RAVENS vs. BRONCOS

Ravens look for direction from Grbac

Champs eye QB to play major role in fixing offense

2-0 Broncos loom today

Mulitalo: `We're looking for a leader, and he's our leader'

September 30, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

DENVER -- Mile High's spotlight will shine on Shannon Sharpe, but the Ravens' eyes will stay fixed on Elvis Grbac.

When the Ravens (1-1) continue their early-season road swing today against the Broncos (2-0), Denver fans will see the return of Sharpe, while a Ravens offense in crisis will await its cue from Grbac.

The Ravens' offensive game plan is lopsided, its focus equally out of sync. Most of its runs can be measured in inches and its turnovers counted on two hands.

Grbac, the team's prize quarterback acquisition this off-season, has only played a minor role in this mess but can play a major role in fixing it.

The Ravens aren't asking to rely on Grbac's arm, just his direction in trying to make an AFC power play against the fast-starting Broncos.

"Right now, we need to look at our quarterback and have him lead us to the so-called promised land," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "That's something that he'll just have to take over. I'm all about follow on command. It's better to have one chief than 11 chiefs. Obviously, we're looking for a leader, and he's our leader."

While Grbac's physical tools have been applauded, critics in the past have questioned his leadership ability. When asked about those assertions, Grbac rolled his eyes.

"If guys are looking to me to lead, I'm here for that," Grbac said. "I've played there in Denver. I know what it takes to win there. I'm going to do my job to the best of my ability, which will help us win."

On the NFL's most dominant home field, Grbac has made winning in Denver seem routine. The Broncos own the league's best home record since 1974 -- winning 76 percent of the time -- but Grbac has won in his past two trips there during his Kansas City Chiefs days.

Grbac, who is 4-1 lifetime as a starter in the regular season against Denver, has completed 61 percent in his past two wins at Mile High while averaging 216 yards passing there. Last year in Denver, he capped an 80-yard, game-winning drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Alexander with 2:21 remaining.

"Denver is a special place to play," Grbac said. "So, you've got to bring something special to the table when you play there. I don't know if it's the Denver air or the excitement, but I look forward to playing games like this. You want to play against the best and see how good you can be."

Said Denver linebacker Bill Romanowski: "He's probably beaten this team more than any other quarterback."

The Ravens cannot solely depend on Grbac, whose 93 pass attempts lead the NFL.

But no other viable option exists since the running game has pulled up lame. The Ravens have struggled to produce 118 yards rushing behind a makeshift offensive line that has right guard Bennie Anderson making his first NFL start and right tackle Sammy Williams hobbling around with a knee injury.

"We have to run the football," said Sharpe, the Ravens' tight end who returns to Denver for the first time since playing for the Broncos from 1990 to 1999. "As well as Elvis can throw the football, we're asking an awful lot asking him to throw the ball 60, 70 times. You can win games like that, but you can't win championships."

Although coach Brian Billick has put more of the blame on the offensive line, running back Terry Allen has failed to break tackles, as well. Of his 37 carries this season, 24 have resulted in gains of two yards or less.

"We just have to go out and be patient, and stay together because we know what we are capable of doing," Allen said. "When that happens, it's going to be a lot of people coming back apologizing."

Redemption may be bestowed upon Ravens receiver Patrick Johnson, as well. With Brandon Stokley's knee injury limiting him to the third receiver role, the Ravens will start Johnson or Travis Taylor at flanker.

Johnson had a miserable game last week in Cincinnati, fumbling a kickoff, stepping in the back of the end zone to nullify a touchdown and dropping a pass that turned into an interception. The fourth-year receiver desperately wants another chance.

"Anytime you can go out and do things that are uncharacteristic of you, you want to go out and have a good game," Johnson said. "I haven't been depressed about it, but I have to be more conscious about what I'm doing throughout the whole game. But I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity I get."

As the Ravens' offense sorts out its troubles, the defense will knock helmets against one of the most balanced offenses in the league.

The Broncos' running scheme is based on a fleet-footed offensive line whose blocks are aimed for the opposition's knees. The Ravens' defensive tackles, Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams, have to use their agility to stay on their feet.

"Against lazy defensive players, the Broncos are going to be very, very effective," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said.

Denver's passing game is generated by the league's top passer in Brian Griese and the top receiver in Rod Smith.

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