Wobbled line fails to find direction for shaky offense

Injured Ogden and Co. can't provide stability for Case, running game

October 22, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Jonathan Ogden was back, although clearly not at full strength. James Atkins finally was back, although not for long. Rookie Edwin Mulitalo got his first exposure to live NFL action, and hopes to be back soon.

And the Ravens' battered, patchwork offensive line looked like it needed another bye week.

At least right tackle Harry Swayne is expected back against Buffalo in 10 days. Swayne sat out last night's 35-8 loss to Kansas City with a lower leg contusion that should not keep him out of the Oct. 31 game against the Bills. He is expected to practice Monday.

Swayne's injury, not to mention the sore neck that is bothering Ogden, forced the Ravens to activate eight offensive linemen. And they needed all eight during a night of offensive futility that featured numerous, ill-advised passes by quarterback Stoney Case, along with numerous breakdowns along the line.

For starters, Atkins was playing out of position. Until last week in practice, he had not worked at right tackle at all in 1999. The experiment did not last long, as Atkins -- making his first appearance of the season after coming back from a hamstring injury he suffered two months ago -- strained a groin muscle late in the first quarter and left the game.

That forced the Ravens to go to the shuffle game. Left guard Everett Lindsay moved to right tackle. Reserves Mike Flynn and Edwin Mulitalo, a rookie who got into his first NFL game, shared time at left guard for the rest of the game.

The results were predictable. The running game, the backbone of its otherwise nonexistent offense, sputtered. The pass protection schemes wobbled around Case.

"Obviously, Stoney's performance was not what it needs to be, but the dynamics of the offensive line are a lot more complex than people understand," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The layman would say what's the big deal if a guy has to move from guard to tackle or from the left side to the right side? It's a tough situation.

"From the beginning [of the season], we felt the offensive line was an area we could rely on. But we've got injuries in there."

Even those who played looked hurt. Like Ogden. When was the last time the Pro Bowler got pancaked? Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas did it to Ogden near the end of the first half. Then again, it was apparent that Ogden's neck injury is very much around, in a psychological sense, at least.

In the opening possession, Ogden did not step out forcefully to meet Chiefs right end Leslie O'Neal, who beat him around the corner and nailed Case as he released his first pass of the night. All in all, it was an uneven night for the Ravens' best lineman.

"I felt all right, but I was kind of favoring my neck," said Ogden, who severely sprained his neck on Oct. 3 in Atlanta. "I was just trying to stay in the game. I was feeling a little paranoid. But I made it through the whole game without any pain."

The same could not be said for Atkins. His first appearance of 1999 lasted about 13 minutes.

"I jumped a guy trying to get around the corner [to throw a block], and [his groin] pulled," Atkins said. "It feels like I'm doing something wrong, but I can't do anything about injuries. I felt good before the game tonight. I should be back for Buffalo."

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