Matchup: Titans rush offense vs. Ravens rush defense

Pro Football

December 30, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

After sustaining an extraordinary number of hits over his eight-year career, it is safe to say Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George is not what he used to be.

Consequently, neither is the Titans' commitment to the running game.

During the team's peak years that included a Super Bowl appearance in the 1999 season and a league-best 13-3 record in 2000, George was the catalyst, rushing for 2,813 yards on 723 carries combined in those seasons.

George still carried 312 times for 1,031 yards this season, but the Titans' dependence on George to ignite the offense has lessened significantly, and his 3.3-yards-per-carry average was the worst among the top 20 running backs in the AFC.

The last couple of years, quarterback Steve McNair has been in the shotgun with multiple receivers frequently.

"They've had some changes in terms of the profile of what they do," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

"They are more of a big-play, down-the-field mentality. They run the ball when they need to, but it's in conjunction with throwing the ball down the field. So it has changed. They were much more balanced that way in the previous years we played."

The Titans were last in the league in average rushing yards and 24th in rushing yards per game heading into Sunday's 33-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tennessee barely averages more than 100 yards rushing, its lowest total in George's career. Still, the Ravens are respecting his reputation.

George is averaging just 60.7 yards in 13 games against the Ravens.

"He is one of the top backs in the league," nose tackle Kelly Gregg said. "A guy like that is going to come and compete, and their offensive line is good. They've got those two big guards in Zach Piller and Benji Olson, and their tackles in Brad Hopkins and Fred Miller are good."

The Ravens, meanwhile, have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Miami's Ricky Williams on Nov. 16. The defense has held teams to 100 rushing yards or fewer the past four games, including 56 in Sunday's 13-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers - the second lowest of the season.

"Hopefully we'll get out ahead so they will have to throw the ball," Gregg said.

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