Ravens will bet on triple threat against Steelers

With Allen, Brookins, M. Williams, champs not running on empty

Ravens - Steelers

Afc Divisional Playoff

January 18, 2002|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

They have turned a phrase with a negative connotation into a positive approach.

"Running back by committee" usually means no player stands above the rest and often ends in griping, but the Ravens have used Terry Allen, Jason Brookins and Moe Williams to forge a mauling offensive identity similar to the one that led to a remarkable playoff run last season.

The Ravens have rushed for more than 200 yards in the past two games, with the trio combining for 41 carries Sunday in the 20-3, first-round playoff win over the Miami Dolphins and 37 carries the week before against the Minnesota Vikings.

Because of injuries to Allen, then Brookins, it was the first time the three played in back-to-back games since mid-October losses at Green Bay and at Cleveland.

"Nobody likes to do it running back by committee," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The player doesn't. The lead back doesn't. Even as a coach, you'd like to have your guy in there. But this is the way it is going to be for us, and everybody is comfortable with that role.

"Given the way we've run the ball, I can't imagine it working much better than that."

Those games came against an awful run defense in the Vikings (30th in the NFL) and a below-average run defense from Miami (17th). Now, the Ravens will face the league's best in stopping the run in Sunday's divisional playoff game at Pittsburgh against the Steelers.

"It is a challenge, and I think we are ready for it," Allen said. "In fact, I know we are ready for it. We've wanted to run the ball all year. They've started to give us the ball, and we've been doing well with it. We're not going to give them any reason to take it away from us."

Allen unquestionably is the chairman of the committee. He has rushed for back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time since 1994, with 133 against the Vikings and 109 against the Dolphins.

Brookins, in his first two games back since breaking a bone in his foot, added 15 and 65 yards, respectively, while Williams has a combined 73 yards.

"A lot of people said that this wouldn't work," Brookins said. "But this is what is getting us to the playoffs. This is carrying us to the ultimate goal. When Jamal [Lewis] went down, people were saying, `Where are they going to go?' Then Terry came in, and it seems to be working. So we are not going to try and fix it."

Allen's hard-nosed style - he has routinely carried linebackers into the secondary in the past two games - has boosted the offense.

He rushed for 4 yards or more 10 times on first down against Miami.

"He has a great desire to get to the Super Bowl, and he is going to give it everything he has," running backs coach Matt Simon said. "I think a lot of guys recognize his undying passion to achieve that, and they have a compassionate respect for it.

"It is huge because, No. 1, they are all able to feed off each other. With Terry's lead, and their youthfulness, they've created a good combination for us and keep us with some fresh legs."

Brookins, about 25 pounds heavier than Allen, runs in a strictly straight-ahead style. Williams has the speed to run outside.

Allen is the only NFL player to come back from two reconstructive knee surgeries, and his quest to get to his first Super Bowl is one of the feel-good stories of the playoffs. But he does not see it as such.

He had a minor blowup in the locker room Wednesday when questions about his age kept coming up. Allen, 33, settled down and gave a passionate explanation of why his age doesn't matter.

"Who cares? Players are going to play regardless of how old, how young," Allen said. "Are they talking about rookies that come in and play well? I'm getting tired of people talking about my age. Let it go.

"Why does it matter? Why, why, why? So what, I'm 33. I'm going to retire after this year, so I can quit listening to this."

Brookins entered at that point and told Allen he would be back for another season, an example of the kind of encouragement the backs give each other on the field.

"These guys have taken on the same philosophical approach that it is about team and not one guy," Simon said. "And it is all for the good of the group as opposed to the glory of one."

For the first time this season, the Ravens will enter the Steelers game with all of their running backs healthy.

Allen missed the first game at Pittsburgh with an ankle injury, and Brookins missed the rematch Dec. 16. In the latter, the Ravens had just 15 total rushes, a number they will need to at least double Sunday.

"It takes all three, we know that," Billick said. "We knew that coming into it. That is where, you remember a couple of weeks ago, my optimism in our abilities to do well in the playoffs was based on the fact that at the right time, fatefully, us getting healthy. And guys understanding what it is we needed them to do. They've got a good feel on how this rotation should work."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Pittsburgh Steelers in AFC divisional playoff game

Site: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

When: Sunday, 12:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 9/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Steelers by 5 1/2

Inside Ravens' offense vs. Steelers' defense. [Page 4d]

Rookie Bell a difference-maker for Steelers. [Page 5d]

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