Matchup: Ravens rush offense vs. Titans rush defense

January 01, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Each day this week, The Sun will preview matchups for Saturday's Ravens-Titans playoff game.

Both can boast of being the best.

The Ravens have the league's top ground attack, and the Titans are allowing 80.9 rushing yards a game, fewest in the NFL.

Ravens running back Jamal Lewis has been the NFL's leading rusher nearly all year, and he became just the fifth back to gain more than 2,000 rushing yards in a season after a 114-yard effort Sunday against Pittsburgh.

Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James is the only player to rush for more than 100 yards against the Titans this season.

A major reason for the Titans' success is their scheme. Tennessee generally puts eight players, often including hard-hitting safety Tank Williams, inside the box and plays just one safety deep.

That has been the strategy employed by nearly all the teams that have faced the Ravens this season. The difference for the Titans could be that they have players like Williams, linebacker Keith Bulluck and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who excel in stopping the run.

"We will see the same things, eight in the box," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They are good at it, and they are a good defense. They have great personnel. It is all about schemes. Like we said before, it's not about the bike but who is pedaling. And they have some good pedalers."

The Titans have held teams to less than 100 yards rushing 12 times this year and are 11-1 in those games. Lewis has been held to less than 100 yards four times, and the Ravens have split those games.

In three of those cases, though, Lewis faced teams that finished in the top 10 in stopping the run. The Jacksonville Jaguars, second in the league against the run, held Lewis to a season-low 68 yards Nov. 2.

Tennessee has faced only one running back, Jacksonville's Fred Taylor, who finished in the top six in rushing in the AFC.

Lewis has rushed for at least 100 yards in four straight games. In three of those, he has had runs of 25 yards or more.

Limiting the big runs, said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, is the key to containing Lewis.

"You can do your best to limit the big plays, but the more opportunities they get, the greater the chance for Jamal to break for a big play," Fisher said.

Tomorrow: Ravens pass offense vs. Titans pass defense.

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