Ravens a work in progress Marchibroda faces variety of problems


Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda has spent the past two weeks looking over his trouble list. Well, let's see.

He signed a new running back and his "complete" tight end. But the team still needs a deep threat at wide receiver, bigger defensive tackles, more experience at linebacker, aggressive play in the secondary, consistency at quarterback.

It's no wonder the Ravens are 1-2. A quick, temporary fix may come today at Memorial Stadium in the form of the 0-4 New Orleans Saints, but Marchibroda has more problems than he expected to have when he took the job Feb. 15.

"Everybody in every phase of life gets knocked down," said Marchibroda. "You get measured by how you come back. Players have to learn to win as a team by overcoming whatever the obstacles. Sometimes, that's a long process. Not everything happens overnight.

"It has been more of a challenge, especially leadership from the veterans," he said. "As we looked back at our first three games, we saw good intensity from the players, but we made too many errors. We can't play not to lose, but we can't continue to make mistakes."

No one player makes a team, but it's safe to say quarterback Vinny Testaverde's mistakes have been the most visible and costly. He has completed 57 of 97 passes for 630 yards, but three of his four interceptions have led to touchdowns, and a fumble to another.

Testaverde often locks onto a receiver, which makes him an easy target for the secondary, and the interceptions have forced the Ravens out of their offense early in games.

Criticizing Testaverde is a sensitive matter for Marchibroda, because he doesn't want to ruin the quarterback's confidence. But even Marchibroda's patience is starting to wane, though not enough yet to replace Testaverde with second-year quarterback Eric Zeier.

"We were happy with his performance when we were 4-2," Marchibroda said of the four preseason and first two regular-season games. "Up until that point, he had done his job. But we can't keep giving the ball up. Hopefully, as we play better as a team, it will put Vinny in a better position to make plays."

Marchibroda needs more from his running game, because the Ravens are not going to win with Testaverde throwing almost 33 times a game. The Ravens would prefer 20 to 25, and that's why they signed running back Bam Morris and tight end Eric Green last week.

It was a power move.

The Ravens want a runner who can punish defenders from behind a dominating offensive line. Morris may be that runner when he comes off an NFL-imposed suspension Oct. 13. The Ravens want to grab an early lead, control the time and keep a suspect defense off the field. With Green, they got a tight end who can block as well as he can catch.

"There was no question that I thought we had to get more out of our running game," said Marchibroda. "Now, if you ask me are we a better football team with Bam Morris and Eric Green, I would have to say yes."

Green, who may not play for another three to eight weeks as he recovers from knee surgery, also would diversify the team's offense. Teams no longer will just double-cover wide receiver Michael Jackson. The Ravens, though, could use a speedster opposite Jackson.

"When we played them, we just tried to cut off their short- to mid-range passes," said Houston Oilers cornerback Cris Dishman. "We didn't think they had anybody fast enough to get behind us."

The Ravens have speedy wide receivers Ray Ethridge and rookie Jermaine Lewis, but both are inexperienced. Lewis may be used soon.

"We're not afraid to use him, but he needs a little more time," said Marchibroda. "I'm happy with our overall team speed. Our RTC offense just hasn't hit on all eight cylinders yet."

Neither has the Ravens' defense. The unit is allowing 315.7 yards per game, 135.3 on the ground. The most damaging area has been in third-down efficiency -- the Ravens have allowed 19 first downs in 36 plays.

"That's what really hurts," said safety Eric Turner. "You work so hard to get your opponent into a bad field-position situation, and it frustrates you when you don't finish the job after you get them in a second-and-15."

Teams also have been able to run straight at the Ravens. Starting defensive tackles Tim Goad and Dan Footman play with great intensity, but they weigh 280 and 290, respectively, relatively light for that position.

The Ravens have been hurt by the season-long suspension of defensive tackle Larry Webster (310 pounds) in the preseason and the ankle injury to defensive end Anthony Pleasant, which has forced him to miss the past two games.

The slow progress of defensive tackle James Jones, signed as a free agent Aug. 22 to replace Webster, also has caused problems.

"You're going to miss a big, strong body like Webster who is going to help you in the rotation, and James Jones' role will grow," said Marvin Lewis, the Ravens' defensive coordinator.

"Weight is a factor, but it's a matter of getting where you belong," Lewis added. "If you're supposed to get in a gap, then get there. Sometimes, we're falling back on the old scheme instead of playing the one we have. That's understandable, because players do what they're most comfortable with under stressful situations."

All the team's linebackers are new except for Mike Caldwell and Craig Powell, and most have suffered injuries since training camp in July. The team also lacks a rugged, bona fide strong-side linebacker. Rookie Ray Lewis probably will be a great middle linebacker some day, but in the past two games, he has been taken to school by the Pittsburgh Steelers' Dermontti Dawson and Houston's Mark Stepnoski, two of the best centers in the NFL.

In the secondary, Turner and fellow safety Stevon Moore have played well at run support, but, overall, the unit has not defended the pass well.

Cornerback Antonio Langham has been in position to make plays, but hasn't made them the past two weeks, and the Ravens recently benched Issac Booth at cornerback for Donny Brady. Rookie cornerback DeRon Jenkins will play in the nickel defense, and Booth has moved inside on the dime package.

Marchibroda said the cornerbacks will play more aggressively today instead of the usual soft approach.

The Ravens still seem confident, and no one has panicked.

"It's September. It's still early in the season," said Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel. "Nobody can properly predict who is going to be in the Super Bowl right now."

The Ravens believe they can gain momentum today.

"We're at home, and we have the 12th man on our side," said Ravens left offensive tackle Tony Jones. "We have two games here in a row, one against a winless team and the other against the New England Patriots, who are struggling to have a winning season.

"We need to go out and dominate these teams, set a tone for the rest of the season."

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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