Rabach's standout play puts Ravens in jackpot

September 29, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Two days ago, shortly after dissecting the Cincinnati Bengals' game film, the Ravens' offensive coaches met to discuss, among other things, one particular player's performance and the impending predicament it has created.

It seems center Casey Rabach has played so well over the first three games this season - culminating in helping Jamal Lewis rush for 186 yards in the Ravens' 23-9 win Sunday - coaches are trying to determine how they will fit six players into five positions.

With center Mike Flynn set to practice this week (though he is not expected to play Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs), the Ravens are running out of time in figuring out if it is best to move Rabach over to right guard in place of Bennie Anderson, rotate Rabach and Anderson, or put Rabach back on the bench and keep last year's starters intact.

The preliminary meeting did little to clear things up, although the second choice appears to be the probable one.

"Mike's a good center, and Casey is a good player," offensive line coach Jim Colletto said. "I think it's important that Casey continues to play in some form or fashion, whether it be at center or guard. When Mike is ready to go, we'll make a decision.

"We've got five plus one, and that one other guy is good enough to get in games, and we need to do that. How we are going to do that, I just don't know right now."

The decision would have appeared to have been a no-brainer after Week 1, when the Cleveland Browns sacked quarterback Kyle Boller three times, harassed him all afternoon, and held Ravens running backs to just 72 rushing yards.

The absences of Flynn and left tackle Jonathan Ogden were largely blamed for the offensive line's rough outing. But in came Ogden the next week and out went many of the questions concerning the line play, as the backs rushed for 138 yards in the win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Still, Lewis was kept quiet in both those games, and when that happens, the offensive line is usually the first place people look. The only difference in the line - Rabach in for Flynn.

Any notion of a significant drop-off, though, was dismissed when the Ravens bullied the Bengals' defensive line, not allowing a legitimate sack and rushing for 254 total yards (Boller was officially sacked twice, but one was on a fumble behind the line of scrimmage and the other came on a scramble for no yards).

Asked if he felt personal pressure to get Lewis a 100-yard game since the back was held under that mark just four times last year, Rabach said, "I really don't think so. It really is a team sport. All five of us working together, everything should be all right. One guy in there shouldn't be the difference maker for the success or lack of success."

The Ravens have not veered too far from their straightforward rushing attack of a year ago with the smaller Rabach in. Fourteen of the 30 called runs were between the center-guard hole created by Rabach and either Anderson or left guard Edwin Mulitalo.

"We were just getting back to the way we want to play football, getting back to our mentality," Rabach said. "Jamal had a great game, and he's the kind of guy where if you just give him a little crack, he's going to make something big out of it."

Lewis' 75-yarder in the fourth quarter came after just one broken tackle beyond the line of scrimmage. Many of the Bengals were pushed so far out of position by the offensive line, they failed to lay a hand on Lewis.

Mulitalo believes that sent a message to teams that might have been looking at Lewis' statistics heading into that game to deduce that the line was not playing well.

"Hopefully the other teams who were licking their chops pointing to the center as the weakness looked at us [in that game]," Mulitalo said. "But like I said before, being out there with Casey, for him to be able to step up like he did to show the true depth of what we have is awesome. He's done well."

Mulitalo basically summed up what the coaches have been saying all along. Soon comes the challenge of figuring a way to provide Rabach with a suitable reward once Flynn returns - like continued playing time.

Flynn may be back as a backup against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 10.

"We'll sort it out," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We'll have to see what our best combination is. Mike is our center, and there is no reason why he shouldn't regain that job. But by the same token, Casey has played very well."

NOTES: Corey Fuller spoke to students in the Dyslexia Tutoring Program yesterday at The Rotunda. ... Marques Douglas hosted the New Town High School football team at a premiere of the film Friday Night Lights. ... Lewis' 75-yard run was nominated for the NFL's Play of the Week. Fans can vote at NFL.com.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Kansas City Chiefs (0-3) vs. Ravens (2-1)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Monday, 9 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 5

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