Ravens find 2 tight ends twice as nice

Billick alignment nets just 1 catch, but opens runs, wide receivers

Attack to open up for Jags

TE receptions to come when foes cut off lanes

Ravens

September 05, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The early payoff on the Ravens' two-tight end offense was modest on opening day. Ben Coates caught one pass for 5 yards, Shannon Sharpe suckered a safety, and quarterback Tony Banks took what the Pittsburgh Steelers gave him.

In this case, a 16-0 victory was an unqualified success.

But come Sunday, when the Jacksonville Jaguars apply their annual litmus test at PSINet Stadium, the Ravens may need more than the one touchdown they got on Sunday.

In a game that could stamp their validity as an AFC power, the Ravens hope to cash in the opportunities they missed in Pittsburgh - the deep balls that overshot both Sharpe and Coates, the aborted drives that ended in Matt Stover field goals.

"I don't think [the Steelers] expected us to come out in a one-receiver, two-tight end, two-back set and be able to do the things we did," Banks said yesterday. "Have Qadry [Ismail] singled up outside, and be able to punch with Priest [Holmes]."

The Ravens got 119 rushing yards out of Holmes on 27 grueling carries. Ismail scored on a 53-yard touchdown pass when the Steelers' coverage broke down.

Coach Brian Billick linked both developments to the presence of Sharpe and Coates in the Ravens' offense.

"We ran the ball well because even in the two-tight, two-back [set], they had to account for the fact those guys could get down the field," Billick said. "Their preoccupation with that [also] opened up Qadry Ismail on the outside.

"As a consequence, we didn't get a lot of productivity throwing the ball to [the tight ends], but if people want to keep giving us the running lanes and give us the outside route, we're going to keep taking it.

"Eventually, they're going to say, `No, we're not going to let you do that,' and all of a sudden, the tight end is going to show up in terms of receptions."

On Ismail's touchdown, a safety broke coverage to pick up Sharpe down the field. When Ismail slipped behind cornerback Chad Scott, he had an easy touchdown.

With the lead, the Ravens played close-to-the-vest offense, minimizing risks. Against Jacksonville at home, they more than likely will throw caution to the wind.

At least, that's what they did in a 30-23 loss to the Jaguars in Baltimore last year. That loss came two weeks after they lost a 6-3 defensive struggle in Jacksonville.

"We went down to Jacksonville and tried to keep it a tight game," Billick said. "We did - a little too tight - and we weren't able to establish quite enough to get it done offensively.

"The profile when they came up here was much different. You saw us spread it out. You saw three and four wides. We put the ball all over the field."

The strategy produced a 16-7 lead into the fourth quarter. But the Jaguars answered with a 23-point rally to win at the end. In four years and eight games, the Ravens have yet to beat the Jaguars.

"We can't think of ourselves as a truly championship-caliber club until we beat Jacksonville," Billick said. "It's been a monkey on this organization's back. We can't hide from that."

Said Banks: "Everybody knows it's the most important game for us this whole season every time we play them. That's how everybody is going to measure us."

The Ravens received good news on the health front yesterday. Banks' right elbow was stiff from a hit in Sunday's game, but he doesn't expect it to hinder preparation.

Center Jeff Mitchell, who suffered a contusion on his kneecap, said he expects to play. "That's my mind-set," he said. "I'm going to play."

And the Ravens should have speedy wide receiver Patrick Johnson back from a broken collarbone, giving Banks one more deep target.

One week after the Ravens notched a big road victory in Pittsburgh, they get a chance to measure up against the defending division champs. Billick doesn't think the pressure will affect his team.

"These guys aren't going to succumb to that pressure," he said. "They're not going to play tight. This group doesn't do that. They're confident, poised, they've got a skill level. That combination is hard to beat.

"There's a healthy, healthy respect for that team. [But] there's no fear of that team."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3

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