No. 1-rated units ones to watch in prime-time show

Ravens' rushing game, Rams' passing attack power respective offenses

Billick: `It's a great contrast'

RAVENS vs. RAMS

November 09, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

In the glare of the national spotlight, two converging offensive fronts will collide when the Ravens take on the St. Louis Rams tonight at raucous Edward Jones Dome.

The made-for-prime-time ESPN affair will feature the Ravens' thunderous running attack against the Rams' lightning-quick passing game. Both rank No. 1 in the league but only one will come away on top in this ultimate battle of styles and wills.

"It is `Old School' vs. `The Greatest Show on Turf,' " Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They try to wear you out with their multiple formations, the incessant down-the-field throwing the ball at you. We try to wear you out a different way. It's a great contrast, and it's going to make for great theater."

For Jamal Lewis, it's time to take center stage.

If the seven-point-underdog Ravens (5-3) want to upset the Rams (5-3), the league's leading rusher has to shred St. Louis' banged-up defense and silence its hyped-up offense.

The ability of the AFC North-leading Ravens to control the clock is their best chance to deflate the Rams' air-it-out attack. The Ravens' game plan should be titled "Play Keepaway."

"The main thing is to keep the ball in our possession," Lewis said.

The same strategy goes for St. Louis.

By striking early and often, the Rams can force the Ravens to play catch-up, putting more pressure on rookie quarterback Kyle Boller while reducing the role of Lewis. The Ravens, who are 0-3 when trailing at halftime, are not built for comebacks.

"If you let them get separation, it is going to be a long day," Billick said. "If they get a couple touchdowns up, they are going to want to go four touchdowns up. That is what they want to do. We have to play our type of game, which is to make plays outside and not let them jump up the way that they like to."

Facing a 240-pound power back like Lewis isn't the ideal matchup for the St. Louis defense right now.

Three of the Rams' starting front seven will be sidelined or limited. They likely will be without end Leonard Little (pectoral muscle) and tackle Damione Lewis (high ankle sprain) for the second straight game. Weak-side linebacker Tommy Polley (elbow), a Dunbar High graduate, is wearing a brace and might not start.

Besides the injuries, this St. Louis defense has been bruised by several running backs, surrendering 4.6 yards per carry, the league's fourth-worst average.

"When I look at that number, I'm licking my chops," Lewis said. "I think my line does, too."

Still, in recent weeks, St. Louis held the Packers' Ahman Green to 35 yards on 20 carries and the Steelers' Jerome Bettis to 42 yards on 12 attempts.

"The way we played last week, he should be licking his chops," said Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson. "But I think Ahman Green was licking his chops when he came in here and I think Jerome Bettis was licking his chops. And they left licking their wounds."

For the Ravens' defense, the mantra is that force conquers finesse.

To stop top-flight receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce from running free, the Ravens need to use the size of cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter in press coverage.

To throw off the precision timing of quarterback Marc Bulger, the Ravens need pass rushers Peter Boulware and Terrell Suggs to beat Pro Bowl tackles Orlando Pace and Kyle Turley and hurry Bulger.

"We're not going in to be pretty. They know that," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We'll see if they are the most high-powered show on turf right now."

The Rams' offense will be re-charged by the return of Marshall Faulk. The 2000 NFL Most Valuable Player has missed six weeks because of wrist and knee injuries.

When healthy, Faulk is a dual threat out of the backfield, breaking long gains as a running back and receiver. Greeting him will be Ray Lewis in what has the makings of a classic showdown.

"[Faulk's return] is not going to affect us too much because we got No. 52 [Ray Lewis] in the middle," Baxter said. "So, he'll take care of that."

Few teams have been able to bottle up St. Louis' offense.

In eight games, the Rams have produced 38 pass plays covering 20 or more yards. But in their first eight games, the Ravens have only allowed 13 pass plays of 20 or more yards.

"This is a dynamic defense," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "We know the challenge that we have ahead of us."

It will all unfold in the Ravens' first nationally televised game of the season.

Last year, the Ravens pulled off their two biggest upsets in prime time, beating the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns. But they have downplayed any added emotion of playing before a national audience.

"I don't feed into all that hype," Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown said. "I take one game at a time and beat up one opponent at a time."

Ravens tonight

Matchup: Ravens (5-3) vs. St. Louis Rams (5-3)

Site: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

Time: 8:30

TV/Radio: Ch. 24, ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Rams by 7Inside

Scouting report, rosters, statistics and more. [Page 13e]

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