Zeier's long wait turns into otherwise forgettable night When backup replaces Testaverde, performance is obscured by mistakes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PITTSBURGH -- Ravens backup quarterback Eric Zeier has waited all year for a shot to play.

His big moment came early in the second quarter, when coach Ted Marchibroda pulled starter Vinny Testaverde after a terrible first quarter, in which he threw three interceptions to help Pittsburgh take a 10-0 lead.

Let's just say that, after a forgettable second quarter that featured an interception, an assortment of fumbles and even a tipped pass that hit umpire Bob Wagner in the head, Zeier wouldn't mind starting over.

Zeier looked like a quarterback who had not played since the preseason finale against Buffalo on Aug. 22. He completed one pass in five attempts for three yards. Under Zeier, the Ravens' six, second-quarter possessions yielded three punts, an interception and two lost fumbles.

In Zeier's defense, his first pass bounced off tight end Eric Green's shoulder pads and was picked off by free safety Darren Perry. He returned it 42 yards to the Baltimore 1. Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart scored on the next play to give the Steelers a 17-0 lead.

Two possessions later, Zeier's first-down pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and struck Wagner. On the next possession, which began at the Ravens' 11, Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd blitzed untouched, hit Zeier from behind and forced a fumble the Steelers recovered. That set up a 22-yard Norm Johnson field goal.

On the next possession, Zeier and center Wally Williams mishandled an exchange. The Steelers recovered that fumble.

It was that kind of night.

No shortage of mistakes

During the comedy of errors committed by the Ravens in the first half, rookie running back Jay Graham committed a trifecta of miscues on one bizarre play.

Following Johnson's 22-yard field goal that extended the Steelers' lead to 20-0 with 5: 41 left in the second quarter, Johnson angled a kickoff toward the sideline.

First, Graham muffed the kick inside the Ravens' 10. As the ball rolled toward the goal-line pylon, Graham chased it, and nearly stepped out of bounds as he scooped up the ball at the 1.

Then the fun began. Graham started inside, then darted outside and ran free down the left sideline. Suddenly, the only thing standing between Graham and a touchdown was the kicker. Graham then tried to fake out Johnson, who stood his ground and brought the home crowd to its feet with a jarring hit that forced Graham to fumble.

The Ravens recovered the ball to retain possession. But Graham had recorded the most embarrassing moment of his young career.

Steed anchors Steelers

Ravens center Williams needs no introduction to Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Joel Steed.

Steed is considered one of the anchors of the Steelers' defense, and his position is critical for the Ravens, who planned to run up the middle on Pittsburgh's defense in last night's game.

"We don't try to hide the fact that our strength is in the middle with Steed and our inside linebackers, Earl Holmes and Levon Kirkland," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "Teams that have had success against us have won the battle in the middle."

It all starts with Williams against Steed. When the Ravens played the Steelers five weeks ago, Williams did not play because he was still healing from a ruptured Achilles' heel he suffered in late April. But he is back and so is the Ravens' running game, powered by Bam Morris, who has 306 yards in the past two games.

"I don't know if he is the best nose tackle, but he is the most diverse," Williams said of Steed. "They use him in a lot of ways to keep you off balance. He has a power game, but he is also fast enough where he can drop back and cover in their zone blitz scheme. He is quick enough to run down or cut off sweeps so he can do a lot of different things. He is about my size and has the same quickness, so it's going to be a challenge."

Boulware might appeal

Guess Peter Boulware didn't learn his lesson.

Three days after he absorbed the first fine of his career, for his late hit on New York Jets quarterback Glenn Foley, Boulware made a similar mistake early in the Ravens' nightmarish first half at Three Rivers Stadium last night.

During the Steelers' opening drive -- which began at the Ravens' 25 after Testaverde's pass was tipped by safety Myron Bell and intercepted by linebacker Steve Conley -- the Ravens forced Pittsburgh into a third-and-two situation.

On the play, Stewart flipped a pass into the right flat to tight end Mitch Lyons, who was dragged down hard for no gain by cornerback Antonio Langham. In fact, Lyons left the game with a knee injury after that play.

Trouble was, Boulware, blitzing from Stewart's back side, helped himself to a late hit on Stewart with a shove that sent him sprawling on the turf. A roughing-the-passer penalty was assessed, giving the Steelers a first-and-goal at the Ravens' 8. Three plays later, Jerome Bettis ran for a 1-yard touchdown, giving Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead with 11: 06 left in the first quarter.

Marchibroda said Boulware might appeal last week's fine.

Replays showed that Boulware, the team's top draft pick from Florida State, took two steps before hitting Foley.

"An appeal, that's the usual procedure. Maybe Peter thought he was playing against Florida," said Marchibroda, with a smile.

Changes in coverage

Special teams were a problem against the Jets and the Ravens' kickoff coverage has been disastrous all season. The Ravens knew they had to make some changes heading into last night's game.

In the last game with the Steelers, return specialist Will Blackwell faked a reverse to receiver Yancey Thigpen and then returned the opening, second-half kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

"Basically, we have to concentrate on doing the little things right," said Ravens fullback Tony Vinson, one of the team's best special teams players. "On the coverage teams, we have been waiting on the edge instead of attacking the middle of the wedge. There is nothing wrong with the game plan, we just have to be more aggressive. Other times, we had some guys going outside while others were going inside."

In need of dry conditions

Testaverde had fumbled eight times in the four games before last night, several of those snap exchanges from Williams. Most of the past two games were played in the rain, and Williams said most of the difficulty can be solved with a little dry weather.

"The weather, the rain, the mud has magnified something that really isn't a problem," Williams said. "We've played in some pretty sloppy conditions the past two weeks and the referee can only do so much to keep the ball dry. Dry conditions this week probably changes all of those fumbling problems."

Daniel defends secondary

Since the Ravens have been in Baltimore, the secondary has been the most maligned group. But veteran Eugene Daniel, who now starts at right cornerback, is optimistic about the unit's future with second-year cornerbacks Donny Brady and DeRon Jenkins.

Jenkins has progressed in the past two weeks and is the team's nickel back. Brady, a starter at the beginning of the season, comes in during dime situations.

"I think these young cornerbacks can be good," Daniel said. "People don't understand. Second-year corners like DeRon and Donny are seeing things they've never seen before. Corners take time to mature because college ball doesn't prepare for the game at this level."

Et cetera

Before play yesterday, the Ravens' Green led NFL tight ends in receptions with 40. The Ravens' defense has permitted only one second-half touchdown over the past three weeks. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis had amassed an astounding 122 tackles after nine games. Boulware led all NFL rookies with 5.5 sacks.

Pub Date: 11/10/97

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