The Ravens felt fairly satisfied after improving their preseason record to 2-0 by dismantling the New York Giants, 37-27, on Saturday in their first road test. The Ravens moved the ball equally well on the ground and in the air and shut down an undermanned New York offense with strong play up front.
So why wasn't Scott O'Brien smiling? O'Brien is the Ravens' special teams coach, and he has some extra work to do this week with his unit.
The biggest blights on the Ravens' victory were two special teams snafus that briefly allowed New York some hope, after the Ravens had scored the game's first 12 points by dominating the opening 18 minutes.
The trouble started right after Earnest Byner's 16-yard touchdown early in the second quarter gave the Ravens a 12-0 lead. First, New York rookie Amani Toomer took the ensuing kickoff, broke through a hole in the Ravens' coverage, then sprinted down the left sideline to complete a 94-yard return for a touchdown.
That was only the beginning. The Ravens failed to move the ball on their next possession, then lost the lead after their punt protection collapsed. With his blocking breaking down in front of him, punter Greg Montgomery was forced to attempt an ill-advised pass to Bennie Thompson, who was ineligible on the play. The Giants took over on the Ravens' 23, then scored two plays later to take a 13-12 lead.
The Ravens quickly reassumed control of the game, but that didn't make O'Brien's afternoon any more fun.
"When you give up two big plays [on special teams], it's hard to be satisfied, whether you win the game or not," O'Brien said. "Our job is to make big plays, not allow big plays. You can see how the momentum of the game changes. It's a one-play, live-on-the-edge kind of deal, and there's only one guy accountable when your special teams break down. That's the special teams coach."
O'Brien said a combination of problems with scheme and technique resulted in Toomer's TD return. The Ravens were trying to shut down a return up the middle, but the heart of their coverage team overplayed there, leaving the right side exposed. Toomer found the opening as he hit full stride, broke free quickly to his left, then overcame a great chase by Donny Brady for the score.
The punt protection debacle involved a miscommunication of line calls from the sideline. The Giants put eight men on the line of scrimmage, leaving the Ravens no room for error.
"We couldn't get the proper line calls on the field prior to the snap," O'Brien said. "Everybody has to be on the same page, especially when they've got eight men on the line of scrimmage. I probably didn't prepare them well enough for that situation."
Just as special teams made a difference in the Ravens' preseason opener -- Jermaine Lewis' 75-yard punt return sealed the 17-9 victory over Philadelphia -- they could have allowed a stronger team back into the game on Saturday.
"Our mistakes gave them a way out," O'Brien said. "Now, we've got to make something positive out of that negative. If you correct your breakdown, you prevent it from happening the next time. That's what the preseason is for."
NOTES: The Ravens had the day off yesterday. Coach Ted Marchibroda said he probably will play the starters for a half against Green Bay on Saturday. The Packers represent their toughest opponent so far. Marchibroda called the Packers "one of the elite teams in the NFL." . . . Running back Leroy Hoard suffered an injury to the medial collateral ligament in his sprained knee on Saturday, and is not expected to practice today. He is listed as day-to-day beyond that. Should he sit out Saturday, Earnest Byner would start in his place. . . . Marchibroda credited the second offensive line for making a major recovery from its disastrous showing in the preseason opener, and also singled out Carwell Gardner (14 yards rushing, 36 receiving), who solidified his hold on the fullback job. . . . Linebacker P. J. Killian (sprained thumb) will practice today. Jermaine Lewis (groin) and safety Eric Turner (groin) are day-to-day.
Ravens roll call
Pos.: Defensive end
How acquired: 1995 draft, third round
Highlights: Earned valuable experience at DE, but has seen most of his playing time on special teams. In 1995, had 17 tackles including 1 1/2 sacks from DE position. Solid, consistent performer. Strong pass rusher with 26 career sacks for Virginia, where he totaled 235 tackles, four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
Personal: As a senior at Virginia, he was a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick. Winner of Bill Dudley award for the state's Player of the Year. At Nashaminy High School (Pa.), he was a member of the National Honor Society and co-captain of basketball team, in addition to several honors as defensive football player. Graduated from Virginia with a degree in management and is working on post-graduate studies. Father Tom played football at Penn State and was drafted to the Detroit Lions in '66.
How acquired: 1996 free agent
Highlights: Powerful, prototype fullback who has played in four Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills. Career stats include 179 rushes for 612 yards, 10 TDs, plus 24 receptions for 224 yards and a TD. Has played in 12 playoff games. Quality special teamer who finished second on Bills team in tackles in '93 and '94, and fourth in '91 and '92.
Personal: Converted defensive end who gained 595 yards and scored seven TDs as a senior fullback at Louisville. He also caught 46 passes for 614 yards and five TDs. Transferred to Louisville from Kentucky after the '87 season. At KU, he earned All-SEC honors as a defensive end. Played defensive tackle, nose tackle, defensive end and linebacker during high school career.
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Green Bay Packers
Site: Memorial Stadium
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
@4 TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Pub Date: 8/12/96