Ravens attempting to avoid the Bengals' trap

OWINGS MILLS - Besides walking the gauntlet of another road game against a refreshed football team, the Baltimore Ravens will have to hurdle multiple obstacles to avoid a costly stumble.

With their Super Bowl defensive guru on the opposite sideline, the AFC North leaders are set to encounter more than Marvin Lewis' improving Cincinnati Bengals today at Paul Brown Stadium. There's also the shadow cast by Lewis' familiarity as Baltimore (3-2) seeks to regain its once-dominant defensive form to maintain its half-game edge over the Cleveland Browns.

Plus, the Ravens will combat the temptation to perceive the Bengals (1-4) as pushovers. Baltimore has won nine of the last 10 meetings.

It's a mouse-trap game, requiring focus to escape Ohio with the cheddar of a victory and a pronounced advantage in the division race. "We control our destiny right now," said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who will be stalking Pro Bowl runner Corey Dillon today. "We are sitting at 3-2 and if we can go ahead and take care of the next two to three weeks, it'll be big for us. We know that. "It's not like we are taking Cincinnati lightly. We don't really have the leisure to not take an NFL team serious. It's about us dictating and playing our type of football."

The Ravens' type of football represents a civilized form of brutality. They simply pound defenses into submission with NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis.

Lewis has 742 yards with four 100-yard games in a row. Consequently, he is contending with a double-stacked line of scrimmage. He has never rushed for less than 100 yards in four games against the Bengals, who are 22nd against the run.

Lewis and Co. ramble behind hefty blockers headlined by All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden to produce nearly 200 rushing yards a game. "Like Tom Osborne used to say, 'You know we are going to run the option, but you have to stop it,'" said Lewis, referring to the former Nebraska Cornhuskers coach. "You know that we're going to run the football. You know what plays we run, either to the outside or the middle. You just have to stop it."

Yet for all of the ground gains, the Ravens are in the midst of a mini internal crisis with Jamal Lewis and Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap expressing frustration about the lack of balance offensively. The passing game is a mere afterthought. It ranks last in the NFL behind rookie quarterback Kyle Boller, generating 97.2 yards per contest.

"If you look at the teams leading their division right now, they're running the football well and they're defending the run very well," Marvin Lewis said.

Still, Boller threw only 18 passes last game, with nine completions for 75 yards and no interceptions. He has a league-low 48.9 quarterback rating and hasn't thrown a touchdown since the San Diego game.

The debate about what can be done to fix the problem has dominated conversation in the region and at the Ravens' training complex. "I don't know if it's frustrating because we are winning," Boller said.

The receiving corps hasn't resembled a solution to the problem as Travis Taylor and Frank Sanders keep dropping passes. "You really can't make any excuses," said Heap, who caught one pass for two yards as the Cardinals double-teamed him. "You can see there are a lot of things we can do better."

The situation hasn't degenerated into blatant finger-pointing. The defense has yet to criticize the offense publicly. That's something Baltimore coach Brian Billick steered his team clear of in the Super Bowl season as a dominant defense, top-flight rushing attack and kicker Matt Stover put in the majority of the work

"You fight through those frustrations," Billick said.

Meanwhile, Dillon is listed as probable with a groin injury, but has had a few weeks to recuperate.

It was Dillon's single-game NFL rushing mark of 278 yards that Lewis surpassed earlier this season with 295 yards.

This marks the first meeting between the top two single-game rushers since Walter Payton (275 yards) and O.J. Simpson (273 yards) faced off Oct. 28, 1978.

Dillon got so frustrated by the Ravens defense three years ago that he refused to reenter a 37-0 loss in Baltimore. Bruce Coslet resigned as coach the next day. "I do remember that," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "We played great team defense that day. Hopefully, this Sunday we'll play defense like that as well and keep him down."

NOTES: Lewis needs only 67 yards to reach 3,500 career rushing yards. Matt Stover is three short of his 300th career field goal. And wide receiver Frank Sanders needs three catches to reach the 500-catch milestone.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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