Ravens aim to change course Healthy after bye, 3-3 team starts anew


It's still early in the NFL season, but the turning point may arrive today for the Ravens when they play host to the Miami Dolphins at Memorial Stadium.

In September, there were signs that the Ravens (3-3) were one of the most improved teams in the league. But after dropping two straight -- including a 42-34 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which the Ravens blew a 21-point first-half lead -- there were signs that they had regressed.

The Ravens couldn't stop the run, nor could they run, against the Steelers. They couldn't defend the pass and had trouble passing because quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw two interceptions and had two fumbles.

The Ravens also had another fourth-quarter meltdown defensively, their two starting rookie outside linebackers struggled and they didn't get the big plays from their big-money players.

Since then, the Ravens have had two weeks to prepare for the Dolphins (4-2), who have won two straight. The Ravens have inserted three different starters into the lineup since the Pittsburgh game and the coaching staff will find out today if that makes a difference.

"We're hurting now because we've lost two in a row after we won three in a row," said coach Ted Marchibroda. "I don't think we're reeling or anything like that. We're confident we can play better and win. I think we can compete with any team in the NFL.

"There is not a dominant team," he said. "There are a lot of good teams. Teams that make the playoffs are the teams that can get streaks going during the season. We had one. We have to get on another."

Offensive tackle Orlando Brown said, "This is a big game. It ain't good to lose two games in a row. We've got to get this one. We have to go out and play hard, smart and physical football. They're not going to give us this game."

The Ravens made two changes on the offensive line, one that was expected. Wally Williams will start at center, as scheduled, after missing the first six games with a torn Achilles' tendon. Second-year player Ben Cavil, signed one week before the season started, replaces veteran Leo Goeas at left guard.

The Ravens hope the changes jump-start a running game that produced only 52 yards on 18 carries against the Steelers and couldn't help the team run time off the clock once it had the big lead. Ideally, the Ravens would like Testaverde to throw 19 to 30 times a game.

"Since I've been here, we've been up and down," said guard Jeff Blackshear. "We've been in a lot of big games where we've been ahead for two and 3 1/2 quarters, then lost the lead in the last period. Losing to Pittsburgh after having a 21-point lead was the worst loss of my career. Conditioning is not a problem here, we just haven't put it all together yet."

The Ravens will start running back Bam Morris, but Marchibroda has said he will work rookie Jay Graham into the lineup. Graham, the team's third-round pick out of Tennessee, hasn't carried the ball since Week 4 when he had 51 yards on nine carries against the Tennessee Oilers. Graham gives the Ravens an extra dimension with his explosiveness and speed to the outside.

The Ravens also worked on the two-back set early in the bye week, but Marchibroda doesn't know how much he will use it today.

"I think it has been talked about more than we have worked on it," he said. "It's just part of our overall offense."

Defensively, the Ravens have moved rookie and weakside outside linebacker Cornell Brown into the starting lineup in place of rookie Jamie Sharper, the team's top pick in the second round. Besides looking for more production, the Ravens believe Sharper needs a change in attitude.

The Ravens will have defensive tackle Tony Siragusa back in the lineup. Siragusa injured his ankle in the first quarter of the Oilers game on Sept. 21, then missed the San Diego Chargers game and most of the Steelers contest.

But for the first time since the season started, the Ravens are completely healthy, and they will need a strong defensive effort against the Dolphins and quarterback Dan Marino.

Marino had his most productive Sunday of the 1997 season when he completed 27 of 38 passes for 372 yards and two touchdowns in Miami's 31-20 victory over the New York Jets last week.

Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, whose unit is ranked last in the NFL, has been secretive about his game plan, but it's apparent the Ravens will come with a number of blitzes because Marino doesn't move well in the pocket.

Marchibroda, though, knows there isn't a game plan Marino hasn't seen.

"Marino is great; look what he did to the Jets," Marchibroda said. "He is a great competitor. He wants to win as much as anybody. He is protected well by a good offensive line and you're not going to show Dan a defense he hasn't seen or beaten. You have to go after him, but he knows how to make plays with pressure on him."

Miami faces some pressure of its own as the Dolphins seek their second consecutive victory on the road. They have not put together back-to-back wins on the road since their first two of 1995. A win today also would give the Dolphins their third victory of the season outside the AFC East; last year they were 2-6 in nondivision games.

"We need to gear it up and win another one on the road against Baltimore," said Miami coach Jimmy Johnson. "I hope this week will be an opportunity for us to develop some consistency on the road after a big win in New York, one of the toughest places to play for a visiting team in this league. I'm sure that Baltimore will be looking forward to getting back on the field after a tough loss to Pittsburgh two weeks ago and an open date last week."

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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