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  Steelers Win Duel of Defenses

Rod Woodson
Pittsburgh's Courtney Hawkins, left, makes a catch after the ball slips through Ravens cornerback Rod Woodson's arms. (AP)
By Ken Denlinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 19, 1998; Page C12

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 18 – Throughout the first half today, the Baltimore Ravens had much success with blitzes, so another all-out rush toward Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart on the third play of the second half seemed the right call. But wideout Charles Johnson quickly pushed his way past cornerback Duane Starks, and Stewart lofted a pass that Johnson caught in stride for the easy 55-yard touchdown that helped lift the Steelers to a 16-6 victory.

With star running back Jerome Bettis and four other starters out with injuries, the Steelers seemed vulnerable in the AFC Central matchup. "It was their turn to fall," Ravens left guard Wally Williams said.

That might have happened had the Baltimore offense not extended its stretch without a touchdown to 10 quarters. Matt Stover's two 41-yard field goals lifted the Ravens a 6-3 advantage at the half, but Johnson's touchdown gave the Steelers a lead that only once was seriously threatened.

With their fourth victory in six games, and with the Jacksonville Jaguars losing for the first time, the Steelers moved within a game of first in the division. The Ravens (2-4) failed to score a touchdown for the second straight week and remained in last place.

None of the three quarterbacks – Pittsburgh's Stewart and Baltimore's Eric Zeier and Jim Harbaugh – was close to consistently effective, mostly because of aggressive defenses.

Ravens Coach Ted Marchibroda replaced Zeier (17 of 26 passing, 173 yards) with the more mobile Harbaugh (0 for 6) early in the fourth quarter. Then Marchibroda went with Zeier when a no-huddle offense was called for, but went back to Harbaugh when Zeier injured the thumb on his throwing hand in the final 40 seconds.

Zeier said the thumb, hurt when he hit teammate Jonathan Ogden's helmet on a follow-through, was not broken but remained numb as the team literally limped out of the dressing room. Several others, among them defensive tackle Tony Siragusa (ankle and shoulder) and tackle Orlando Brown (ankle and knee), also had more than the usual bruises.

Baltimore's best chance at a touchdown came near the end of the third quarter, when Zeier's passing and Priest Holmes's running produced second and eight at the Steelers 14. Then came some cat-and-mouse, with Zeier changing the play at the line of scrimmage and the Steelers adjusting to the call.

Wideout Floyd Turner was supposed to run straight down the right sideline – and when cornerback Carnell Lake had it covered, Turner broke inside and freed himself. By that time, Zeier was rushed to the point of trying to throw the ball away – and came close to completing the pass in the end zone accidentally. On the next down, defensive end Kevin Henry tipped Zeier's pass, and cornerback Dewayne Washington caught the ball at the 4 and returned it 43 yards.

Pittsburgh increased its lead to 13-6 with 3 minutes 9 seconds left on the second of Norm Johnson's three field goals. That field goal, a 42-yarder, came after cornerback DeRon Jenkins was beaten by Courtney Hawkins for a 27-yard gain and magnified it with a 15-yard penalty for grabbing Hawkins's face mask.

The outcome was decided shortly after Jermaine Lewis lost the ball on the ensuing kickoff. The Steelers recovered, and Johnson kicked a 40-yarder with 2:09 left.

Harbaugh was intercepted twice, Zeier once, and Holmes and Lewis each lost a fumble. As it had in the 12-8 loss to the Tennessee Oilers last week, the Ravens defense mostly played splendidly.

Linebacker Peter Boulware said he was "tempted" to blame the offense, but refused "because that can only separate the team, make it worse."

Defensive end Michael McCrary said: "If this wasn't a close team, it would have been divided after last week. All [the defense] can do is keep fighting and giving the offense opportunities to score."

One criticism did come, from blocker Williams.

"We need to run the stuff we do best," he said, choosing his words carefully. "When we come in a game situation and we don't run the stuff we do best, we're not going to have positive results. . . .

"We can't run outside right and outside left every play. Pittsburgh has an aggressive defense. Lots of guys running around, zone blitzes. They're trying to fool us. We've got to do something to try to fool them."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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