Ravens' run game can't get on track

Held in check, J. Lewis questions play calling

December 27, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Steelers' touchdown drive to start the second half - one that included 12 straight runs - looked familiar to Ravens guard Mike Flynn.

"That's the kind of stuff we used to do," Flynn said.

It was fitting that Flynn used the past tense.

Ravens running back Jamal Lewis bulldozed through opponents for a 2,066-yard season a year ago, but the dominant, overpowering running game that was the hallmark of the Ravens offense a year ago has been largely absent this season. It was virtually non-existent in a 20-7 loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field yesterday.

Lewis finished with 26 yards on 14 carries, his second-lowest output this season. Most pointed to Lewis as the one who needed to have a big game if the Ravens were going to upset Pittsburgh, but his longest run went for 11 yards, and he gained 1 yard or fewer on nine of his carries.

Lewis, who after a previous game questioned the number of runs called, this time wondered about the type of runs called.

"There was some room," Lewis said. "It's just that it wasn't where we were going.

"We're a downhill team. Our offensive line fights and strives off of blowing guys off the ball. I think that is where the tempo should have been set - downhill plays running straight at them. [Steelers linebackers] James Farrior and [Larry] Foote, we gave them a day off because we never did attack them.

"The things we were doing they were already hip to as far as stretch plays [runs to the outside] and things like that."

As is often the case when Lewis is the featured back, the Ravens had trouble winning without him.

In four of the Ravens' seven losses, they have been held to fewer than 100 yards rushing. The Steelers, though, entered as the top rushing defense in the league, allowing 80.9 yards a game before yesterday.

"I don't really know [how many yards Lewis] got, but I think [the defense] was real solid," Steelers end Kimo von Oelhoffen said. "I saw him [get] hit at the line of scrimmage quite a bit."

Credit the Steelers' defense for disrupting many of the plays before they got started in the first half.

"Obviously, Pittsburgh is a very good run defense," Flynn said. "We knew going in it was going to be one of those games, 1 yard, maybe 2 yards, then we'll break one. We knew we had to just keep pounding on them and make some plays downfield."

Lewis said he feels the best way that could have happened would have been to use fullback Alan Ricard and overpower a linebacker corps that started two backups in Foote and James Harrison.

"Alan Ricard, he never really got a good, downhill block on those guys which he usually does as far as setting the tempo for the run," Lewis said. "He gets in those guys' face, drives them off the ball, but he never got a chance to do that."

It was something at which Lewis and the Ravens' offensive line excelled last year but have failed to do consistently this season.

Lewis has 839 rushing yards and looks destined to be held under 1,000 for this first time in his career (he missed the 2001 season with a knee injury). Lewis has three 100-yard games this year, down from 12 last year.

Part of the problem, according to right tackle Orlando Brown, is that opponents were ready for the Ravens. Lewis also missed four games and most of another because of suspension and injury.

Left tackle Jonathan Ogden, Brown and Flynn also have missed games because of injury this season.

"Kyle [Boller] did more throwing because teams switched up on us a bit," Brown said. "They took that little guy out of the box and put that big linebacker in the box. But we're still physical and can grind it when we want to."

The Ravens will have one more chance to do so against the Miami Dolphins next week in a game that appears to hold little meaning in the playoff picture.

What it could mean for Lewis and the offensive line is one last chance to re-kindle everything that went right last year and temporarily forget the troubles this season.

"We just never seemed to click," Flynn said. "It's hard to explain."

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