Ravens vs. Rams
Many of you probably remember this one, so it can’t be a “forgotten” classic. However, when I scored this game over the last couple of days, I found enough drama, missed opportunity, oddity, and historical significance, it could easily make 2 pieces.
Through 7 games of the 1996 season, the Rams and Ravens were both 2-5. The Rams were ranked last in both offensive and defensive yards. The Ravens entered the game on a 3-game losing streak that included blown fourth-quarter leads (a recurring theme in 1996) at Indianapolis and Denver the previous 2 weeks.
The Ravens, who primarily ran a 4-3 defense under Marvin Lewis prior to 2001, had been forced to a 3-4 the previous week due to injuries. Most notably, the team had lost Rob Burnett, and Dan Footman, 2 of the team’s best pass rushers. The Ravens dressed 6 linemen for the game, but they would suffer more attrition. More on that later.
The Ravens were among the worst teams in the NFL at stopping 3rd down conversions. In particular, coverage deficiencies at linebacker forced the Ravens to employ an odd version of the quarter (7 DBs) defense that included just 1 linebacker (usually Jerrol Williams) in passing situations. Ray Lewis was a rookie 2-down player, commonly replaced at ILB by special-teams star Bennie Thompson (!) in obvious passing situations as part of the quarter package.
Testaverde ran a no-huddle offense that shotgunned plays at the opponent. The high percentage of passes and disparate results lengthened games (in terms of snap count) by generating lots of quick advance as well as turnovers and 3-and-outs. That was sub-optimal for a defense short on depth in the front 7. As effective as the no-huddle offense could be, the coaches were justified in their unwillingness to expose a vulnerable defense to additional snap count. In this game against the Rams, the Ravens played 90 competitive defensive snaps (excludes 1 kneel and a fumbled FG snap), only 1 shy of the team record (they twice had 91 in regulation–Vikings 1998, Jets 2000).
Tony Banks was a rookie QB with a bad fumbling problem. Banks had small hands, a death sentence for any QB, and it was difficult to see how he could generate good pass velocity when he had such difficulty holding on to the football. He fumbled 3 times in this game to go along with 2 other bobbled snaps which resulted in busted plays. That proved critical, as we’ll see.
Tim Green did the color with Kenny Albert. Green is a Syracuse contemporary of mine with the minor additional accomplishments of being an All-American DT and Rhodes Scholar finalist. He did a fine job with color on NBC, but I recall him most for the day he was drafted. Tim was from nearby Liverpool, New York and many folks in the area were (and are) Bills fans. In the 1996 draft, the Bills passed on him with the 16th pick (selecting Iowa RB Ronnie Harmon), which left Green to the Falcons at number 17. Green expressed gratitude for being drafted by the Falcons, but also relief that he had not been drafted by the Bills. Those Marv-Levy-coached Bills would win 5 division titles, play in 5 conference title games, and lose 4 Super Bowls during the 8-year span of his career.
The 1996 draft had plenty of drama for the Ravens as well.
With the 4th selection, the Ravens strongly considered RB Lawrence Phillips from Nebraska whose troubled life has been chronicled in a Showtime documentary. Phillips was drafted by the Rams at #6. If you haven’t been in a cave the past 20 years, you know the Ravens used that first pick in franchise history to select future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden. This game was the first meeting between the two.
While it’s a movie we know now has a happy ending for Ravens fans, each had played just 7 previous NFL games. Ogden was serving his NFL apprenticeship at LG while Phillips had been unimpressive (84 carries, 227 yards, 2.7 YPC)
In this game, Lawrence carried the ball a career-high 31 times for just 83 yards (2.7 YPC). His career may have been epitomized by one of the great early goal-line stands in Ravens history (beginning Q1, 12:20). On 3 consecutive plays from the 1-yard line, Phillips was stuffed for no gain by LB Ed Sutter, a short-yardage specialist who always seemed to find the correct gap in such situations. Those would be the only 3 snaps Sutter would play all day.
Ogden’s extraordinary body of work is best expressed in terms of consistency measures, durability, and awards, but I couldn’t help but notice he threw one of the great screen blocks I’ve ever seen (Q3, 6:14) when he ran stride-for-stride ahead of Byner and steamrolled DB Torin Dorn more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. He then had consecutive pancakes of DT D’Marco Farr on the 3-yard TD run by Bam Morris and virtually the same play run for a 2-point conversion.
– The Ravens DL took a hit when starting DE Mike Frederick left with a neck injury in the middle of the first quarter. Anthony Pleasant would subsequently be lost in the third quarter with a leg injury. While the Ravens had 6 sacks in the game, Banks dropped back 27 times after Pleasant’s injury and had ample time and space (ATS) on 17 occasions (63%).
– Mike Croel, who was typically used as a down lineman in passing situations was also lost early in the 4th quarter with an apparent knee injury.
– Pleasant (groin wrapped) and several other defenders were playing with casts or heavy bandages including OLB Jerrol Williams (elbow heavily wrapped), S Bennie Thompson (cast on hand), and DT Tim Goad (both elbows wrapped).
– The Ravens had no answer for Isaac Bruce. The Rams star caught 11 balls for 229 yards and 1 TD. Neither Langham nor Brady could stay with him.
After the Rams built a 13-6 lead at the half, the game became a furious back-and-forth affair in the second. Summarizing:
– (Q3, 10:38): CB Todd Lyght’s pick-6 extended the Rams’ lead to 20-6.
– (Q4, 6:47): The Ravens roared back with a 25-3 run over 19 minutes featuring the no huddle with 2 TDs by Bam Morris to take a 31-23 lead.
– (Q4, 3:55): The Rams reached had 1st down at the 1-yard line following a 55-yard catch and run by Bruce. Normally, that would mean a heavy defensive formation with 5 or 6 linemen, as many as 4 linebackers, and 2 or 3 safeties (no corners). However, the Ravens lacked the personnel for such a scheme and played the same fatigued 3-4 with UDFA rookie Elliott Fortune, DT Tim Goad, and DT James Jones down to go with LBs Ray Lewis, Mike Caldwell, Keith Goganious, Jerrol Williams, and 4 DBs. Jones took down Phillips for no gain.
– (Q4, 3:14): With the Rams 2nd and 1 from the 1-yard line, Marvin Lewis inserted the quarter defense (7 DBs) for the next 3 snaps. On 2nd down, Banks threw incomplete. On 3rd down, the Rams overpowered Brady and Thompson (who were in replacing Caldwell and Ray Lewis) to score the TD that closed the lead to 2. The Ravens again went with the quarter in an attempt to stop the 2-point conversion and Fortune took down Banks for a sack that appeared to preserve the lead. However, Donnie Brady was flagged for holding in the end zone. With the ball moved to the 1-yard line for the conversion, the Ravens stuck with 7 DBs and Green twisted into the end zone to tie the game.
– (Q4, 1:53): The Rams got the ball back at their own 24 after. Amazingly, the Ravens inserted special teamer Rick Lyle. I say amazingly, because no lineman other than Fortune, Goad, or Jones had been on the field for the 23 plays since Anthony Pleasant was hurt. Lyle immediately generated pressure that led to a sack by Jerrol Williams and would add another pressure and a QH in 16 total snaps. It’s difficult to decide if this was a clever reserve strategy from Lewis or he was simply deemed unready prior to this play, because the Ravens pass rushers were staggering like zombies.
– (Q4, 0:51) On the same drive, 4 plays later, Jerrol Williams again chased Banks left from the pocket and forced his 3rd fumble of the day, recovered by Jenkins to snuff out the last Rams drive in regulation.
– (Q4, 0:03): Following a Testaverde to Floyd Turner strike for 27 yards, the Ravens allowed the clock to run down to 3 seconds to set up the game-winning 32-yard FG attempt. As you know, Matt Stover missed this chip shot to send the game to OT. He played an uncharacteristic goat role that day. Despite making a 50-yard FG, he missed an extra point (he would play 13 and a half more seasons and never miss another) as well as a 45-yard field-goal attempt in the first half.
– (OT, 5:49): The Rams won the OT coin toss and Banks led a 9-minute drive to the Ravens 15. As you often hear suggested, the Rams decided to kick on 3rd down, so they would have another chance in the case of a bad snap. Indeed, the snap was fumbled by holder Jamie Martin, but Stevon Moore recovered for the Ravens. It was the Rams 4th and final turnover of the game.
– (OT, 3:20) The Ravens drove to the Rams 40, but Testaverde took an 11-yard sack on 4th and 5 attempt to give the Rams possession at the Ravens 49.
– (OT, 1:09) As the teams continued to trade missed opportunities, the Rams faced a 4th and 1 decision at the Ravens 40. Baltimore vacillated as to whether the quarter or standard defense would enter, but Lewis and the heavier unit moved on while the Rams quickly made their way to the LoS. Bennie Thompson was very late leaving the field for the Ravens and had Banks simply snapped the football, the Rams would have converted by penalty, but instead he called timeout with the play clock at 2 seconds. After the break, the Rams ran perhaps the lowest percentage 4th down play I’ve seen, sending Banks on a designed roll left, presumably with a run/pass option. Ray Lewis was on him like a cat, shedding the block from LT Wayne Gandy (223 career games) and forcing Banks to throw without setting. Eddie Kennison had separation from Donnie Brady 10 yards down the left sideline, but throwing accurately while moving left is difficult for any right-handed QB, and Banks’ throw was well off target.
– (OT, 1:05) The ball belonged to the Ravens again and following a false start, Testaverde drove the Ravens 65 yards on 4 plays, culminating with the gorgeous corner route and high-point catch by Michael Jackson to win this 4-hour marathon (OT, 0:12).
So what happened to those 1996 linemen (snaps vs. Rams):
– Rob Burnett (DNP vs Rams) was the only holdover from the Cleveland Browns who made a contribution to the 2000 Ravens defense.
– Dan Footman (DNP) left for Indianapolis after the season and had a 10.5-sack year in 1997, but was done after the 1998 season.
– Elliott Fortune (55 snaps) never played again after 1996. He played just 51 career snaps before this monster workload. He recorded 1 career sack, but never started a game.
– Mike Frederick (11) played 2 more seasons for the Ravens, primarily on special teams. He played just 222 defensive snaps (10.7%) in 1997-98.
– Tim Goad (60) was playing in his 9th and final NFL season in 1996. He had never started less than 13 games previously (primarily 7 seasons with new England), but he started just 5 for the Ravens.
– James Jones (90) played more snaps versus the Rams than any other Ravens linemen has ever played in a game. In fact, only Ray Lewis (twice), Rod Woodson (twice), and Chris McAlister (once) played as many as 90 competitive defensive snaps in a Ravens game. Jones played well for 2 more seasons with the Ravens with a heavy workload (85.0% of snaps in 1997-98). He is the forgotten interior iron man in Ravens history (before Gregg and Ngata) who was both a good interior pass rusher and a player Marvin Lewis regularly assigned to drop to cover in zone blitz schemes.
– Rick Lyle (16) went to the Jets after the 1996 season and started there for 4 seasons.
– Anthony Pleasant (42) played for 7 more seasons after 1996, but was done with the Ravens. He earned rings with the 2001 and 2003 Patriots.
Newsome’s penchant for DL depth may be traceable to the suffering of the 1996 team. The Ravens blew 2nd-half leads in 7 of their 12 losses in 1996. The root cause of that failure was defensive tiring, particularly on the line. From the ashes, Ozzie built a deep and talented defensive line and by 1999, the Ravens became a rotational team up front who have rarely allowed down linemen to wilt from snap-count overloads. The line’s metamorphosis began with the free-agent acquisitions of Michael McCrary and Tony Siragusa for the 1997 season.
The Ravens have since consistently stockpiled defensive line talent to the point where many other teams look first to the Ravens practice squad for midseason DL reinforcement. No organization likes to be poached, but it’s a lot better position than that thrust upon the 1996 Ravens.