Ravens' running game halted

OWINGS MILLS -- During the oft-maligned Matt Cavanaugh era, the Baltimore Ravens at least could always fall back on the benchmark of having a powerful running game. In the midst of a 0-2 crisis, running the football hasn't been a sure-fire option for new offensive coordinator Jim Fassel as the Ravens registered a franchise-low 14 rushing yards and didn't produce a single first down on the ground in a 25-10 loss Sunday to the Tennessee Titans.

Former Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis gained only nine yards on 10 carries for an 0.9 average. Only three of his carries didn't go for lost yardage. It was the third-lowest total of his career and represents the only time the 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year has failed to gain double-digit yards when he has received double-digit attempts.

"My biggest disappointment: our lack of ability to run the ball and critical mistakes on both sides of the ball," Ravens coach Brian Billick said Monday. "If we're going to win, we're going to have to run the ball more. Therefore, we'll have to be in games that are more controllable that we don't put ourselves in a position where we have to throw to catch up."

It was reminiscent of the Ravens' AFC wild-card loss to Tennessee two seasons ago where Lewis was bottled up for 35 rushing yards on 14 carries despite having gained 2,066 yards during the regular season.

Once Lewis tallied only 12 yards by halftime -- 13 on one run -- and Baltimore trailed 13-0, he only carried the ball three more times as the Ravens tried to pass their way back into the contest.

"The game against Tennessee reminded me of the playoff game where we were bound and determined to run the ball and they were bound and determined not to let us run the ball," Billick said. "After about two quarters, we said, ‘Forget it, this isn't going to happen. They just have too many assets.'"

The Ravens ran into a destructive brick wall named Albert Haynesworth, a defensive tackle who repeatedly plowed offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo and center Mike Flynn into the backfield. That often left All-Pro linebacker Keith Bulluck and Co. untouched to hammer Lewis.

The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Haynesworth's combination of strength and explosiveness was simply overwhelming. His penetration also contributed to the Ravens allowing six sacks, and Baltimore has already surrendered nine this season.

"Sometimes, a guy just got his butt whipped," Billick said. "Those are the tougher ones, because how do I help that an athlete that just got run over unless something technique-wise can help prevent that from happening next time?"

One potential difference-maker to boost the running game could be the pending return of fullback Alan Ricard, Lewis' lead blocker for the past two seasons who was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2003. Ricard was inactive for the first two games after missing the entire preseason with a calf injury, but is expected to be available Oct. 2 against the New York Jets following the team's bye.

Although he has been medically cleared to play and isn't listed on the injury report, Ricard is still icing his calf down after practice. If Ricard is truly back, Billick indicated that the team could return to its traditional I-formation plays that Lewis is most comfortable running.

"Alan has not been healthy, in my opinion," Billick said. "Alan just now with this bye week ought to be fully healthy. I don't think Alan, particularly at a position where you have to be physical, I mean that has to be a hammer, was prepared to do that these last few weeks given his injury. I think he's ready to go now."

Lewis has only 57 rushing yards on 26 carries, an average of 2.2 yards, with 25 of his yards coming on one carry in a season-opening loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Baltimore has created a new form of offensive imbalance with 95 passes for 567 yards and only 34 runs for 91 yards.

Lewis' offseason and training camp were limited severely as he underwent surgery on his right ankle in February before serving four months in a federal prison for a drug crime and two months in a halfway house. Is that a major factor in the running back's slow start?

"I think it's a little bit of everything," said Billick, adding that he now thinks the 5-foot-11, 240-pounder can handle 25 to 30 carries. "We've had to gear Jamal up because of the offseason and training camp he's had. One of the biggest questions I've had for my personnel staff is if Jamal is now ready to go fully healthy. To a man, we believe he is."

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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