As secondary springs leaks, Ravens have sinking feeling

Rams exploit mistakes in coverage, tackling against revamped unit

Rams 27, Ravens 10

September 13, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- The group is graced by a future Hall of Famer, two first-round draft picks and two second-round choices. They can run and hit and leap and make plays. But a not-so-funny thing happened to the Ravens' secondary as it started fresh yesterday.

Despite a two-year makeover that has infused the backfield with a slew of new faces and renewed hope, the secondary looked like the same soft spot that has been exposed repeatedly over three seasons.

Of all of the things that went wrong in a disheartening, 27-10 loss to the Rams, the failure of the Ravens' revamped secondary to solve untested quarterback Kurt Warner looms especially large.

Consider that Warner passed for 316 yards and three touchdowns, often by probing the deep middle like a surgeon. Consider that the Rams were 7-for-14 on third down. Consider that the Ravens allowed eight completions of at least 15 yards.

The front seven performed at its usual solid level, save for the rusty pass rush of Michael McCrary and Peter Boulware. The Ravens stuffed the Rams' running game, leaving the rest of the work to the secondary.

"We knew we could take advantage of their [secondary]," Warner said. "With the weapons we've got, we could attack them."

Has anything changed at all?

"I don't care how good our front plays or how good our linebackers play. When they start putting the ball in the air, we've got to start covering guys up," said Woodson, waving off any suggestions that a poor pass rush led to the secondary's problems.

Woodson, for one, is trying to get comfortable in a new home at free safety. At times, he looked lost, like in the closing seconds of first half when Isaac Bruce slipped behind him in the end zone on a third-and-goal at the Ravens' 2.

Woodson was not alone.

"It was no one's particular fault," said third-year safety Kim Herring, a second-round draft pick from 1997. "We made too many mistakes in the first half, but [the secondary] is going to mesh. I missed some tackles. I didn't play very well in the first half. You guys don't see certain things that don't happen out there. You just see the end results of certain plays."

Herring, beginning his first season as a starter, provided some obvious bloopers. He displayed the kind of sloppy tackling that would make his college coach, Penn State's Joe Paterno, blush.

After missing a tackle on halfback Marshall Faulk, resulting in a 19-yard gain early in the second quarter, Herring failed to cover tight end Roland Williams on a 6-yard touchdown two plays later. He also allowed wide-out Az-Zahir Hakim to run for 17 yards after a missed tackle. That fueled a late, first-half drive that netted a touchdown, giving St. Louis a 17-3 halftime lead.

Cornerbacks DeRon Jenkins and Duane Starks swapped bad moments all day. Bruce and Torry Holt whipped Jenkins on slant-in routes and left Starks backpedaling as they broke off out patterns for costly completions.

"I didn't play up to my expectations. I didn't play well today," said Starks, a first-round pick beginning his second season and his first as a starter. "We missed a lot of assignments."

"Obviously, we have to tighten down our coverages. I could have played better," said Jenkins, a second-round pick from 1996 who certainly did not widen the gap between himself and rookie cornerback Chris McAlister, a first-round choice who is gunning for Jenkins' starting job.

The moment that best symbolized the secondary's futility had to be the McAlister moment. With the Ravens trailing 10-0 midway through the second quarter and the Rams at their 17, Warner's pass went off Faulk and into McAlister's outstretched left hand.

McAlister then turned, ran left, reversed field and seemed to have an open lane to the end zone. That was before Woodson, looking for someone to block, accidentally clipped McAlister's foot with his knee, shoved him lightly and sent McAlister sprawling to the turf at the St. Louis 6. The Ravens settled for a field goal.

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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