This Sunday's game for Baltimore (4-3) against the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) at M&T Bank Stadium represents a rare encounter with a football team that's well-equipped to put up a stop sign in front of most running backs. Something will have to give as Lewis and the heaviest offensive line in the NFL attempt to bully another opponent. The Jaguars features ideally-sized defensive tackles in former first-round draft picks Marcus Stroud and John Henderson and rank sixth in rushing defense and second in rushing yards per attempt.
"We'll be all right," said Lewis, who has rushed for 977 yards and is ahead of pace to break Eric Dickerson's single-season mark of 2,105 yards set with the Los Angeles Rams in 1984. "We have some big guys up front and what we do in the running game they haven't seen. "We'll be able to push them out of the hole. The most physical team at the line of scrimmage will dominate. We need to do that to win."
With the major exception of a fourth-quarter drive in last week's 30-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars have been stalwart against the run. Jacksonville (1-6) is surrendering just 91.6 yards a game and 3.2 yards per attempt. However, Titans running back Eddie George carried the football 13 times in 17 plays to set up a field goal in the fourth quarter. The drive lasted 11:14, infuriating Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio. "I won't stand for it," the former Ravens linebackers coach said. "I'll identify the guys that are not getting it done and find guys who can because that's embarrassing."
George's 88 yards on 27 carries marked a season-high for an opposing runner against the Jaguars. The Titans controlled the clock for 39:14. Jacksonville had already limited or shut down the Buffalo Bills' Travis Henry (21-26-1.2), the Indianapolis Colts' Edgerrin James (27-76-2.8), the San Diego Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson (10-38-3.8) and the Miami Dolphins' Ricky Williams (19-75-3.9). "They are an excellent defense against the run," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Obviously, those strengths match up."
Del Rio may have struck the perfect phrase when he referred to Lewis as a runaway freight train. He's pinning his hopes to contain Lewis around the girth of Stroud (6-foot-6, 312 pounds) and Henderson (6-7, 328 pounds). Stroud has 39 tackles, 1.5 sacks, seven tackles for losses and 15 quarterback pressures. Henderson has 33 tackles, 1.5 sacks, six tackles for losses and 12 quarterback pressures. Jacksonville also sports veterans at defensive end in Tony Brackens and Hugh Douglas. "They've got a lot of height," center Mike Flynn said. "They have a lot of speed on the ends to go with the big guys inside. Our main goal is to wear those guys down, make them move left to right, make them run a little bit. We want them to get tired and start arm-tackling."
Swift, undersized middle linebacker Mike Peterson leads the Jaguars with 62 tackles with assistance from safety Donovin Darius, an enforcer who likes to play close to the line of scrimmage. "Any little thing that we can do to slow down Jamal will be great," Del Rio said. "Our two big tackles are doing a nice job for us, and they continue to get better. We are going to need big days out of them to slow down Jamal."
With 1,068 yards of total offense, Lewis represents 49.3 percent of the Ravens' 2,162 yards. He has touched the football on 42.8 percent (178) of 415 offensive plays.
"He's a rare combination, a big back with speed, power and toughness," said Jaguars vice president of player personnel James Harris, the former Ravens' pro personnel director. "He's an excellent player."
As Lewis alluded to, though, the Jaguars haven't experienced Baltimore's unique brand of smash-mouth football. Between All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden, left guard Edwin Mulitalo, Flynn, right guard Bennie Anderson and right tackle Orlando "Zeus" Brown, the Ravens average 329.5 pounds. Brown and Ogden are the largest blockers at 6-foot-7, 360 pound and 6-foot-9, 340 pounds, respectively. This is the sort of football game Brown relishes: a boxing match with little finesse to speak of. "They have big guys, but they're also big targets," Brown said. "I get paid to knock guys down, and that's what we plan on doing. It's that simple."
Lewis has patiently read blocks and busted through huge seams to average an NFL-best 181.3 rushing yards a game.
The 5-foot-11, 240-pound Lewis is averaging 5.9 carries with six touchdowns and has already set a single-game NFL mark with 295 yards against the Cleveland Browns. He said his sore shoulder feels fine.
Lewis acknowledged that the Jaguars are a capable defense. He doesn't plan on giving them excessive respect, though.
"They play pretty good," Lewis said, "but I don't think it's anything we can't handle."
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.