Ravens' Catch-22: Keeping J. Lewis happy

OWINGS MILLS -- Midway through the football season, the Baltimore Ravens' complaint department was paid an emphatic visit by a typically understated, high-profile employee.<br><br> Minutes after the Ravens' 27-13 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night where he scored the game-winning touchdown, All-Pro running back Jamal Lewis expressed frustration at not being involved earlier or more extensively in his return from a two-game suspension for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy.

"We've got to stick with what we know best," said Lewis, who carried the football 22 times for 81 yards as Baltimore (5-3) threw the ball nine times in its first 12 offensive plays. "We've got to run the ball a little bit more, set the tempo. I feel kind of held back a little bit. In order to get to that next level, that's what we are going to have to do. I didn't feel rusty, but I wanted my number called a little bit more.

"I went in one time and didn't touch the ball, not one time. It was three passing plays in a row. It's hard to establish the tempo with the offensive line and me to get back in the groove of things without me running it up in there."

The reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year rushed for 34 yards on 12 carries in the first half as quarterback Kyle Boller attempted 24 passes for 14 completions and 103 yards to set up four Matt Stover field goals. Against Cleveland last season, Lewis rushed for 500 yards, including 295 to shatter an NFL single-game rushing mark as he gained a league-high 2,066 yards.

For the Ravens, it's essentially a classic Catch-22.

Do they feed the football constantly to Lewis, their top offensive weapon? Or do they keep trying to create a touch of balance with the last-ranked passing game in the league by allowing Boller to throw more as he did with four consecutive passes to open the contest?

"We tried to have a certain amount of balance to loosen up the pocket a little bit, but we needed to run the ball better and probably more," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who had Boller throw 24 of the team's first 40 offensive plays. "I don't think it was a gripe. Jamal and I have talked. Obviously, every back wants the ball a lot. He wanted to have a bigger night, make more of an impact, and probably needed more balls to get into the rhythm.

"In terms of the agenda some of you all want to put forward in that he's questioned the coaches and play-calling and all that, that's not the case. It's the frustration of, 'I want to make an impact. I want the ball more.'"

The Ravens are 21-5, including the playoffs, when Lewis rushes for 100 yards or more. He has a franchise-record 26 100-yard games.

Lewis' 2-yard touchdown run came on the team's third run in a row after a 7-yard punt by Cleveland's Derrick Frost.

"Jamal came back with fire," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "If a guy like that wants the football, give it to him."

Lewis gained a total of 138 yards this season against Cleveland, carrying it a total of 42 times in comparison to the 52 he hefted last season against the Browns. "I feel like I'm one of, if not the, best running back in the league," Lewis said. "Out of all the backs in the league that is ranked where I'm at, they touch the ball 25, 30 times a game. I'd like to be called upon because I feel like I can make things happen. When we're weak in the passing game and weak anywhere else, I feel like I can run the football."

The Ravens are only averaging 123.8 passing yards per game, 5.62 per attempt. The running game ranks eighth in the NFL and is averaging 133.6 yards.
"You have to go to the coaches eventually just to let them know," Lewis said. "I always try to put a bug in their ear, saying: 'Let me get the ball. You tell me during the week you want to run the football, then you get in the game and things are a little different.'"

Billick said he agreed with his burly, 245-pound runner's basic points. Lewis leads the Ravens with 575 yards and five touchdowns on 127 carries.
"I feel comfortable with what he said and the demeanor of what he was trying to say," Billick said. "He needs to carry the ball more. Anytime he doesn't have the ball 25 times, probably it's something we've got to go back and check."

Over the last two games, Baltimore has attempted a total of 62 passes with Boller throwing for 223 and 142 yards with only one interception.

"Two weeks ago, you guys were shoving it down my throat for not throwing the ball more," Billick said. "You guys are tough to please. I imagine if Jamal carries the ball 45 times and we win the game and Kyle's back to throwing it 18 times, [you're] going to have to write about why aren't we throwing the ball more and how come you're not respecting the outside receivers?"

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

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