Ravens' running game looking to pound Steelers

OWINGS MILLS -- The clock kept ticking as the Baltimore Ravens' running backs and blockers collided with the Pittsburgh Steelers' now heralded defense.<br><br> It was September, and Baltimore unmercifully wore out the Steelers with a primal approach.

By the time the Ravens had manufactured a 30-13 victory in the second week of the NFL season, they had piled up 172 rushing yards on 41 carries. The showing included a 90-yard opening drive on 11 plays that lasted 6:02 and was capped by Jamal Lewis' short touchdown run.

Twelve weeks later, the Steelers (13-1) have won a dozen games in a row and feature the top-ranked defense overall and rushing defense in the league.
Can Baltimore (8-6) duplicate that bruising statement Sunday at Heinz Field?
"If things pan out the way the last game played out and we control the line of scrimmage and the line blocks the way we know how, then I think that's possible," said Lewis, who rumbled for 130 yards on 20 carries in last week's 20-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. "No. 1 rush defense, No. 32, it doesn't make a difference. That's just a number.

"They're a pretty good defense. I don't think they're any different from what we saw last year. They're the same guys, the same personnel. If we do our job and control the line of scrimmage, we'll be all right."

Under new defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, however, the Steelers aren't playing the same as last year's edition or the subpar way they did Sept. 19 in Baltimore.
They're allowed a mere 80.9 rushing yards per contest, the lowest in the league. Last year, they allowed 108.8 rushing yards per game.

They've surrendered just five rushing touchdowns, and 3.6 yards per carry. Last season, they gave up 14 rushing touchdowns.

"Very physical, aggressive, passionate defense," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
The Steelers punctuate their fierce 3-4 defensive alignment by blitzing 35 to 40 percent of the time, according to Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.
They populate their unit with athletic, hard-nosed personnel, including pugilistic outside linebacker Joey Porter, swift inside linebacker James Farrior, defensive end Aaron Smith and strong safety Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu often acts as an extra, striking presence in the box, making up for prolonged absences for injured linebackers Kendrell Bell and Clark Haggans.
"Their front guys are bullies," quarterback Kyle Boller said.

That word has also been used to accurately describe the Ravens' blockers and Lewis, who has been aided by Chester Taylor's darting ability in reserve.

The Ravens' offensive line is the second heaviest in the AFC. And the 5-foot-11, 245-pound Lewis has earned the "nightmare train" description given to him by New York Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, the former Ravens secondary coach.

Baltimore is averaging 128.7 rushing yards per game, ninth-best in the league.
Despite missing four games due to a suspension and a sprained ankle, Lewis is now up to 813 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Taylor has gained 696 yards in relief.
"Jamal is so strong," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "Not only is he strong and fast, but he's got great feet. He's got great patience as a runner. When you talk about size, speed, balance, quickness, this guy is at the top of the list."
Pittsburgh has allowed only 65 rushing first downs, the lowest total in the NFL.
Farrior leads Pittsburgh with 108 tackles, has forced five fumbles and recovered three. He has also recorded four interceptions and four sacks.

LeBeau emphasizes an attacking approach, and his players are adept at shedding blocks and executing form tackles.

"They have minimal mistakes," Baltimore left guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "Their defense hasn't changed since I've been here, and when you keep a system the guys evolve into that type of defense.

"They run a very well-coached, disciplined team. You watch film and they play a textbook kind of game. The only way we can combat that is with our physicality."
The Ravens are 17-6 when Lewis scores at least one touchdown. They're 7-0 when an individual runner carries the football 30 times or more under Billick. And they're 21-6, including the playoffs, when Lewis rushes for 100 or more yards.

Could that last encounter with Pittsburgh be a blueprint for how to win a pivotal game with hefty implications for the Ravens' wild-card outlook?

"You keep pounding and pounding," Mulitalo said, "until someone's will breaks."

 


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