Ravens' running game in good hands

OWINGS MILLS – Between the tandem of Chester Taylor and Musa Smith, the Baltimore Ravens' running game appears to be in good hands if Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis becomes unavailable at midseason because of his federal drug conspiracy trial.<br><br> During the Ravens' 17-6 victory over the Detroit Lions on Saturday, Taylor sprinted 84 yards for a touchdown and finished with 117 yards and two scores on 10 carries.

"I'm ready," Taylor said. "That's why they drafted me. That's why I'm here, to run the ball. And that's what I try to do."

Smith led the Ravens with four receptions for 77 yards, including an impressive 58-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter.

"We are deep," Smith said. "Our motto is that if one of us goes down, we just can't have any slack in the running game."

Lewis' trial is set for Nov. 1 in Atlanta. Smith and Taylor would likely share the bulk of his workload if the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year is forced to miss time during a trial expected to last two weeks.

"The last two weeks have been very, very good, very solid," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of his backup runners. "We're going to need both of them, no question about it."

DEFENSE ON PACE: The Ravens' defense has allowed one touchdown in three games, limiting the Lions to 239 yards of total offense while forcing three turnovers.

"We're all seeing the same picture, which makes us that much faster," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "The faster we get, we'll be a scarier thing to see."

In last week's 26-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens gave up an 81-yard touchdown catch to Terrell Owens.

"This team has a lot of fight," said linebacker Bart Scott, who led the Ravens with five tackles. "We did really good, fighting back from adversity. To only give up one in three games is something we can hang our hat on."

UP AND DOWN: Quarterback Kyle Boller completed 9 of 14 passes for 93 yards and no interceptions, but didn't throw a touchdown.

Boller also tripped over his blockers once and didn't identify open receivers quickly enough. His bright spots came when he was connecting with flanker Kevin Johnson three times for 40 yards. Again, his protection wasn't top-notch.

"There were good things, bad things," Billick said. "Some things have got to get better. Some things he did very, very well."

The second-year quarterback's self-assessment: "I feel like I've made strides from the first preseason game to now. I can't really give you a letter grade, but I'm continuing to learn and improve and I think I've come a long way."
SAPP SHINES: Reserve safety Gerome Sapp swarmed the football.

The former Notre Dame standout forced receiver Trevor Gaylor to fumble, recovered a fumble caused by linebacker T.J. Slaughter and intercepted Mike McMahon. His last turnover set up Taylor's second touchdown run.

"The ball just came my way," said Sapp, who recorded four tackles. "I'd like to think this performance could show my coaches that they can count on me. This has aided my confidence."

LOOKING FOR MORE INTENSITY: Billick was troubled by mental mistakes that included a score of penalties heading into the final preseason game Thursday at the New York Giants.

Baltimore was penalized 11 times for 75 yards, including Smith running into the punter to negate B.J. Sams' 89-yard punt return for a touchdown.

"The physical intensity was fine, the mental intensity was not good," Billick said. "I get a sense that some of us are waiting for the preseason to be done. I don't like that. I understand it, but I don't like it."

STEWART STRUGGLING: While backup quarterback Kordell Stewart completed 6 of 9 passes for 97 yards, he struggled mightily in the red zone.

Stewart threw an interception into heavy coverage trying to find Ron Johnson. Later, he fumbled away a snap at the Lions' 1 in the fourth quarter.

TRAINING ROOM: Rookie wide receiver Devard Darling aggravated a strained quadriceps during pregame warm-ups. Fullback Ovie Mughelli sprained his medial collateral ligament and injured his left hamstring. Cornerback Javin Hunter strained his left abductor.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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