Ravens say they're still in running

C. Taylor, offensive line planning to uphold Jamal Lewis' standard

Bills Vs. Ravens

Pro Football

October 24, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

A Ravens offense devoid of electricity - and now Jamal Lewis - plods along today into M&T Bank Stadium in search of a big play, a touchdown and a dose of respect.

The NFL's two-game suspension of Lewis begins against the Buffalo Bills (1-4), taking away 245 pounds of brute force and 40 percent of the Ravens' total offense. Lewis pleaded guilty earlier this month to using a cell phone to set up a drug transaction before he became a Raven.

Left in his absence is a pressing question: Can the Ravens' already struggling offense survive without him?

"A lot of people are saying, `Jamal isn't here, what are we going to do?' " said Chester Taylor, who is replacing Lewis as the Ravens' featured back for the first time in his three-year career. "I know what I can do."

The Ravens (3-2) can only hope a change of backs, albeit from the NFL's reigning Offensive Player of the Year, results in a change of fortune.

Their offense, ranked 30th in the 32-team NFL, has failed to score a touchdown in its past 14 drives. The last time it reached the end zone was midway through the fourth quarter in an Oct. 4 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, starting a mini-drought of 69 minutes, 14 seconds.

Now, the Ravens are handing the core of their offense - their ground game - to Taylor as they go against one of the top defenses against the run.

The Bills rank No. 5 in the league in run defense and haven't allowed a back to reach 100 yards in the first five games this season. That list includes three of the NFL's top 11 rushers: the New York Jets' Curtis Martin, New England's Corey Dillon and Jacksonville's Fred Taylor.

The Ravens, who run the ball 57 percent of the time, aren't backing down from the challenge. In their eyes, Lewis isn't the only reason why they are averaging the second-most rushing yards in the league.

"We're not going to switch up our whole mentality because Jamal's down," Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "Jamal breaks a lot of tackles, but we think we help him out and get him through the line of scrimmage."

Whereas Lewis regularly bowls tacklers over, Taylor is more of a slashing runner. The former sixth-round pick blends excellent vision and short bursts to cut in and out of holes.

With massive Bills tackles Sam Adams and Pat Williams in the middle, the Ravens might use more three-receiver formations to spread out the defense and attack off tackle. Taylor's backup, Musa Smith, will be used more in the Ravens' two-tight-end, power formations.

Asked if Lewis had given him any parting words, Taylor said, "He told me, `Make sure we're 5-2 when I come back.' "

The Ravens said Taylor shouldn't have to carry the entire burden.

"Jamal's definitely the key to the offense so we know what we need to do," said receiver Travis Taylor, who returns after being sidelined since the opener with a groin injury. "We have to depend on the pass more. For us to get where we want to go, we have to throw the ball."

Travis Taylor, who led the Ravens with a 16.2-yard average per catch, could supply a jolt to a passing attack that has been unable to stretch defenses. Of the seven offensive plays covering more than 25 yards, four have been runs and only three have been passes.

In the last game against Washington, quarterback Kyle Boller missed a wide-open Clarence Moore down the middle of the field twice, underthrowing him the first time and overthrowing him the next. Boller's anemic 5.9-yard average per attempt is fifth worst among NFL starters.

With Lewis out of the lineup, Boller said, "I'm not putting any more pressure on myself. I'm trying to be the best quarterback I can be. [But] with Jamal not going to be here, there are guys that are going to need to step up and I'm one of those guys."

Likewise, the players on the Ravens' defense, which has allowed the sixth-fewest points in the league, said they aren't feeling more pressure to shut down the Bills' offensive weapons of quarterback Drew Bledsoe, receiver Eric Moulds and running back Travis Henry.

"We have all the faith in the world in our offense, in Kyle Boller, in Chester Taylor and in Musa Smith," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We know we've always had a three-headed monster but it's just that Jamal is so good that he overshadows everyone."

What has not been overshadowed is the importance of this game before a critical road stretch.

After today, the Ravens will travel to face three undefeated teams (Philadelphia, the New York Jets and New England) in the next five weeks.

With such a tough haul looming, the Ravens can't afford to look past the Bills, whose 1-4 record is deceiving. Their losses have come against opponents with a combined 16-6 record and by an average margin of defeat of 5.5 points.

"This is a good football team," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "To sit there and say that as a coach, I sound like any other coach trying to overemphasize how good the opponent is, that's not the case. It is literally five or six plays away from being 4-1."

Jamal Lewis factor

A look at how much offensive production has been accounted for by suspended running back Jamal Lewis through five games:

...................Jamal Team Lewis'

Category....Lewis.....total......pct.

Rush yds. 494 750 .659

Rush att. 105 164 .640

Total yds. 540 1,332 .405

Off. TDs 4 7 .571

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