Ravens sticking with J. Lewis

OWINGS MILLS -- Theories about why Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis is no longer highly productive run the gamut. Does the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year possess the same explosiveness since undergoing right ankle surgery in the offseason?

How much was Lewis affected by his incarceration for a federal drug crime?

In the final year of a six-year, $35.3 million contract, is he upset about not having been offered a contract extension?

Lewis asserted that he's become a prominent target after being limited to 59 yards on 24 carries, a 2.5 average, in a 16-3 win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns.

That's the answer Ravens coach Brian Billick is circling while defending Lewis and saying he won't increase backup Chester Taylor's workload even after a season-high 92 yards where he averaged 11.5 yards per carry.

"Jamal's had some tough sledding," Billick said. "Defensive calls are going to be dictated to a certain degree by a Jamal Lewis based on what they think we're going to do or the style of runner they think Jamal might be vs. a Chester Taylor.

"Will they have to alter that thinking a little bit with Chester Taylor? Maybe, but Jamal's facing a lot of tough looks."

After rambling for 2,066 yards in 2003, Lewis has 292 yards on 98 carries, a 3.0 average. He ranks 27th in rushing, eight yards ahead of Michael Vick.

"I think I got a big target on my chest out there," Lewis said. "The yards aren't there, the 150 yards, cranking off big runs, but you've got to look at it like I'm a target."

Lewis hasn't rushed for 100 yards in four consecutive games, which hadn't happened since his rookie year in 2000. His longest run this year is 25 yards.

"People are commenting on his little stutter-step, his reading and go," Billick said. "Go back to the 2003 season. That's the benchmark. You can't come away without saying, ‘Yeah, this is kind of the same guy.'

"What we haven't had is the cutback, breakout big gain. We have a great deal of faith in Jamal's continued ability to be one of the better backs in the league and we'll continue to try to highlight that."

Meanwhile, Taylor produced a 52-yard sprint Sunday. With 35 carries -- 63 less than Lewis -- Taylor has gained 202 yards with a 5.8 average.

Taylor has a much different running style than the 245-pound Lewis, slashing upfield rather than running over defenders. Should Taylor, who's making $3 million this season, get the football more often?

"That's not a priority for us, we're very confident when Chester Taylor's in there and we have no hesitation," Billick said. "Jamal Lewis is a force to be reckoned with, and --when it's all said and done, barring injury -- will have a huge impact on our ability to run the football."

NOTE: Billick denied reports that he told his players if he's fired that he would walk away from the team with $20 million.

"It didn't happen," Billick said. "It wasn't said. The only mention I've ever made about my contract to my players is in the beginning of training camp. The point I made to them was, ‘I'm exactly where I want to be.'

"I've got the job I want. Due to the generosity of Steve Bisciotti, I have the contract that gives myself and my family professional and personal security."

Billick has two years remaining on his contract after this season and reportedly makes $4.5 million annually. He said that he tapes his team meetings for critiquing purposes, but didn't display any video for reporters.

"Those tapes would verify that the comment was never said," Billick said. "Whoever wants to pursue that line does it with an agenda because it didn't happen. What was presented was kind of a serious charge."

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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