Ravens to mount an offense in J. Lewis' absense

OWINGS MILLS -- Stuck in neutral and bereft of its powerhouse runner, the Baltimore Ravens' offense is flipping switches and hoping for a spark. <br><br> A stagnant offense that's extremely reliant on Jamal Lewis' brawn and speed will begin adjusting to life without the Pro Bowl runner during his two-game suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy beginning Sunday for Baltimore (3-2) against the Buffalo Bills (1-4) at M&T Bank Stadium.

Shifty running back Chester Taylor is on deck as the top alternative to Lewis for a 30th-ranked offense that hasn't scored a touchdown since the fourth quarter of a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Without Lewis' bruising style and breakaway capacity, it subtracts the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year and 494 rushing yards from the Ravens' 1,332 yards of total offense.

Because of Lewis' league-mandated absence for pleading guilty to using a cellular phone to facilitate a drug transaction, a greater burden will be placed on Taylor and struggling second-year quarterback Kyle Boller. The NFL's last-ranked passing game won't have Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap again because of an ankle injury, so the onus remains on the running game to produce.

"A lot of people are saying, 'Jamal isn't here, what are we going to do?'" said Taylor, who has rushed for 164 yards on 28 carries this season with career totals of 562 yards and two touchdowns since being drafted in the sixth round three seasons ago out of Toledo. "I know what I can do. It's pretty exciting for me.

"This is a dream come true, going out there and knowing I'm starting in the NFL. No, I'm not nervous."

The Ravens have expressed faith in Taylor, a runner much smaller in stature at 5-foot-11 and 213 pounds to Lewis' 245 pounds, because of his toughness, quickness and vision.
Against the Bills' stingy, fifth-ranked rushing defense, Taylor will need all of those attributes.

The Bills are led by bulky defensive tackles Sam Adams, the grumpy former Raven from the Super Bowl XXXV team, and Pat Williams along with swift linebackers Takeo Spikes and London Fletcher.

Taylor will likely be relieved for a few series by bulky former third-round draft pick Musa Smith, who hasn't carried the ball this season.

All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden endorsed Taylor, one of the team's most soft-spoken, unassuming players whose adjustment to starting began earlier this week with a gaggle of reporters waiting for him at his locker.

"Chester is a quiet guy, he runs hard and is passionate about the game," Ogden said. "He's looking forward to showing everyone what he can do with the ball in his hands.

"Jamal does a lot of things and breaks a lot of tackles.I like to think that we help him get past the line of scrimmage. If we can get Chester and Musa through, hopefully they can do the same things."
The major unknown about Taylor is his durability.
The native of River Rouge, Mich., has never carried the football more than 10 times since his senior year when he produced 1,492 yards and 20 touchdowns.

"The only question with Chester is the extended play -- that 20th, 25th or 30th carry," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That is the one thing that he hasn't done for us. He needs to step it up.

"That is one thing, even in preseason, that I don't know what the max carry rate was for Chester. We are going to go beyond there, so the fatigue factor is something that we need take into account."

Twenty days since its last offensive touchdown, the Ravens still need productivity out of a passing game that is averaging 116.4 yards per contest against a Buffalo defense that allows opponents to score touchdowns on just 28.6 percent of their red-zone possessions.

Boller has compiled a 61.3 passer rating, 41.9 in the fourth quarter. He's thrown nine career touchdown passes, one every 37 attempts. Last year's first-round draft pick from Cal has drawn increased criticism while Pittsburgh Steelers rookie passer Ben Roethlisberger has led his team to first place in the AFC North.

"I always try and tell Kyle there is only one group of people you have to impress and that is the people in this locker room," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "And you don't have to impress us, all you have to do is go out and be Kyle. We've heard this scrutiny before, and I try to give him a quick story about Trent Dilfer.

"Trent went through the same thing. Tony Banks went through the same thing. But you have to stay the course and understand a quarterback won't win or lose a game for you, a team will."
Lewis, a 2,066-yard rusher last season, has scored four of the Ravens' seven offensive touchdowns. The defense and special teams accounts for the other four scores with returns.

The Ravens are 21-5 when Lewis rushes for more than 100 yards.
Can the formula remain the same with the tandem of Taylor and Smith? Or will Baltimore resort to chucking it deep to Travis Taylor, who returns today from a groin pull that kept him out for four games?

Boller has thrown five interceptions, and is coming off a three-interception outing in a 17-10 win over the Washington Redskins. His confidence, and the offense in general, needs to start the ignition and join the race.

"Jamal is not going to be here, so guys are going to need to step up and I'm one of those guys," Boller said. "We have our work cut out for us."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and ravensinsider.com


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