James, J. Lewis rebuilt engines

Driving their offenses, Colts, Ravens No. 1 backs meet on comeback road

October 10, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The league's best rebuilt running backs - the Ravens' Jamal Lewis and the Indianapolis Colts' Edgerrin James - will find out who is farther ahead on the comeback trail Sunday.

Both players' seasons ended last year when they blew out the anterior cruciate ligament in their left knees. Both have used the early part of this season to prove that they're on the fast track to full recovery.

Their similar paths reach a crossroads at Sunday's showdown in Indianapolis, where the more sound ground game could prove to be the difference.

"To have one healthy pair of knees between the two of them going at it, that's kind of a neat story line," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Lewis believes he has the upper hand in this matchup.

The Colts have the third-worst run defense in the league, surrendering 145 yards rushing per game. No starting running back has gained fewer than 83 yards as Cincinnati's Corey Dillon (164 yards), Miami's Ricky Williams (132), Houston's Jonathan Wells (93) and Jacksonville's Fred Taylor (83) have all taken turns ripping Indianapolis this season.

"I think they do struggle against the run a little bit," Lewis said. "Miami was the only team that beat them and they ran the ball really well. I think we can go out and do the same thing and that we can come out with a win."

James, though, may not have to deal with eluding injured Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, and he has the home-field advantage over Lewis.

James has not only had the chance to test his knee on the harder artificial surface, but he also excels on the RCA Dome turf. But James' string of 10 consecutive home games with at least 100 rushing yards ended last Sunday.

For Lewis, this will be his first game away from grass.

"I'm a little skeptical about being on turf and that's what I am thinking about," Lewis said. "Of course, it's going to aggravate [the knee] a little bit, but you have to keep on going. Hopefully, I can just run and keep on going and not have to make a lot of cuts."

While they share histories, Lewis has the edge in timing and style.

Lewis had a head start in rehabilitation because he blew out his knee on Aug. 8, nearly three months before James went down.

Plus, a quicker recovery favored Lewis since he relies more on power than change of direction. James' game is predicated on sudden, stop-on-a-dime cuts and acceleration.

"I'm not going to say I'm 100 percent, but I'm close to the point where I can't tell," said Lewis, who is trying to become the fifth running back in NFL history to gain 1,000 yards after missing an entire previous season. "I'm not really surprised because of the fact that I rehabbed and did all the things I was supposed to do to get it back to the point where it is right now."

At this point, their race is too close to call.

A two-time NFL rushing champion, James ranks sixth in the AFC with 385 yards rushing. Lewis is seventh with 382.

Lewis had his breakout game of the season last week, racking up 187 yards rushing that included a team-record 75-yard dash. James had his worst game of the season last week, gaining 60 yards against Cincinnati.

"I think he is 100 percent and I think it's absolutely amazing," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "He looks the same to me. I feel I have the best view of him than anybody."

On Sunday, Lewis and James won't be racing against the clock but each other.

"It's going to be a battle of the running games," Lewis said. "I think we both can go out and do well. But hopefully, I'll do better."

Next for Ravens

Opponent:Indianapolis Colts

Site:RCA Dome, Indianapolis

When:Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line:Colts by 6 1/2

SunSpot:For more coverage, visit sunspot.net/ravens

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