"Just like Rudy from the movie, he's got a big heart," Ravens defensive
coordinator Mike Nolan said. "He's a guy I really respect and admire because of
the way he plays.
"He plays hard. I really like the guy. He's a talented back. He runs very hard."
In Sunday's game against the Bengals (5-6) at M&T Bank Stadium, stopping Johnson is a major concern for Baltimore. He rushed for a career-high 202 yards last week in a 58-48 win over the Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens (7-4) consider Johnson to be approaching a class with the other elite runners they've faced off against this season, including the Kansas City Chiefs' Priest Holmes, the New York Jets' Curtis Martin and the New England Patriots' Corey Dillon.
Johnson replaced the disgruntled Dillon this season and has rushed for 1,049 yards on 248 carries. He ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing and is on pace to gain 1,529 yards, which would eclipse Dillon's team record of 1,435 yards in 2000.
"He has the power of a Curtis Martin, he's similar to a Corey Dillon but not as powerful," cornerback Chris McAlister said. "He's more of a slasher. He has tremendous talent."
At 5-foot-10, 220 pounds, the former Auburn star is essentially a classic downhill runner who relies on his power and body lean. He does have some quickness to the hole and a few moves.
Johnson gained 98 yards against Baltimore on 23 carries, including a 19-yard run, in a 23-9 loss Sept. 26 at Paul Brown Stadium.
"He did a good job against us in that first game," said Nolan, whose run defense has slipped to 11th in the league, allowing 100-yard games to Holmes, Martin and Dillon.
Johnson remains fairly unknown and underrated despite his emergence this season after rushing for 957 yards while working in tandem with Dillon a year ago.
"We think he's a fine player like the rest of the people around the league think he's a fine player, " Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's just someone who was unknown until last year. But he has been given opportunities and he makes the most of those opportunities.
"He is a very powerful man. He makes guys miss in the hole and gets stronger as the game goes on."
Johnson is a workhorse in the midst of a contract year with teammates lobbying for him to be retained, a stark contrast to their lukewarm reaction to Dillon's departure after last season. Johnson is playing this season under a one-year $1.8 million tender and they want to keep him in Cincinnati.
Now, he's out of Dillon's unhappy shadow.
"It feels good," Johnson said. "I'm happy, so it kind of worked out for both of us. He's my boy.
"I'm happy to see him doing good. He's happy to see me doing good. He taught me to just play hard, to play tough."
In the Bengals' win last week, Johnson scored two touchdowns and carried the football 26 times.
Johnson has provided intensity and toughness to the Bengals' running game, complementing the developing aerial connection between quarterback Carson Palmer and Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson.
The Ravens rank second in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per carry (3.5).
"We like a running back that comes downhill, we're best at that so do it like that if you can," inside linebacker Ed Hartwell said. "He's been having a great season, but we've been having a great season against the run.
"I respect anybody, but they've got to respect us, too. We're going to hit you hard every time no matter who you are."
A North-South runner who thrives on collisions, Johnson and the Ravens are readying themselves for a few train wrecks.
"We'll have our hands full trying to contain Rudi Johnson," defensive end Marques Douglas said, "but Cincinnati will see our 'A' game on Sunday."
NOTE: McAlister will start against the Bengals with no restrictions after being limited to third downs last week after a shoulder stinger. He's listed as questionable, but has practiced all week.
"There's no limitations," McAlister said. "I'm full-throttle."
Aaron Wilson is the chief writer for RavensInsider.Com He is also the Ravens' reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
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