Lewis primed to bulldoze Browns again

OWINGS MILLS – Jamal Lewis left cleat marks and a trail of dust all over the Cleveland Browns' meek defense last year.<br><br> The reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year's record-setting performances changed his status as a running back, but not his aggressive approach. <br><br> Now, the Ravens' offensive centerpiece is set for another encounter with the football team he humiliated twice last year as Baltimore opens the season Sunday in Cleveland.

"I know I'm the target when we play the Browns," said Lewis, who predicted a career day in a phone call to Browns middle linebacker Andra Davis before a Sept. 14 game when he shattered the NFL single-game rushing mark with 295 yards.

Lewis gained 500 yards on 52 carries last season against Cleveland, accounting for roughly a fourth of his league-high 2,066 yards. He rushed for 205 yards in a Dec. 21 rematch in Cleveland.

Afterward, with the deadpan expression the Pro Bowl runner typically sports, Lewis said that he broke the Browns' will.

That's no overstatement, especially considering how Browns safeties Earl Little and Robert Griffith dove out of harm's way along with the entire defense's shoddy arm-tackle attempts last season.

"With Jamal getting that record, I remember feeling their will break down," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "Obviously, pounding them and the type of physical way that we play, that's what we've got to try to bring back.

"Obviously, they've got something to prove. We do, too. We want to come in and say, ‘Nothing has changed.'"

Not only did Lewis bulldoze and demoralize the Browns, he also sprinted away from them with a series of cutback runs. He posted gains of 82, 72, 63, 48, 45 and 23 yards, often starting up the middle and bouncing left behind the blocks of Mulitalo and All-Pro tackle Jonathan Ogden.

"It was embarrassing for those guys and I know how hard they worked to try to get him down, but it just didn't happen," said Ravens receiver Kevin Johnson, who was with Cleveland last September. "They can't afford to leave Cover 2, because he will run for 400 yards."

The Ravens are banking on second-year quarterback Kyle Boller exploiting single coverage outside.

And Browns coach Butch Davis is stressing fundamentals and decreased gambling.

Regardless, it's still tough to account for Lewis' rare blend of size at 5-foot-11, 245 pounds and breakaway speed.

"The No. 1 thing that the defense must do is play with great intensity and be very disciplined," Davis said. "We learned our lesson last year. If guys are in too big of a hurry to get in on a tackle and don't take care of cutback or support responsibilities, he is such a talented running back that he will find those gaps."

Not much has changed about either team since last season with Cleveland only adding one new defensive starter in linebacker Warrick Holdman.

Which suits the Ravens just fine.

"Obviously, that's the mindset because this has happened before," Mulitalo said. "They're going to try to do something. I don't know what they can do. We're not going to change much. We're not going to come out with the Statue of Liberty play."

Mentally, Lewis said his focus is solely on the Browns.

The burly runner said he separates football from his Nov. 1 trial on federal drug conspiracy charges in Atlanta.

"That's off the field, and that's going to take care of itself," Lewis said. "Right now, I have a job I need to do. This is where it's at. This is my family and they support me with everything that's going on and this is what I love to do."

It's not hard to predict the Ravens' primary option. Just look at last year's final offensive rankings: first in rushing, last in passing.

Lewis averaged 9.6 yards a carry against the Browns last season.

"I don't think that Cleveland is a slouch or that we're just going to go out there and dominate them against the run," Lewis said.

History suggests otherwise, though.

In Lewis' six games against Cleveland, he has rushed for 1,043 yards on 142 carries for a 7.3 yard average and six touchdowns.

"I'm not going to say every day is supposed to be a 200–yard day or a 150-yard day, but as long as we put our hats in the right place and do the right things we should be able to run the football," Lewis said. "It's who's going to be more physical and control the line of scrimmage."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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