Mike Pringle, their all-purpose yardage leader, was on the sidelines with a tight left hamstring.
The Birmingham defense was jammed into the middle, predicated on stopping Robert Drummond, Pringle's stand-in, and whoever else tried to run.
So the Baltimore Stallions went airborne last night and the result was the first 100-yard receiving game of the season for Chris Armstrong, who also scored the key touchdown in their 28-20 victory over the Barracudas at Memorial Stadium.
"It was time for me to step my play up," said Armstrong, who caught six passes for 103 yards, including a 4-yarder with 6:02 to play that gave Baltimore the lead for good.
"I haven't had as much emotion as I had last year and I've been frustrated with some of the things they've been doing to me defensively," he added.
"It has been getting me down and I've allowed that. Tonight, I just wanted to play and have fun."
Armstrong had been held to one touchdown pass in the previous six games as opponents concentrated heavy coverage on the Stallions' top receiver this year and last.
"He's been getting doubled a lot," said quarterback Tracy Ham, whose 315 yards passing was his best output of 1995. "People tend to take away what's been good for you.
"The only thing I can do is look for him on my next read."
Armstrong said the Stallions simply "had to stay together and show our maturity" after the team suffered through a lackluster first half offensively.
"We were moving the ball well the first half, but not scoring. One thing or another -- a penalty, a dropped ball -- was stopping us.
"They had a lot of people in the box to stop our run. It would have been nice to have Mike, but we have a lot of good running backs. They were just geared to stop us.
"Fortunately, I was able to pick it up and the offensive line did a good job in the second half."
After routing the Barracudas during the exhibition season and by 36-8 in their first regular-season meeting, the Stallions were running into a good team that figured to be inspired.
"When you see a team for the third time, the guy on the other side knows your moves and you know his," said Armstrong. "So it comes down to getting yourself more mentally ready than him."
Another Stallion who was prepared was Chris Wright, whose 271 all-purpose yards enabled him to leapfrog the idle Pringle into the CFL lead.
"I was up and down like a roller coaster," said Wright, whose lost fumble set up the Birmingham field goal that put the Stallions behind 17-11 late in the third quarter.
But he also caught the scoring pass that regained the lead for Baltimore, 18-17, and returned a kickoff 60 yards to pave the way for a field goal.
"I didn't get down on myself after the fumble," said Wright. "They gave me the opportunity to make some plays and it worked out. It feels good to be able to produce."
Wright, perhaps the leading candidate for CFL Rookie of the Year, has 1,817 all-purpose yards to Pringle's 1,726.
"That's what football is about, excitement," said Wright. "We found a way to win tonight. We were a little frustrated at one point, but we got back together.
"I know I don't want to see Birmingham again, although we might in the playoffs. Every game it seems like they're getting better and better."