Ravens hope 3 backs add up to running game

With Allen injured, Billick standing pat

November 15, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Ravens coach Brian Billick doesn't plan to go scurrying through the free-agent running back trash heap.

No need, for two reasons. There is no back worth signing and, secondly, maybe the three healthy guys on the roster can continue to do just enough for the Ravens (6-3) to be successful.

With Terry Allen lost for anywhere from three games to the rest of the season after fracturing his left hand Monday night, Billick has decided to stay put with Jason Brookins, Obafemi Ayanbadejo and Moe Williams as the leaders of a running game that has been effective at times, yet stagnant through the better part of many other games.

Allen had missed the previous two games with an ankle injury before Monday, so the team has experience in adjusting without him. The Ravens will continue to split carries between Ayanbadejo and Brookins, with Williams getting spot duty, a combination that will have to lead the team into the playoffs.

"It's not a ratio I care to do," Billick said. "I wish it were different but it is not, and this is what I'm having to deal with in the rotation of the backs and their different capabilities.

"People have got to understand: We've got faith in the people we have. They have certain strengths, and we will utilize them the best way we can."

The Ravens enter Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns 22nd in rushing, a statistic not at all surprising considering the shuffling of the offensive line all season and the loss of starter Jamal Lewis in training camp. They have been held under 100 yards rushing as a team in each of the past two games.

Yet both were victories in large part because of key runs late in the games.

Monday night's 16-10 win over the Tennessee Titans provides the best illustration. Allen left in the second quarter, leaving Ayanbadejo and Brookins to rush eight times for 12 yards in the game's first 40 minutes.

Brookins went on to rush for 33 yards on five carries in the fourth quarter, including a 25-yard blast that moved the Ravens, holding just a three-point lead, into field-goal range with five minutes left. In essence, that run down to the Titans' 27 forced Tennessee to score a touchdown to win the game.

With such a strong fourth-quarter showing and Allen out for a while, why not just settle in on Brookins as the primary back for the rest of the season? Ayanbadejo and Williams have more experience in Billick's offense (dating back to the Minnesota Vikings in 1998), and a better grasp of the pass-protecting schemes.

Brookins also is in his first year after spending part of the summer playing in NFL Europe. He has rushed for 365 yards, averaging 4.0 per carry.

"Jason is getting better and better," Billick said. "I'm pleased with the way Jason is working. But there are certain things Jason can do and certain things he can't do. And we don't want to put him in a position where he can't be successful, or use him up to where he's not there. Jason, we know is capable of helping us in a certain capacity."

Instead, Ayanbadejo, who had a career-high 48 yards in the last game against Cleveland, will make up the difference.

The Browns are 24th in the league against the run, which should provide the Ravens an opportunity to break that 100-yard mark.

Neither Brookins nor Ayanbadejo is a skilled outside runner or has the speed to elude many tacklers. That may be a dimension Williams can provide, though he has had little chance to showcase himself in the eight games he's played in, working mostly on special teams.

"Moe has some potential for us," Billick said.

The Ravens could distinguish themselves with a dominant running game, but the reality is, they likely will have to rely on the timely fourth-quarter runs that have helped produce six wins.

"We'd love to have the ability to come out and dictate the tempo of the game by running the ball," Billick said. "We did that last year. We've shown we could do that at times. To improve, we have to show that we can do that on a more regular basis."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Cleveland Browns

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 8

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