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Red zone is dead zone for Baltimore attack


Yes, there is a red zone on those huge Canadian Football League fields.

And no, the Baltimore CFLs were not able to solve it Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.

The 20-yard expanse of turf that constitutes the "red zone" looked frightfully like the Bermuda Triangle to the Baltimore offense in a 42-16 loss to the Calgary Stampeders.

Five times the CFLs (1-1) advanced to the Calgary 20 or inside it, but came away with one touchdown and three field goals. Once they had the ball on the 1-yard line -- and had to go for three.

Not good enough.

"That's where we have to get better," coach Don Matthews said yesterday, and it was up to Tracy Ham to say how.

"What's got to happen," the Baltimore quarterback said, "is I've got to have better play selection down there. A couple of times it was lack of concentration. We were doing the right things.

"For us to beat a team like that, we've got to get seven, not three."

Ham, in his eighth CFL season, calls his own plays, most of them out of the no-huddle offense.

But it wasn't play calling as much as it was an ill-timed penalty and a flukish defensive play that kept Baltimore out of the end zone.

An offside penalty pushed the CFLs from the 1 to the 6 on the first series of the game. Then Calgary middle linebacker Marvin Pope deflected a Ham pass, and Donald Igwebuike kicked a 13-yard field goal.

Pope was Ham's nemesis again early in the third quarter on one of the game's biggest plays. Trailing 22-13, Baltimore drove to the Calgary 14. Ham covered the last 25 yards with a nifty scramble.

On the next play, an out-of-position Pope tipped a pass intended for Shawn Beals, and Calgary safety Greg Knox caught it inside the 5.

"On the tipped ball, we had a guy wide open [coming] across the field," Matthews said. "But the linebacker didn't drop -- he was only 3 yards deep. I think he was tired. He wasn't where he was supposed to be. It was a fluke play."

Said Ham: "If I get Shawn the ball, he scores."

Perhaps equally big was Stampeder Pee-Wee Smith's 58-yard return of a 35-yard punt in the second quarter. Smith fielded the low, short kick and ran right through the coverage for a touchdown.

Punter Josh Miller accepted blame, even though Matthews had absolved him.

"I was on the field for 10 seconds in the first half and screwed up the whole half," Miller said. "That was the turning point. I hit a very bad punt and let a lot of people down.

"The look on [his teammates'] faces after the punt was like they stubbed their toe at 3 in the morning after waking up."

Telling, perhaps, is the fact it was the second punt returned for a touchdown against Baltimore in two games.

"We have to cover them, no matter where the kick is," Matthews said. "Not every kick is going to be 45 yards and high."

And not everybody is going to go for the end zone in the final seconds of a game already won. But Calgary did, when it sent Tony Stewart around end for a 5-yard touchdown on the last play of regulation, padding a 35-16 lead.

Matthews declined to complain, but it did not go unnoticed by the players.

"I asked Jim Popp [the team's personnel director], 'Is this how this league is?' " said wide receiver Walter Wilson. "What happened to taking the knee?

"I didn't like that because the game was already decided. Next time we play them, I'm going to keep that in mind."

Matthews was more disturbed by what he called the deceptive score.

"I'm embarrassed because the score was nowhere close to what the game was," he said. "We can play with those guys any day of the week. We just have to play correctly."

Pointing to three turnovers and the red-zone problems, Wilson drew this conclusion: "We gave them the game, they didn't beat us."

NOTES: Ham, who sprained his right ankle early in the fourth quarter, said he'll practice tomorrow (today's a day off) and will play Saturday night at home against the Shreveport Pirates. Questionable for that game are nose tackle Jearld Baylis with a swollen knee and linebacker Alvin Walton with a hamstring pull. . . . Mike Pringle accounted for 197 all-purpose yards, 79 rushing, to earn another start.

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