Cinergy synergy boosts Ravens

Bengals' inability to win at home gives visitors hope, challenge

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

CINCINNATI -- The Ravens have only a 19-37-1 record since they moved from Cleveland to Baltimore nearly four years ago, but even the Ravens might be overconfident in today's game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Cinergy Field.

The Bengals haven't won a game in 13 months at Cinergy, losing 10 straight. Cincinnati has a 2-19 record in its past 21 games overall and has allowed 302 points this season, most in the NFL. Fans are wearing bags over their heads, and coach Bruce Coslet might be fired at the end of the year.

Officially, the Bengals are the worst team in the league with a 1-9 record.

"How can we take anybody lightly at 3-6?" asked Ravens coach Brian Billick. "I'm positive they are like us right now. They need a win, and they're anxious to play us and get one. We expect them to fly around and take out their frustrations with tough, aggressive football. For whatever reason, they seem to play better in the second half of seasons, and we expect that. We'll bring that same sort of purpose into the game."

This is a game of two struggling teams, but they appear to be headed in opposite directions. Coslet has an 18-33 overall record with the Bengals and a number of discontented veterans on the team, including quarterback Jeff Blake and receiver Carl Pickens.

Meanwhile, Billick is in his first year with the league's No. 1 defense and possibly several offensive players away from contending for a playoff spot. A postseason appearance is unlikely for either team in 1999, but neither coach sees any of his players quitting.

"These guys live and die over this," Coslet said about winning. "If you -- the media and fans -- are upset over this, you have no idea how this is wearing with the players and coaches. We live and breathe this every day. And for it not to go right on a continuing basis tears the guts out of you. We have tough-minded, never-say-die people. I said people, not just players."

Billick said: "To go out and play this game, as physically demanding as it is, as career-threatening as every snap is, that takes a lot. There is not a player on this roster not willing to make this an elite program. I've gone over the list a couple of times, and believe me, I can't find one who is going to quit.

"That is not our mentality. We're getting great effort by the players. They're practicing hard. They're playing with passion and courage. We are looking for that one more thing that can get us over the hump in these close losses."

The Ravens have lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars by three points. If the defense plays as well as it has been and the offense can muster average production without turnovers, then the Ravens should be able to handle Cincinnati today.

The Ravens are ranked co-No. 1 with Jacksonville allowing 237.9 yards a game. Last week, the Ravens held the Jaguars and their top-ranked rushing game to a franchise-low 132 yards of total offense. Unlike Jacksonville, which has gone conservative despite offensive weapons such as Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, the Bengals have the talent and the scheme to go after the Ravens' secondary.

"They have really been productive," said Ravens secondary coach Steve Shafer. "They're moving the ball, and they are scoring points. Blake, when he has played, has been a real threat running the football, and he's back as their starter again. They have some excellent skill players in their running back [Corey Dillon] and receivers [Darnay Scott and Pickens]."

But the Bengals may not have the offensive line to slow the Ravens' pass rush. Cincinnati has allowed 35 sacks for minus-209 yards. The Ravens have 25 sacks this season, and put on a lot of pressure.

"It's our job in the line to get Corey going, to get the fullback going and give Bruce the confidence to run the ball," said Bengals offensive tackle Willie Anderson. "If we don't, it makes things tough on the quarterback."

Defensively, the Bengals want redemption from two losses to the Ravens last season when Priest Holmes rushed for a combined 400 yards. The 1999 version has pretty much the same personnel, but the Bengals' young linebacking crew of Brian Simmons, Steve Foley, Takeo Spikes and Adrian Ross are a year older, and better.

The Bengals have the No. 19 defense in the league. But instead of going against Holmes, Errict Rhett will introduce himself to the Bengals today. Rhett is the Ravens' leading rusher with 708 yards on 171 carries. Rhett took over as the team's top back in game No. 2.

"They are coming into this game thinking they can beat us," Rhett said. "They are saying: `Those guys are struggling, we should win this one. This isn't Jacksonville where we're expected to get blown out. We can beat them and Cleveland.'

"You can't underestimate any team in the NFL," Rhett said. "If you don't bring your A-game, then you got problems. I expect them to put eight or nine players in the box. Why not? Everybody else does. But they've got some young defensive backs and young linebackers. We're a veteran team, so we should come right at them. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to treat them just like they're undefeated."

This will be the third straight road game for the Ravens. Jacksonville will play the Ravens at home next Sunday.

"I cut practice down a little bit. I told them to get into bed earlier," Billick said. "You'll be surprised what three straight games on the road will do to you."

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