OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens were determined to return to their smash-mouth roots and reinvigorate their running game after regressing last season.
It was time to roll up their sleeves.
So, they signed All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach to an $11 million contract, retained gritty offensive guard Marshal Yanda with a $32.5 million deal and acquired former Pro Bowl running back Ricky Williams to back up featured runner Ray Rice.
Following a dominant season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers where they grinded out 170 yards on the ground against the top-ranked run defense in the NFL from a year ago, the Ravens were rightfully sticking out their chests.
One week later, though, the Ravens were humbled against the Tennessee Titans' aggressive, speedy front seven.
By halftime, the Ravens had gained only 26 rushing yards on 11 carries. They would run the football just six more times after halftime to finish with 45 yards on 17 carries as Rice was limited to just 43 yards on 13 carries.
"As a fullback, you want to run the ball, you want to be a running team and I think we should have stuck with it longer," Leach said. "Sometimes, you've got to be stubborn with the run. Sometimes, you've got to make your offensive coordinator have confidence in the run. If you're getting stuffed on first down, it's kind of hard to run the ball on second down.
"You want positive yards. We had a lot of three-and-outs in the first half and we sort of got away from the run. As an offensive line, tight ends and running backs, we've got to get this running game going. We've got to somehow find some way to get it done this week."
Circumstances and unfamiliarity with the Titans' 4-3 scheme might explain what happened as much as anything else.
The Ravens fell behind, and all but abandoned the run.
"It has a lot to do with the game, give them credit," coach John Harbaugh said. "They did a nice job of defending the run. We had a couple of missed assignments early on because of the different front we saw. We haven't seen an even front much, and that got us early a couple of times. Then, we got behind. We're a work in progress with our offensive line, and we'll just keep pounding that rock."
Rice rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries against the Steelers, also catching four passes for 42 yards and a score.
He was the lone Raven to score a touchdown against the Titans. He found the end zone on a well-executed 31-yard screen play where he broke through several tackles, including middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.
Now, opportunity beckons again for Rice.
The Rams have the worst rushing defense in the NFL statistically, ranking last in the league with an average of 177.5 yards surrendered per game.
"I don't think a lot of adjustments have to be made to crank the running game back up," Rice said. "We're all professionals, so I'm sure that film has been corrected. The Rams run a similar front to what Tennessee ran. Obviously, you're going to put some wrinkles in the run game. You're going to try to put in a play or two to mix it up.
"As far as making any changes, I don't think we have to change what we're doing. We do have to execute. I'll be the guy that's trying to push the run game to get going. Obviously, we'll run the ball. We're pretty successful."
One major change for the Ravens against Tennessee was the absence of left offensive guard Ben Grubbs due to a right toe injury that may sideline him Sunday, too.
Grubbs is arguably the Ravens' most complete offensive lineman as a strong, mobile guard capable of pulling and walling off linebackers at the second level.
Mark LeVoir, Grubbs' replacement, didn't play badly, but is more of a stationary blocker.
"Obviously, anytime you lose Ben Grubbs you are losing a good football player," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Our approach here, and it will never change: next man up. The next guy has to play at a high level."
Through two games, the Ravens are tied for 12th in the NFL in rushing offense with an average of 107.5 yards per game.
They have set much higher goals than that for the running game.
"We always want to be able to run the football," Cameron said. "We have a great fullback, we have great running backs. I think our offensive line is still a work in progress. I'm not scared off the running game easily, but the objective is to win the game.
"You really don't want to come out of a game with less than 20 rushes, but you have to find a way to win when you have to do that. We're going to do everything we can to get Ray and Ricky the ball, and get Vonta involved because we could be a very good running team. No doubt in my mind."
Notebook: Foxworth frustrated with knee
Evans, Grubbs don't practice, Cody, Birk, Redding return
OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens veteran cornerback Domonique Foxworth expressed frustration regarding his surgically-repaired right knee that has hampered his play through two games this season.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Foxworth is playing "very, very conservatively" and might be rested to allow his knee time to improve.
"The more I do, the worse it gets," Foxworth said. "It hurts, it sucks. I had a lot of pain during camp. It's still hurting. This is where we are."
Foxworth acknowledged that he's playing cautiously due to his knee. He allowed a touchdown to wide receiver Kenny Britt against the Tennessee Titans.
"When I'm out there I want to make plays, but when you're out there in pain, you're kind of trying not to 'F' things up," Foxworth said. "You end up playing conservatively because you don't want to let people down and you're still letting people down. So, it feels like you're in a lose-lose sometimes. You stay confident and keep fighting and do whatever's asked of me. To not be able to do it, it's frustrating."
Foxworth shredded his knee the day before training camp a year ago and missed the entire season.
During the NFL lockout, the NFL Players Association executive committee member was an influential negotiator. However, he had to work out without supervision and fit in his rehab sessions around the labor talks.
Now, Foxworth's game has regressed from two years ago when he intercepted three passes and established himself as the Ravens' top cornerback.
"No, not as good as I was," Foxworth said. "Towards the end of my first year here, I was playing really well and I was feeling confident. It's frustrating to not feel as good as I want to feel to make plays and have all these great players depending on you to step up and play the way they know you're capable of and not be able to do it is frustrating. That's where I am."
Foxworth said he'll accept whatever decision Harbaugh makes.
"It's what we go by around here," he said. "We go by whatever he thinks is best for the team. I'll continue to go by whatever he thinks is best for me on a daily basis. They pay coach Harbaugh to make those decisions and they pay me to do what he says.
"I'm not making any decisions. They tell me to go rehab, I go rehab. They tell me to go play, I go play. If they want me to run scout team, I'll do that. Whatever it is that's going to make this team better, I'm down for that."
If the Ravens bench Foxworth, they could go with Chris Carr in his place.
Carr practiced on a limited basis after missing this past game with a left hamstring injury he aggravated against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I fully expect to play Sunday," Carr said. "I feel like I'll be healthy enough to play. [Wednesday] was encouraging. It was good to be out there."
Carr was ruled out last week after not practicing for the entire week.
He's hoping he's finally solved a leg problem that has plagued him for over a month.
The Ravens need Carr with Foxworth ailing and rookie first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith out indefinitely with a high left ankle sprain that has him limping around the training complex.
"Last week would've been pushing it," Carr said. "It's all about being smart. If I feel like I'm not going to be effective out there on the field, then I'm not going to put myself out there. So, it's trying not to be prideful because you really want to play, but trying to be smart.
"The same thing against Pittsburgh, when I took myself out. That was the first time for that, Tennessee was the first time I've ever missed a game, but if I feel like I can't perform like I'm usually accustomed to performing, then I'm not going to play."
EVANS, GRUBBS SIDELINED: Veteran wide receiver Lee Evans (left ankle) and offensive guard Ben Grubbs (right toe) didn't practice for the second consecutive day and are regarded as question marks for Sunday.
Meanwhile, center Matt Birk (left knee) participated fully after being rested Wednesday.
Nose guard Terrence Cody (concussion) returned to practice on a limited basis as well as defensive end Cory Redding (toe).
Sidelined for practice Wednesday due to a concussion incurred during a loss to the Tennessee Titans, Cody said he's over his symptoms.
Cody experienced headaches Wednesday and didn't practice, returning to work Thursday on a limited basis.
"I'm playing this week definitely," said Cody, who said he never lost consciousness. "I'm back to normal. I had a little setback Wednesday, I had a little headache."
Cody said he got woozy after his hit on Titans tight end Craig Stevens.
"When I hit him, I blacked out for a few seconds," Cody said. "I was dizzy when I went to the sideline. I'm used to messing with people who had concussions. It's not fun."
Smith (high ankle sprain) and wide receiver David Reed (left shoulder) didn't practice.
For the St. Louis Rams, running back Steven Jackson (strained left quadriceps) practiced on a limited basis.
Running back Cadillac Williams (hamstring) didn't practice as well as wide receiver Danny Amendola (dislocated shoulder).
The following players were limited: defensive end C.J. Ah You (wrist), tight end Michael Hoomanwanui (calf) and linebacker Ben Leber (groin).
Wide receiver Greg Salas (ribs) participated fully.
FLOPPING: After the Giants blatantly faked injuries to halt the Rams' high-octane offense Monday night, the NFL issued a memo promising harsh penalties if anyone is caught flopping again.
The Ravens don't have a reputation for those kind of tactics, but it definitely amused Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
"That's a great tactic," Suggs said. "I may do it. I may do it, because you've got to stop the game if you're hurt. If it works, it works. If it's working, don't be surprised, you'll see old 55 get a nice little hammy."
The Giants' answer to the no-huddle offense that wore them out was to have safety Deon Grant and linebacker Jacquian Williams fake injuries to stop the play.
"Obviously, it wasn't choreographed very well if you watch the tape," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "I've heard of guys doing things like that. We would never do anything like that here. You know, you watch it, and it's right there and you see it, and it is what it is.
"Obviously, reading the letter that we got from the commissioner and their stance on it, how they're going to penalize teams if they catch them doing it, it's just not something that we would do or ask our guys to do. You've got to play. If they go no-huddle, we have to respond."
Free safety Ed Reed didn't condemn the Giants' strategy, or necessarily assume that they were faking.
"I don't know if they were pretending, man," Reed said. "Sometimes guys get tired. But it's all within the game. It's all tactical stuff that you need to use. Whatever it takes.
"We play the game. That's part of playing the game. If you're tired, you're tired. You get a break however you can."
Joking aside, the Ravens say they'll simply have to adjust to the Rams' tempo.
"We've just got to get our call faster and be dialed in to what we're doing," Suggs said. "It's happening fast for them, too. They pretty much know what they're doing. We've just got to know what we're doing and just execute."
SLOW MOTION: The Ravens didn't kick their offense into high gear in Tennessee despite trailing on the scoreboard.
The Ravens decided not to use their hurry-up offense and didn't even look like they were rushing to get to the line of scrimmage .
"Here is exactly what happened, and I don't know whether it is worth questioning or not because we have gone ‘two minutes' as early as the middle of the third quarter in Minnesota three years ago," Cameron said. "It was a two-score game. It was almost 13 minutes, and my thinking was, and I pulled the whole offense up and I said, ‘We are going to run our two-minute package, per se, but we're going to huddle.' I think the most important thing, when you have that much time, is you have to get the first touchdown. You need to score and make sure everybody is on the same page.
"Until this group has been together a little bit longer, you want to make sure you are on the same page, first and foremost, so you can get that first touchdown. We had the opportunity to, and a couple of things we didn't get executed. The clock got away from us right at the buzzer one time that set us back. I'm sure you could make that argument, but the bottom line is that we do what we are capable that we score there. Now, you have plenty of time to stop them and go score again. It's only a two-score game. I would say, over 12 minutes, you can debate that here or there. We were running the package; we just felt like it was better to huddle, make sure our left guard, left tackle and everybody was on the same page so that we could move the ball. We just didn't finish the drive."
Quarterback Joe Flacco sounded removed from the decision-making process, and reluctant to spark any controversy by second-guessing the coaching staff.
"I don't know what to really say besides that's what we were doing," Flacco said. "I guess that was the plan. It's not really my job to kind of question it and say that we weren't. We needed to go down there and score a touchdown, and we didn't score a touchdown. I did ask about maybe going for it on fourth down there rather than kicking the field goal, but it's what we decided to do. We can't really question that. We have to look ahead."
DAVID REED REVISITED: David Reed got hurt covering a kickoff on a play he labeled as a cheap shot.
What was unusual about the play was where the undersized wide receiver was positioned: next to kicker Billy Cundiff.
That's usually where much larger special-teams contributors line up.
Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, though, said that's not how he views what happened to Reed.
"That's not necessarily the case," Rosburg said. "He got trapped, is what happened. He cleared the front line, and the guy trapped him. He didn't see it coming. He got hit from the side, basically, is what happened."
Unlike Reed, Rosburg doesn't see the play as outside the rules.
"Anytime you're on the kickoff cover team, you have to play kickoff coverage," he said. "I told the players in the meeting the next day that, when you're in there running, you have to protect yourself. Last weekend was an example of that. We kind of related it to that fight this last weekend.
"You have to play the whole play, and that was an example of where David just took his eyes off the ball for a second and he got trapped. I don't know if it was cheap or not; I don't think it was. That's just the nature of the business. People are trying to block each other. David cleared the front line, the guy took a shot at him, and they hit him."
Reed led the NFL with a 29.3 kickoff return average last season as a rookie and established a franchise record with a 103-yard kickoff return against the Houston Texans.
He had a 77-yard kickoff return against the Titans.
"It hurts us because he gave us a fine returner, but we have other guys who will now have an opportunity to show us what they can do," Rosburg said. "David got off to a great start. He not only got off to a great start in kick return, but he is a force on special teams.
"He gets down there in kickoff coverage. He was really active as a gunner, and we're going to miss David. The way the NFL works is that someone else is going to go in there and get an opportunity to show what they can do."
The Ravens' other options on kickoff returns beside starting cornerback Lardarius Webb are wide receivers Torrey Smith and LaQuan Williams.
Williams can also return punts.
"‘Webby' is in great shape," Rosburg said. "He did it the first game of the year, and we anticipate using him, however we can use him, throughout the game on defense and on special teams. I don't think that's going to change.. So, he's going in the game the same way he did the first game of the season."
"LaQuan has been working every week all the way through the preseason and all the way through training camp, preseason games. LaQuan is one of our returners. Whether he is going to be the returner this weekend, we'll see."
QUICK HITS: Pro Bowl special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo is appealing his $15,000 fine for a horse-collar tackle on Steelers kick returner Antonio Brown. … Punter Sam Koch shanked a 29-yard punt against the Titans, an uncharacteristic performance. "I don't think it was a bad day," Rosburg said. "It was a bad punt, really. Sam got caught in between yardage and he got caught in between techniques. Right after it happened, he was lamenting the fact that he didn't go with the other technique. The good news is that we learned something from it."
Pagano related a story about how Harbaugh communicated the news of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's five-year, $61 million contract o the coaching staff. "John walked in the room, he wasn't with him, he just walked in the room kind of somber," Pagano said. "We're in the middle of game-planning, so it's kind of nobody's mind was even on that at that time. Obviously, it's been on our mind, but not at that time. He walked in and said, ‘We signed a new defensive tackle.' And we're all looking around like, ‘I wonder who we cut and who we…' And then big Haloti walked in. Obviously, we all went crazy. He deserves everything that he got. Obviously, having him around might keep us all around for another five years."
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