Daring to run, Ravens plan to give J. Lewis a workout

Back says Denver's `D' `looks suspect to me'

BRONCOS vs. RAVENS

September 30, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Stepping onto the national stage tonight, the Ravens are committed to following a script that contains little mystery and lots of strong language.

A touchdown underdog to the 3-0 Denver Broncos, the 0-2 Ravens are looking to bash a Super Bowl contender rather than sneak up on them at Ravens Stadium. The Ravens are trumpeting a hard-hitting, smash-mouth running attack in their only Monday Night Football appearance of the season and are planning to take it to the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense John Madden-style.

"As far as I'm concerned, [the Broncos] look suspect to me, and I think we'll be able to run the ball on them," Ravens running back Jamal Lewis said. "They don't tackle good. They're light. I think as long as we go out and be physical, we'll be dominant."

While the Ravens apparently still lead the NFL in trash talk, the Broncos' defense tops the league in fewest rushing yards allowed per game (47.3) and per carry (3.0). Playing its safeties back to protect against big pass plays, Denver's cover-two defense begs teams to run against its front seven.

When teams have tried to run, Denver's front seven has gobbled up running backs. Needing little run support from their secondary, the Broncos' linemen and linebackers have been responsible for making the tackle on 42 of 47 running plays this season.

These results, however, don't impress Lewis.

"Just because they're No. 1 against the run, it doesn't make them great run-stoppers," he said. "Early in the season, a lot of guys weren't running at them. I don't see them as that spectacular."

It's big talk from an offense that has produced little. Coming off a 15-day layoff, the Ravens have scored one touchdown in two games and are scoreless in their past 20 possessions, a span of 107 minutes, 43 seconds.

Mirroring the offense, Lewis has yet to get on track, rushing for 117 yards and 3.4 yards per attempt. Of his 34 carries, 15 have been for 1 yard or less.

"We're closing in to a point where we need to get Jamal going," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said.

To the Ravens, the more important number is not points or yards. It's pounds.

The Ravens' offensive line - which has moved Edwin Mulitalo back to left guard - needs to get Lewis past the defensive front. Lewis would then get to test the grit of a fast yet small Denver linebacking corps. In fact, Lewis, 235 pounds, is just as big as Al Wilson (240 pounds), Ian Gold (223) and John Mobley (236).

"I'm eager to give Jamal a chance to carry the full load, in terms of coming out of the game with 25, 30 carries," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We definitely need that; he needs that. If we can get a balanced-up, body-for-body exchange, Jamal is going to run well. He's going to run someone over and make somebody miss."

Lewis' success would take pressure off first-year starting quarterback Chris Redman and a banged-up receiving corps. Brandon Stokley, the team's leading receiver, will be limited with an ankle injury, and the other wide-out, Travis Taylor, has had shoulder problems.

If Lewis piles on the yards, the Broncos would have to get out of their regular defense and drop a safety closer to the line of scrimmage. That would open up more chances to throw deep.

"Jamal is capable of breaking the game open," Redman said. "So, as many chances we can get him the ball, whether it's handing the ball off or throwing it to him, we're going to get the ball in his hands. ... We still realize that he's one of the better backs in the game and we haven't given him a chance to get going."

Lewis isn't the only running back talking candidly.

Last week, Broncos rookie Clinton Portis said Ray Lewis "ain't nothing spectacular" after seeing a few highlight films of the Ravens inside linebacker. Upon hearing that, Lewis was seething, especially because the comments came from a fellow University of Miami player.

"Tell Clinton Portis it's personal now," Lewis said.

It's not as if the Broncos need more distractions on offense.

Quarterback Brian Griese sprained his ankle Wednesday when his golden retriever tripped him going down the stairs. Although Griese is expected to play, the cause of the injury raised a few eyebrows.

"I'm not a very good storyteller, but I think I could come up with one better than that," said Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe, a former Raven who will play his first game here since becoming a salary cap cut in March.

"So the dog stood up on his hind legs and gave him a push? OK, you might want to get rid of that dog or put him in the circus, one of the two."

Now, after all the talk and jokes, the Ravens cannot afford to trip themselves.

If they fail to back up their words, they would fall to 0-3 for the first time in the franchise's seven years of existence. If they can pull off an upset, they would move within a half-game of the AFC North-leading Cleveland Browns (2-2).

"I don't think there's anyone in panic mode," Redman said. "It seems in the past, we have played our best when our backs are against the wall."

Ravens tonight

Opponent: Denver Broncos

Site: Ravens Stadium

Time: 9

TV/Radio: Chs. 2, 7/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Broncos by 7

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