Numbers against Titans don't lessen Ja. Lewis' role

Again, rushing success seen a key to outcome

Ravens' run offense vs. Raiders' run defense

January 12, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - Both the Ravens' running game and the Oakland Raiders' run defenders had relatively light days last week and should be fresh for Sunday's game.

The Ravens' Jamal Lewis rushed 17 times for a modest 47 yards in the win over the Tennessee Titans, while the Raiders held Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Smith to 8 yards on four carries.

As surprising as it is that the Raiders could hold Smith, who rushed for more than 200 yards a week earlier against Indianapolis, to so few yards, the Ravens' winning without a big day from Lewis was a bigger shock.

It's been a widely held notion that the Ravens could not be successful in the playoffs unless Lewis comes up big each game.

Well, that was disproved last week when he had his lowest output in 12 weeks, yet his team still won by two touchdowns. The Ravens found alternative ways to score (a blocked field goal and an interception returned for touchdowns) and may have to do so again this week.

Oakland's run defense is the strength of its team, ranking fifth in the league this season. Its most impressive showing came Dec. 10 when it held the New York Jets to 10 net ground yards. The Raiders have held opponents under 41 yards five times (including playoffs).

If the Ravens are able to run, there is a good chance they will win. In three out of the four Raiders losses this season, they allowed 182 (Denver), 199 (Pittsburgh) and 173 (Seattle) rushing yards.

Oakland's success comes from the middle of the line, where Darrell Russell and Grady Jackson clog up running lanes. Jackson, in his fourth year, cracked the starting lineup for the first time this season, while Russell has continued to play at a Pro Bowl level, though his numbers are down.

Russell said he takes up a number of double and triple teams, freeing up Jackson and middle linebacker Greg Biekert, who led the team with 126 tackles. Jackson had 65 tackles, good for a defensive tackle, and 8 1/2 sacks.

A key for the Raiders is they've forced teams out of what they like to do, such as last week against Miami. Oakland tends to jump on teams early and get them away from the running game. In five of their last seven games, the Raiders have held at least a 10-point halftime lead.

"We've had some leads this year, which we hadn't had last year, that have been pretty sizable where our opponent has thrown the ball virtually on every play to get back in the game," Raiders coach Jon Gruden said.

But the Ravens have not trailed at halftime since an Oct. 22 loss to the Titans. They have had a halftime deficit only three times all season, and only once by more than 10 points.

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