When the Ravens play the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, they know they will have to block the path to the Titans' road success.
Since Titans coach Jeff Fisher took over the team in 1995, the franchise has averaged 123.2 yards rushing on the road, which is third best in the NFL over that time.
"When coaches go into the game plan and say we can run on this team, they're telling you that they are going to out-physical the team," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That's why it's always personal. Anytime somebody buckles up their chin straps and say we're going to run the ball 30 or 40 times, they're telling you that they feel their offensive line can get to your defensive line and linebackers."
The foundation of the Ravens defense has always been stopping the run.
Since 1999, the Ravens have given up 87.6 yards rushing per game, the fewest in the league. The Ravens have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 22 straight games, which is the best current streak in the NFL.
"Every new person who comes in here, the first thing I say is, 'There's something we don't do and that's let people run the ball,'" Lewis said. "When the ball is snapped, everybody has to find the football."
The Titans' ground game centers on two running backs.
Rookie Chris Johnson, a 5-11, 200-pound speedster who ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.24 seconds) at the NFL Scouting Combine, has gained 337 yards on 67 carries. He has scored two touchdowns.
The other back is LenDale White, a 6-1, 235-pound power back who has rushed for 161 yards and five touchdowns on 60 carries.
Asked to compare the two, Ravens linebacker Bart Scott opened up for a few seconds before ending his response with these words: "Let's see -- a fat guy and the fastest guy in the 40. Not fat, I'm sorry. Plump."
The Ravens are hoping to get their own running back on track Sunday.
With a bloodshot left eye and bruised ribs, Ravens running back Willis McGahee has just one goal for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.
"Put this in print: I just want to finish a game," McGahee said.
McGahee suited up for the season opener against Cincinnati but remained on the sideline because of a knee injury. In Week 2 against Cleveland, he was limited in the second half after suffering a laceration on his right eyelid and getting poked in the left eye.
On Monday night in Pittsburgh, he received a helmet to his ribs in the second quarter and carried the ball just once in the second half.
McGahee said he considers himself "day to day" with the rib injury.
"I don't want to be out there for the first and second quarter and try to come back for the third and don't finish," McGahee said. "I want to finish a complete game, walking off the field with just a bruise on my arm."
The Bengals' quarterback situation remained up in the air Wednesday, heading into their Week 5 game at Dallas late Sunday afternoon.
Bengals starter Carson Palmer was limited in practice; he did only "rehab throwing" on the side because of an inflamed right elbow that prevented him from playing in the Week 4 loss to Cleveland at Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals' best chance to exploit a potentially weakened Dallas secondary is with Palmer at quarterback.
"We'll make it up through the week," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "We'll see how Carson does through the week and what the plan of the medical staff is. We'll just follow that course and see how it comes out."
Palmer did not play in Week 4, snapping a streak of 51 consecutive games started, in the 20-12 loss at home to the Browns. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw three interceptions and lost one fumble, would start for a second game in a row.
Palmer has been receiving several hours of treatment a day. There is no ligament damage.
"Definitely, it's definitely getting better," he said. "It's progressed day by day, and I keep my fingers crossed, keep praying and hope that it keeps progressing and that I'll be ready to roll."
Palmer is aware of the need to take care of his elbow.
"Yeah, I mean, you don't want to over-stress what I've got going on and when you do, that's when you start either getting tendonitis or start tearing things and requiring surgery later on down the road," he said. "So the training staff's going to take this thing as slow as possible and definitely have a long-term mindset and wanting to see some progression, and make sure we're not pushing it too fast."
Being patient is difficult.
"I've been fortunate enough to not have many injuries like this that have kept me out of games and I've practiced ever since I've been here, every single day, and haven't missed practices," Palmer said. "So it's different watching and only doing the run plays and not getting to throw, so it can be frustrating. But I just need to be patient like I said and trust the medical staff that they're doing the right thing."
He said he has never had elbow problems before.
Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has designed a game plan that fits both Palmer and Fitzpatrick.
"You make one game plan, you really do," he said. "If there are things in there based on, let's say Carson plays, then there's a few of those things that maybe you had tailored a little more for Ryan that you don't call. But really you make one plan and you go forward with that."
Overall, the Bengals are disappointed in their poor start, their first 0-4 beginning since 2002.
"We're not where we wanted to be, obviously," Lewis said. "But the only way to get out of it is to let the bad feeling go and work our tails off. We'll be ready to go. This football team will be ready to play in Dallas. We'll play better than we played last week (Sept. 21 at the Giants). And we'll play better than we did this week."
By beating the Baltimore Ravens in overtime Monday, the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1) can afford to lose in Jacksonville this Sunday, regroup over their bye week and get ready to play at Cincinnati Oct. 19.
A victory in Jacksonville would be a bonus for them at this point because of all their injuries. They are without their top two running backs, Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall, guard Kendall Simmons, and two-thirds of their starting defensive line will miss a second straight game, nose tackle Casey Hampton and end Brett Keisel.
Starting fullback Carey Davis also appears to be out this week with a severely sprained ankle.
They signed running backs Najeh Davenport and Gary Russell to join the only healthy back left after Monday night's carnage, Mewelde Moore. Still, the pass probably will be their weapon of choice in Jacksonville Sunday night behind the right arm of Ben Roethlisberger, which remains sore from an opening-game injury.
"I guess so," offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "We have to let Ben do what he does. We have to let the receivers run and we have to block."
"When you lose your starting running back, you lose your first-round drafted back, you lose your starting fullback?" Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes asked out loud yesterday. "I mean, what else is there for you to do? You can only throw the ball and hope someone comes in and fills in, like Mewelde did."
They passed at will against Jacksonville last January in their 31-29 playoff loss, with Willie Parker out because of a broken leg. Roethlisberger completed 29 of 42 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. However, he also was intercepted three times and sacked six times.
"In the playoffs, we went to the hurry-up and the spread and it really got us back in the game," receiver Hines Ward said. "Hopefully, we can learn from that and maybe exploit some things there."
The Steelers have had trouble protecting Roethlisberger this season. He has been sacked 15 times, putting him on a pace for 60, which would easily be the most in team history. Nevertheless, Jacksonville ranks only 24th on defense against the pass in the NFL and the Jaguars have just five sacks through four games. The Jags rank 14th on defense against the run.
"Whatever it takes for that to get done and us to come out with a victory, that's what we need to do," Colon said.
The Steelers have rushed for more yards than any team since the 1970 NFL merger, and they won't turn into a West Coast offense overnight in Jacksonville.
"All in all, this team is not going to change," Ward said. "We're still going to try to run the ball regardless of who is at the running back position. That's what we do, that's what we built this team on. Don't look for us to pass the ball 50 or 60 times, it's not going to happen unless we're behind."
How about 40 Sunday night?