Ravens' Lewis looking to run all over Browns again

OWINGS MILLS -- With his cleats pointed like daggers and his helmet tilted forward like a torpedo, Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis is akin to a human weapon. The Pro Bowl runner's cleat marks have long faded from the Cleveland Browns' defense. However, they still bear scars from his dominant football game earlier this season. "As a kid, my dad always told me, 'Don't let guys hit you; deliver the blow first,'" said Lewis, the NFL rushing leader with 1,747 yards.

"That's my mentality. I like to break people's will and drive them down. That's a beautiful thing to watch them fold." 

Regardless of whether the Browns surrendered before the final gun sounded, Lewis still shattered the NFL single-game mark against the Browns in September with 295 yards on 30 carries. Humiliated that they couldn't stop Lewis, the Browns (4-10) will try today to spoil the Ravens' quest for the AFC North title and Lewis' bid to become the fifth player in league history to gain 2,000 yards. Adding insult to injury, the NFL rushing leader had already predicted a career-best performance in a cellular telephone call days before kickoff with Browns middle linebacker Andra Davis. Davis said he remains friends with Lewis, but has no intentions of being his punching pag and has essentially placed him on his blocked-call list for the week. "We are very determined," Davis said. "We were embarrassed last time with him breaking the record and everything. What is done is done. We have an opportunity to go out there and try to stop him. "It is personal because when he broke the record that is all you were hearing, about how sorry our defense was." 

Against Lewis, the Browns have been somewhat short of sorry. They've been practically pathetic. In five career games against Cleveland, Lewis has averaged 168 yards for 838 yards total for an average of 8.1 yards per carry. In his September outing, he had runs of 82, 23, 48, 63 and 18 yards for 234 yards alone. Davis told Cleveland reporters that whenever Lewis told him and his teammates that he was going to break the rushing record during the game, they would respond, "'You ain't going to get the record on us,'" Davis said. "He was like: 'I just got it.'"

It's little consolation for Cleveland to point out how on Lewis' 25 other carries, he gained 61 yards and averaged 2.4 yards. Every yard counts, and the history books have already made note of Lewis' outing, including the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. "He's a hard runner, but he's just like any other back," Davis said. "If you make contact with him, just bring your feet and get him down. It's all about attitude. I think anybody can be tackled." Except perhaps Lewis when the opponent is the Browns. 

Lewis only needs 253 yards to reach the 2,000-yard barrier. He would need to average 126.5 yards against the Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers to reach the plateau. His physical style definitely has a lot to do with the Ravens' success. "He's the kind of guy where, if you let him get rolling and get his pads down, he can just rip your arms out of your sockets," Bengals middle linebacker Kevin Hardy said. "He's a big guy with power, but he's got some speed, too. When he has momentum and is running downhill, look out." 

Lewis has been through a sprained shoulder, is nursing a sprained wrist and underwent his second major knee surgery two years ago. Now, he's eyeing an outside chance at MVP honors and is a candidate for NFL Offensive Player of the Year. "Obviously, he's one of the premier running backs in the National Football League," Browns coach Butch Davis said. "You are not going to shut them out." Lewis gained 118 yards in the first quarter against the Browns last time, rambling for 100 yards in the fourth quarter. 

Can Lewis duplicate his prior success against Cleveland? "Definitely," said assistant running backs coach Earnest Byner, a former standout runner for the original Browns. "You can really have a psychological effect if you can get started early. They'll be saying, 'Oh, damn, here we go again.' 

With Jamal's style of grind it out, grind it out, especially late in the game, it can have that type of effect on them." With 100-yard performances from Lewis in 10 of 14 contests, the Ravens are 6-4 in those games. It's that type of production that has Baltimore in line for a potential playoff berth and Lewis on the cusp of joining Eric Dickerson (2,105, 1984), Barry Sanders (2,053 yards, 1997), Terrell Davis (2,008 yards, 1998) and O.J. Simpson (2,003 yards, 1973) in an exclusive club. "I think I have a great chance to do it," Lewis said. Except it remains to be seen whether Cleveland can muster enough will, strategy and strength to prevent Lewis from doing whatever he wants one more time. "That was the epitome of what Jamal and our line can do," said Baltimore offensive tackle Ethan Brooks. "We would love to do it again." 

The Browns say they'll be more disciplined today and not attempt as many arm tackles. Strong safety Robert Griffith might still be looking for his hands after attempting to corral Lewis with a weak, two-handed try without any helmet or shoulder contract during the first encounter. "There is more trust in our unit now," Davis said. "We believe in each other."

 Notwithstanding the Browns' belief, they have still given away too many free passes to running backs. Over the last three weeks in losses to Seattle, St. Louis and Denver, Cleveland has allowed running games headlined by Shaun Alexander, Marshall Faulk and Clinton Portis to average 146.6 yards on the ground on 35.6 carries. "It gives us confidence that we've done it to them before with Jamal leading the way," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "We've got to believe that they're going to be embarrassed and try to do everything within their power to stop us." 

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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