In prime-time glare, Ravens hope to shine

Defensive struggle expected when Chiefs come to town tonight

October 21, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

There will be lights, cameras and probably a lot of intense, physical action.

The Ravens enter the NFL's spotlight tonight when they play host to the Kansas City Chiefs before an expected sellout crowd of more than 69,000 at PSINet Stadium. Because the Ravens have only an 18-34-1 record since moving to Baltimore, there haven't been many opportunities to be involved in a featured game on national television.

But the Ravens (2-3) get another chance tonight against the Chiefs (3-2) on ESPN. The Ravens have a 1-2 record on ESPN Sunday night football and a 12-13-1 overall record at home. But the Ravens are excited about playing in this midweek game and wants to show the country it's on the rise and tough to beat at home.

"A lot of our players aren't used to these kind of games," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "But they know it's on national television. They know their peers will be watching. I anticipate we'll be ready to play. There will be a lot of emotion to this game."

Said Ravens running back Errict Rhett said: "We have to establish something here at PSINet Stadium. We've got to get a streak going where we don't lose at home. This is a night game, and that's a beautiful stadium out there, ain't it?"

But this probably won't be a pretty game. Offensively, the Ravens are forced to run the ball, because they can't pass with a great deal of success and Kansas City likes to run, because that's the style of coach Gunther Cunningham, a former assistant with the Baltimore Colts.

Both teams have dominating defenses. The Ravens are ranked No. 7 in the league, and the Chiefs are No. 12. If you want to see a wide-open game, tune in for the final two minutes.

"They are going to run the ball, run the ball, run the ball and run the ball some more," said Billick. "They will run the ball a minimum of 35 to 40 times a game. So I suspect both teams will be in a lot of second-and-10s, third-and-10s. Their games have been a lot like our games.

"It would be to our advantage to get up on them early in the game," said Billick. "That's not a big secret, because they are committed to that philosophy of running the ball."

If the Ravens have any chance, they will need to get Rhett loose sometime during the game, because the Tennessee Titans proved nearly two weeks ago that the team can't rely solely on the arm of quarterback Stoney Case to win games.

Rhett is the sixth-leading rusher in the AFC with 409 yards. Case has completed 47 of 104 passes for 694 yards but had problems when the Titans put seven or eight players around the line of scrimmage to stop Rhett. The Ravens expect the same strategy from Kansas City, which is allowing only 77.8yards a game rushing.

Establishing the run could be even more difficult, because the team will be without starting right offensive tackle Harry Swayne (lower leg) and top backup Spencer Folau (knee), who both were declared inactive yesterday. James Atkins, who has not playedthis season, will start in place of Swayne, and there are questions surrounding the health of left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who missed most of the last two games with a neck sprain.

"I was used to seeing seven, eight or nine guys in the box when I was with Tampa Bay," said Rhett. "When those safeties come up in the hole, it's my job to knock them back. I don't care how many times they give me the ball. I'm going to run hard each time. I'm not going to worry about anyone else's job or the linemen up front."

Case, making his fourth straight start, is hoping the Ravens might get some big plays when Kansas City crowds the line of scrimmage. Billick says Case has improved each game. The Ravens eventually would like to get him to the point where quarterback Neil O'Donnell is with the Titans. O'Donnell doesn't win games, but he doesn't lose them with turnovers, either.

"Kansas City has a big-play defense, and they thrive on turnovers," said Case, who must throw against two solid cornerbacks, Cris Dishman and James Hasty. "My first goal is to take care of the football -- throw it away if I have to. But if they constantly put eight or nine in the box, that excites me, because that gives us an opportunity for a big play."

The Chiefs have more bona fide offensive weapons than the Ravens. But the strength of Kansas City's offense is in guards Dave Szott and Will Shields and center Tim Grunhard. They're why the Chiefs have been able to average 135 rushing yards with running backs such as Rashaan Shehee and former Raven Bam Morris.

But don't be surprised if Cunningham takes a few shots at the Ravens' secondary, which is suspect. Ravens starting safeties Kim Herring and Rod Woodson have not played well this season, even though Woodson had his best game against the Titans. Herring, the strong safety, has only 17 tackles and missed numerous others. Another bad game by Herring could force defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to insert Stevon Moore or Corey Harris into the starting lineup.

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