Ravens confident as they take on Broncos

OWINGS MILLS - It's difficult to dispel those notions about the Baltimore Ravens' stranglehold on the Denver Broncos and their coach with the mastermind reputation. Whenever Ravens coach Brian Billick is on the opposite sideline from Denver coach Mike Shanahan, Baltimore has always won. Three consecutive victories include a playoff win and last year's Monday night upset. All of that history builds additional confidence for the Ravens (3-3) against the Broncos (5-2) Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Baltimore is looking to retain its half-game lead in the AFC North over the Cleveland Browns by establishing NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis while attempting to contain elusive Broncos running back Clinton Portis. An impending collision between the Ravens' top-ranked rushing offense and the Broncos' No. 3 overall running game looms as Denver deals with a quarterback crisis created by injuries and illness.

"I don't care if it's Clinton Portis or nobody," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "It's something called house rules. We don't believe in giving up 100 yards to backs. If they want to give it to him 25, 30 times, we'll find out if Clinton Portis is as good as people say he is."

The Broncos already had a hospital ward instead of a well-stocked quarterback depth chart because injuries to starter Jake Plummer and veteran backup Steve Beuerlein. Now, former third-stringer Danny Kanell's extreme case of the flu has rendered his status unclear. He missed Friday's practice because of vomiting and other symptoms.

It was bad enough that Denver was down to Kanell, who had been out of the league for two years while playing in the Arena Football League and minor league baseball.

If Jarious Jackson is forced into action it would mean the Broncos playing their fourth-string passer who was cut months ago and had been practicing by himself at a park near the Broncos' training complex before being re-signed this week. Yes, Jackson has a cold, too. Receiver Rod Smith is the emergency quarterback.

Plus, receiver Ed McCaffrey and left tackle Ephraim Salaam are out with injuries. Kanell is still listed as probable.

"You've got to make Kanell beat you," Ravens safety Ed Reed said. "He's the quarterback that hasn't been starting and hasn't been playing."

The Ravens have their own issues and goals. Namely, to keep rookie quarterback Kyle Boller and Jamal Lewis healthy and productive as they play through sprained shoulders.

Plus, Baltimore wants to cut down on the turnovers, penalties and defensive breakdowns that led to last week's 34-26 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Raising the Ravens' level of play also involves containing a former ally: loquacious Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe. Besides Sharpe's 29 receptions and four touchdowns, he's also known for getting in opponents' heads with his non-stop chatter.

"When Shannon starts talking that's when Shannon usually is dominating," said Ray Lewis, a close friend of Sharpe's. "We have to make sure he doesn't get started."

The secondary also has to account for Smith and the speed of Ashley Lelie downfield a week after allowing Jon Kitna to pass for 274 yards and three touchdowns. Offensively, Jamal Lewis represents 48.3 percent of the Ravens' output with 906 total yards. Lewis' 843 rushing yards leads the NFL as he goes for his sixth consecutive 100-yard game.

He needs 157 yards to become the fourth player in league history to reach 1,000 yards in the first seven games of the season to join luminaries that include Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson.

"Both teams are just going to try to work within their game plan and work to their strengths, the running game," offensive guard Bennie Anderson said. "It should make for a quick game."

Last year, Portis said Ray Lewis "ain't nothing spectacular."

Portis said he intended his remarks to focus on the fact that Lewis needed to be blocked and that any game plan had to focus on him.

Of course, Lewis took it personally. Lewis generated a season-high 20 tackles in the Ravens' 34-23 win that included his vicious block of linebacker Keith Burns on Chris McAlister's 107-yard return of a missed field goal for the longest play in NFL history. Portis was held to 55 yards on eight carries.

The NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year rushed for 1,508 yards and has 18 touchdowns in his last 16 games with 596 yards entering today's game.

"They're aggressive and they try and hit you in the mouth," Portis said. "The only thing you can do is them in the mouth. You don't sit back and take the licks. You've got to be aggressive, too. "Ray Lewis is a great player, but I'm not going to run away from him."

Baltimore allows only 3.5 yards per rush, ranking 10th against the run at 93 yards a game. Only San Diego Chargers runner LaDainian Tomlinson has gained 100 yards against Baltimore.

Lewis leads the Ravens with 88 tackles, a 14.6 average per game. He hasn't forgotten Portis' remark.

"It's like with your children, they're young and they will understand later on," Lewis said. "Clinton is a great athlete, a great person. Sometimes you get caught up in the emotions. He didn't know what he was dealing with until he got to Baltimore. Hopefully, he learned."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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