him tomorrow.

Indeed, the difference in personnel is astounding.

Some of that is due to luck -- Cunningham came out of retirement to return to Pro Bowl form, and 19 teams passed on Moss before the Vikings gambled.

But sound football judgment didn't hurt, either.

Just for fun -- or is it aggravation? -- let's compare offenses.

Starting quarterback. Cunningham is 35, Jim Harbaugh 34. Cunningham did not play in 1996; Harbaugh led Indianapolis to the playoffs for the second straight year.

Based on those facts alone, you might think that the Ravens were better off with Harbaugh, even if he cost them a third-round draft pick.

Think again.

Cunningham has thrown four touchdown passes in a game four times this season. Harbaugh, hampered by injuries for much of the first two months, has thrown 10 all year.

Backup quarterback. Eric Zeier was the Browns' third-round pick in 1995. Brad Johnson, the Vikings' starter until he was injured in Week 2, was a ninth-round pick in '92.

Which would you prefer as your quarterback of the future?

Johnson is a 15-8 as a starter, Zeier 4-7.

Feature back. The Vikings made a solid call on Robert Smith with the 21st overall pick in '93 -- he became their top runner after Terry Allen departed as a free agent.

The Ravens had similar plans for Jay Graham when they made him their third-round pick in '97, figuring that Earnest Byner was nearing retirement.

Now they're starting Priest Holmes, an undrafted free agent, albeit one with promise.

Power back. We barely saw Leroy Hoard -- he was released after two games in '96, released again after three games with Carolina, then signed by the Vikings.

The Ravens cut Hoard for financial reasons and replaced him with Bam Morris. Wonderful! Hoard has rushed for nine $l touchdowns this season -- nearly twice as many as his former team.

The Ravens' answer to Hoard is Errict Rhett, whom they acquired for a third-round pick and expected to be a prominent part of their new two-back offense.

Hasn't happened.

Wide receiver. Michael Jackson is 6-4, just like Moss. Michael Jackson is a veteran, just like Chris Carter.

That's where the similarities end.

Jackson has caught only four touchdown passes the past two seasons. Moss has six in his past two games.

The Ravens offer a legitimate big-play threat in Jermaine Lewis, but he's only 5-7, and like Jackson, sidelined for the second straight week with an ankle injury.

Moss is nine inches taller than Lewis, Carter and the injured Jake Reed eight.

Offensive line. When healthy, the Ravens like to think their line is one of the best in the NFL. The Vikings' line actually is worthy of such praise.

The tackles, Todd Steussie and Korey Stringer, are both former first-round picks, as is left guard Randall McDaniel, who is seeking to tie Lawrence Taylor and Mike Singletary with his 10th straight Pro Bowl appearance.

For all Cunningham's brilliance, where would he be without a line that has allowed only 22 sacks, the fifth-fewest in the NFL?

To think, the Vikings were in chaos for much of the off-season, with their ownership unsettled and coach Dennis Green in jeopardy.

Well, former team president Roger Headrick re-signed Randle, Smith, Carter, Steussie and Reed to contracts worth $116.1 million.

McCombs then awarded Green a three-year contract extension, even though he has won only one playoff game -- one fewer than Ted Marchibroda.

Whatever, the Vikings are 12-1.

Never let it be said that Art Modell can't keep a promise.

Baltimore will see an elite team in '98.

Pub Date: 12/12/98

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