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In secondary, problems going deep for Ravens Sunday effort may put rookie Starks on bench, elevate Jenkins to starter


Through most of the first 12 games, the Ravens had hidden their most glaring defensive problem. But in Sunday's 38-31 win over the Indianapolis Colts, their secondary became the primary problem again.

However, the rest of the defense was just as bad, as the Ravens fell from a No. 15 ranking in the league to No. 22. When a rookie quarterback throws for 357 yards and the Colts rush for another 196 as Ricky would say to Lucy, "You got some explainin' to do."

Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, come on down.

"We were awful," Lewis said. "We didn't play very well. We didn't cover. We didn't make tackles. We had players talking about them not having their heads in the game, but that's just an excuse. We played poorly as a group, every single player and we just didn't get the job done and the offense bailed us out.

"If there was one good thing about this game, it was that we didn't go into a panic. They stayed calm and realized they had to pull together and play in the second half, and we made some plays in the final two quarters."

But with the pass defense in such disarray, changes are usually expected, and there might be one announced today. Rookie cornerback Duane Starks, the team's No. 1 draft pick in April, could be headed for the bench after starting the past five games. Starks played poorly against the Colts, giving up touchdown passes of 34 and 24 yards.

When asked yesterday if Starks would be replaced by third-year cornerback DeRon Jenkins, Lewis replied, "No comment." Jenkins, who started the first seven games and is now the nickel back, has played better than either Starks or fellow cornerback Rod Woodson in the past two games.

"Everything is supposed to be the same as usual," Starks said when asked about his possible benching. "If they bench me, I wouldn't be surprised. I played poorly, and that's their decision. But if they bench me, it's no big deal. If they want to take a young guy out for having one bad game, that's up to them. But I'll bounce back.

"Right now, I just want to get healthy and ready to play," said Starks, who hyperextended his knee in the game.

Woodson played as poorly as Starks. He could have just as easily made the play on Marshall Faulk's touchdown reception in front of Starks, then failed to make the play on receiver Jerome Pathon's 5-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. Woodson also missed the tackle on Faulk's 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Woodson has played poorly in two straight games after a great start.

"He had the flu and missed a day or so in practice last week," Lewis said. "But Rod needs to knuckle back down, and I'm confident he'll get after it again. We need him in there on third downs in practice, and that makes us a whole lot better in games."

But some of the Ravens' secondary problems aren't correctable. Despite a great comeback from surgery on both knees in the off-season, strong safety Stevon Moore is limited. He is good at run support and going straight ahead, but ineffective at dropping back into pass coverage.

Free safety Corey Harris also lacks speed, and he seemed to tire on Sunday while doubling as the kick returner. The duo of Harris and Moore has broken up few, if any, long passes this season, and the Ravens have already made safety an area of need heading into the next draft.

NFC schedules

NFC team-by-team schedules will appear in tomorrow's editions.

Pub Date: 12/02/98

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