Jamal Lewis primed for another big game

OWINGS MILLS - Barring an elaborate smoke screen, the Baltimore Ravens' offensive approach contains virtually no pretense. Ravens coach Brian Billick is unequivocal in his belief that bruising running back Jamal Lewis must be a vital part of the game plan for Baltimore to be competitive.

Expect that philosophy to be reflected in Sunday's home opener against the Cleveland Browns with Lewis involved heavily against a football team he traditionally steamrolls.

After Lewis carried it 15 times for 69 yards and a touchdown in a 34-15 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Billick made it a point of emphasis that any game when Lewis' contribution is limited to that low an amount of attempts is a probable loss.

The Ravens (0-1) don't consider it a mere coincidence that they sport a 17-2 record when Lewis carries it 20 or more times.

Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh will seek to press that advantage with calls built around one primary intention: pounding the football with the 240-pound Lewis behind a group of behemoth blockers. "Jamal is our key," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That's no secret from when Jamal first came in our Super Bowl year until now. We thrive off of him and he thrives off of us."

In particular, Lewis has excelled against the Browns (0-1). Lewis has 543 career yards for a six-yard average against the Browns, tying a career-high of 187 yards in a win last October in Cleveland. In four games against the Browns, Lewis has never rushed for less than 100 yards. "We've had some good games against the Browns," Lewis said. "We establish the run against them. The linemen, they establish a good tempo from the line of scrimmage and we kind of dominate up front."

Lewis had nine carries for 27 yards by intermission last week with Baltimore trailing the Steelers 13-0. Once the Steelers pressed their lead to 20-0 in the third quarter, the Ravens practically abandoned the run. That's unlikely to happen this week unless Baltimore falls behind again.

Rookie quarterback Kyle Boller did an admirable job of eluding the Steelers' pass rushers. Yet, the operative plan isn't to have Boller launching 43 passes no matter how high-percentage the throws are. It's just not the most reliable option for Baltimore to choose.

Browns coach Butch Davis is aware that Lewis is heading straight for his defense. "He's always a huge factor," Davis said. "He is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He's clearly in the top echelon of all the running backs in this league because he's got speed, he's got power, he can break tackles and he catches the ball out of the backfield. He's a legitimate threat."

Lewis is confident in the ability of All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden (6-foot-9, 340 pounds), left guard Edwin Mulitalo (6-3, 345), center Mike Flynn (6-3, 300), right guard Bennie Anderson (6-5, 345) and right tackles Orlando Brown (6-7, 360) and Ethan Brooks (6-6, 310). These are the heaviest blockers in the league, averaging 329.5 pounds.

Lewis isn't literally licking his chops at the prospect of playing against a trio of second-year linebackers. He's definitely pleased, though.

Youngsters Kevin Bentley, Andra Davis and Ben Taylor replaced veterans Darren Hambrick, Earl Holmes and Dwayne Rudd. Lewis, 23, is actually a year or two younger than the Browns' linebackers.

"I'm not going to say they look confused, but they're new," said Lewis, who rushed for 1,327 yards last year. "We'll take advantage of that." The specter of one of these football teams dropping to 0-2 overall looms over this game. Lewis offered an opinion on what will happen Sunday.

"It won't be us," he said. "We'll go out this week and get things established and hit it running against Cleveland."

NOTE: The Ravens reported no changes to their injury report, although cornerback Corey Fuller (strained quadriceps) returned to practice. He's listed as questionable along with cornerback Alvin Porter (groin) and wide receiver Frank Sanders (toes).

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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