Ravens zero in on 100 mark

Bears runner Allen -- this week's foe -- last to reach level

September 05, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The trivia question raises eyebrows, not anger.

Who was the last running back to gain 100 yards against the Ravens?

It wasn't Eddie George or Jerome Bettis. And neither Fred Taylor nor Corey Dillon has come close.

The answer: Chicago's James Allen, a little-known back who will be the target of an motivated Ravens defense looking to set the record straight in four days.

On Dec. 20, 1998, Allen exploited missed tackles and an embarrassing effort by the Ravens to race for 163 in his first NFL start.

Since then, the Ravens have established an attitude as well as one of the most impressive streaks going in football. They have not allowed a running back to crack 100 yards in 37 games, which includes last year's playoffs.

So, do the Ravens players remember that dubious tidbit regarding Allen?

"If they don't," Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said, "they will be reminded."

When asked that question yesterday, most of the Ravens either knew the answer immediately or struggled to admit it.

The eight current Ravens who started that game are: linebackers Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Jamie Sharper, defensive ends Rob Burnett and Michael McCrary, cornerbacks Rod Woodson and Duane Starks and defensive tackle Larry Webster.

Those players have since formed the foundation of the NFL's top run defense. Last year, the Ravens set the league's 16-game record for fewest rushing yards allowed (970) and held teams to an NFL-low 2.68 yards per carry.

Now, the Ravens are determined to erase the blemish from three years ago.

"It won't happen again," Ray Lewis said. "He's not a concern."

Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who sat out that game with a neck injury, agreed with Lewis.

"There's motivation with every running back we face," Siragusa said. "Just because he's the last guy to get 100 yards on us, we might be thinking about that guy a little more and have something to prove. But that's what players do. It's all about competition and who has the last word."

Allen, a veteran of two practice squads before that feat, may have capitalized on some circumstances surrounding the Ravens at that time.

"I remember that game vividly because it was the game after the Pro Bowl was announced," Sharper said. "I think the guys let their guard down a little bit. He's a good running back, but he shouldn't have gotten 100 yards on us."

Said Siragusa: "We weren't the team we are when we played them last time."

Allen joined some elite company at the Ravens' expense. Only Rick Casares, Willie Galimore, Walter Payton and Gale Sayers have ever rushed for more yards than Allen in a single game in Bears history.

His effort, though, has been categorized as a fluke by many observers. After piling on the yards against the Ravens, Allen has had only one 100-yard effort over the next 29 games.

The Ravens may have had the same core on defense then, but not the same attitude. That game dropped the Ravens to 5-10 and basically sealed coach Ted Marchibroda's dismissal. In the locker room, many players hinted that teammates quit.

"I really can't say that," Boulware said. "As a defense, we have a certain pride that it doesn't matter what situation we're in. We had to step on the field and play. We really didn't do a good job of that last time and he was very successful on us.

"I don't know if it's motivation now as much as having that focus that if we don't play like we're supposed to, anything can happen."

The Ravens learned how to control their fate by clamping down on running backs like no other team this past decade. The Ravens are closing in on the Philadelphia Eagles, who didn't allow a 100-yard rusher in 53 games from 1989 to 1992.

The streak becomes magnified when considering the Ravens have had to play the likes of George, Bettis, Taylor and Dillon twice a year in the AFC Central.

Yet few have threatened the mark. Last year, the Ravens gave up over 65 yards to just two backs (George with 91 yards and Washington's Stephen Davis with 91).

"When you have a string of games like that, it doesn't take much to knock it off," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's what makes it fairly impressive. Is it the most telling statistic in terms of the inability to run? I don't know. But I don't think that there's a coincidence that this has been a good run defense."

On Sunday, the Ravens promise that they have an answer for Allen.

"That's what we believe in," Ray Lewis said. "It's not trash-talking. It's a confidence. Anytime you have done something for 2 1/2 years, you're supposed to stick with it. Until a running back comes in and breaks it, we're going to keep on talking and keep on doing it."

Next for Ravens

Regular-season opener

Opponent: Chicago Bears

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (105.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 10 1/2

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