Pain only grows

Ravens may be without 6 starters for Steelers game


The Ravens have been crippled by having the lowest-scoring offense in the NFL.

But when they play at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night, their defense could be the one most hobbled.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, the past two NFL Defensive Players of the Year, likely will be sidelined when the Ravens (2-4) try to end their six-game road losing streak and salvage their rapidly fading season.

Lewis left in the middle of the fourth quarter of Sunday's 10-6 loss in Chicago with a strained right hamstring and did not return. Reed missed his first career game with a high ankle sprain and walked through the locker room yesterday with a protective boot on his right foot.

Ravens coach Brian Billick seemed resigned to playing without both Pro Bowl players, saying yesterday that it would be "optimistic" to believe that either one would suit up for the NFL's No. 2 defense.

"It's a huge challenge, but the next guy steps up and that's the mentality," Billick said. "Is that having a little wide-eyed innocence? Possibly. But you can't approach the game any other way."

There is a likelihood that the Ravens could be without six starters - more than a quarter of their first-team offense and defense - in their first Monday night appearance of the season.

In addition to Lewis and Reed, quarterback Kyle Boller (toe), receiver Mark Clayton (ankle), fullback Alan Ricard (calf) and defensive end Tony Weaver (toe) are considered questionable. Billick indicated that Clayton had the best chance of the injured starters to play.

Dime back Chad Williams will replace Reed, and special teams ace Bart Scott will start at outside linebacker, moving Tommy Polley to Lewis' middle linebacker spot.

Lewis had originally been placed on the inactive list Sunday before he convinced Billick that he could play during warm-ups.

"It's a different pull; this is much lower," Billick said. "[Doctors] are still determining whether it's related or not, and how severe it might be."

There's a similar uncertainty with Boller, who has been out since hyperextending his right big toe in the season opener.

Last week marked the first time he could place weight on his right foot while throwing. In his absence, Anthony Wright has completed 62 percent of his passes, throwing for five touchdowns and seven interceptions.

"We're much further along than last week," Billick said. "Could he be the third quarterback this week? We got a little extra time and we'll see how the week goes. That would be great. To think it'd be above that this week, again might be overly ambitious."

The Ravens' running game has been ailing, too.

Jamal Lewis ranks 28th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (54.3), trailing Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. On Sunday, Lewis was held to 34 yards, his second-lowest total of the season.

"We didn't knock people off the ball," Billick said. "We've done it all: We trapped, we countered, we inside-zoned, outside-zoned. We've done about everything you can do in sound consistent football to try to move the ball."

Billick said he had no regrets about giving backup Chester Taylor only two carries even though his rushing average (6 yards a carry) more than doubles Lewis' (2.9).

"We said going in that we wanted to press the agenda with Jamal," Billick said.

The tail-off in the running game is a major reason the Ravens rank last in the NFL in scoring, averaging 11.5 points.

The Ravens remain the only team in the league not to score 20 points in a game.

"Believe me, we're looking at [getting into the end zone] in as many ways as we can whether it's structurally, player-wise or the calls that we make," Billick said. "You've got to have more scores in the red zone if you're going to be a good football team. We have to find that formula, find that guy or that combination of schemes to see if we can crack the end zone more. We're going to have to score more points."

Revving up the offense is a priority as the Ravens venture into the most challenging part of their schedule. Their next five games are against the 4-2 Pittsburgh Steelers (twice), 5-2 Cincinnati Bengals (twice) and the 4-2 Jacksonville Jaguars.

If the Ravens want to avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, Billick estimated that they need a 10-6 record, which means they must finish with a near-miraculous run.

"It's very clear-cut. For us, that means 8-2 the rest of the way," Billick said. "That's ambitious to say the least. But right now, as long as those odds are and as uphill that may seem for a 2-4 team, that's what you embrace as the potential and you use that as part of the motivation going forward."

Ravens@Steelers Monday, 9 p.m., Chs. 2, 7, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Steelers by 9

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