Ravens looking to avoid 0-2 hole

OWINGS MILLS -- Traditionally, the Baltimore Ravens' rivalry with the Tennessee Titans has been defined by high stakes, harsh words and brutal collisions. As the winless football teams resume a feud today at The Coliseum that hearkens back to the Ravens' end run to a Super Bowl trophy five years ago, both have the relatively modest goal of recovering from disastrous season debuts.

"Every time we play them, something seems to be on the line and there's something on the line right now," said Ravens coach Brian Billick regarding a series where 10 points is the total margin of victory for the past three games. "We both want that nasty, foul taste out of our mouths from last Sunday. Albeit early in the season, there's a lot riding on it right now. It's just another chapter in the history that we have with the Titans."

To escape a potential 0-2 ravine after last week's debacle against the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens' method is likely to center on former Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis' smash-mouth style.

A rebuilding Titans team ravaged by the salary cap is especially porous against the run. In a 34-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they allowed 206 rushing yards, including 161 from third-string back Willie Parker.

Now that Lewis is poised for an increased workload after rushing for 48 yards on 16 carries last week when he expressed frustration at what he termed a finesse approach, this doesn't appear to be the time for subtlety.

"Just let the horse run," said Lewis, the 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. "Let me go."

That's exactly what Billick seems poised to do as he indicated Friday that the limits on Lewis' carries have been removed.

After an offseason spent rehabbing his surgically repaired right ankle and dealing with legal turmoil, Lewis seems to be on the verge of his full capabilities. During a 25-yard run last week, though, his legs seemed to betray him a bit.

"Ozzie Newsome was teasing me saying I tightened up a little bit, but he'll see the big boy go this weekend," Lewis said.

The Titans led the NFL in run defense in 2003. Dating back to the second week of last season, however, they have allowed 100-yard rushing performances to eight running backs and are 1-7 in those games.

Baltimore is 20-6 when Lewis rushes for 100 yards and undefeated in its last seven games when he carries the football 20 or more times. The Ravens abandoned the run after falling behind 3-0 last week when Lewis carried the ball only once on the 13 plays after halftime.

"If I were Jamal and I saw that film of us playing Pittsburgh, I'm sure he thinks this is going to be a breakout week for him,'' said Titans All-Pro linebacker Keith Bulluck, who helped bottle Lewis up for 35 yards in a playoff win two seasons ago. "I think we'll bounce back and start attacking the ball again. I expect to see five hats on the ball, tackling him physically and ferociously.''

Meanwhile, the Ravens are entrusting the passing game to Anthony Wright. With Kyle Boller out with a hyperextended right toe, Wright makes his first start since that AFC wild-card loss to the Titans in January of 2004.

For Wright, this is another chance to prove he's more than a career journeyman who went undrafted out of South Carolina.

"Being a young African-American quarterback, his whole life he has been told, ‘No, you can't do it at this level,' and he does it," Billick said. "Growing up with that mentality has given Anthony the confidence and resolve that says, ‘You know what? I'll determine what I can and can't do.' He has had a lifetime of that and has overcome it in every instance."

Wright is essentially auditioning for Boller's job, particularly if it takes the 2003 first-round draft pick longer than two to three weeks to recover.

"I have to hold myself back because as a quarterback you can't allow your emotions to overtake you," said Wright, who committed three turnovers and threw one touchdown pass last week after relieving Boller. "Through the storm or if we're out there doing well, we can always stay on the same level and make sure we get the job done."

In perhaps a nod to Wright's ability and a dig at Boller, the Titans aren't glad to see Wright under center.

"I'd rather play against Kyle Boller than Anthony Wright," Bulluck said. "Anthony Wright seems to be a better decision-maker and seems to know what to do with the ball."

One week after a humbling loss to the Colts, the Ravens will either regain their footing or face the dismal prospect of an 0-2 start for the first time since 2002 when they didn't make the playoffs.

"We definitely need to have this game," nickel back Deion Sanders said. "It's very important and very pivotal to seize. This is a must-win situation."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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