Ravens game plan may be split backfield

J. Lewis, Taylor are both likely to play in opener against Colts

September 09, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

There appear to be no secrets when it comes to the Ravens' offensive game plan against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Ravens want to establish ball control. They want to keep the vaunted Colts' pass rush off balance and keep the ball out of the hands of Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning.

The only uncertainty that remains is this: Who's going to be churning out the rushing yards for the Ravens in Sunday's season opener?

Ravens coach Brian Billick said starting running back Jamal Lewis and backup Chester Taylor will split time throughout the game, estimating their carries could be "fairly equitable."

Lewis, whose only preseason action was six carries in the finale, doesn't have the leg strength yet after recovering all offseason from ankle surgery.

"I don't think it's realistic to think that he should carry the ball 35 times right now," running backs coach Matt Simon said. "The great thing is we have a very capable football player in Chester Taylor. Why put that kind of burden on Jamal Lewis at this stage of the game when we have a good quality football player in our locker room that we have a high value for."

According to Billick, Lewis will receive more carries next week and should be ready to handle the entire workload after the Week 3 bye.

But Lewis indicated there was no such restriction to the number of carries, saying, "I don't think there is a limit." In fact, if the game remains close, he expects to see the ball frequently.

"One thing we do have and one thing we've always had is the running game, and I think that's what we always fall back on whenever it's tight."

Lewis then added that his ankle still aches but said, "It don't stop me from running. That's the crazy thing, it doesn't hurt when I run. It just hurts when I stop. Hopefully I can just keep it moving and it'll be all right. I'm not really concerned about it."

The concern is that Lewis will wear out late in the game if he isn't paced properly.

"When a runner is in game rhythm and shape, not only does he have his timing, but he has a gear that kicks in during the course of the game," Simon said. "While the other team is getting tired, he's still feeling strong. Jamal is not there yet. That's just being honest. We'll work to get to that level."

In the Colts' estimation, they're not catching much of a break by getting less of Lewis and more of Taylor. This preseason, Taylor rushed for 270 yards on 39 carries.

"Of all the tape that we've watched opponents - I have probably watched 50 games of preseason tape preparing for our different opponents - I thought Chester Taylor was the best back that I have seen in the preseason," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We obviously know Jamal, and he had a great day against us last year. That's going to be the task.

"Those guys create so much yardage after contact. That's how we have challenged our defense - we've got to limit the yards after contact. If we do that, we think we've got a great chance to win, but it's not easy."

Last season against the Colts, the Ravens gained 160 yards on the ground, with Lewis rushing for 130 yards.

Not much has changed in Indianapolis' front seven despite the defense ranking 24th against the run last season. Gary Brackett has replaced Rob Morris at middle linebacker, but the defensive line is still undersized (no one weighs 300 pounds) and outmanned.

At defensive tackle, starter Montae Reagor is doubtful with a groin injury and recently signed Corey Simon will be limited. Besides the other starter (Larry Tripplett), the rest of the tackles are rookies.

That's why pounding the ball up the middle and controlling the clock are pivotal to the Ravens.

"The games they have lost are the ones [opposing teams] are able to crank out drives," Billick said. "[The Colts] make it very difficult to make big plays. [But] you can't have just 10- and 12-play drives; you've got to have 10- to 12-play drives that score touchdowns."

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