Something Has To Give

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Ray Lewis is accustomed to engaging in target practice, zeroing in on running backs with his helmet and shoulder pads for a series of crushing tackles. The challenge for the Baltimore Ravens' seven-time All-Pro middle linebacker and the top-ranked run defense in the league changes slightly, though, against the Denver Broncos on Monday night.

The challenge for the Baltimore Ravens' seven-time All-Pro middle linebacker and the top-ranked run defense in the league changes slightly, though, against the Denver Broncos on Monday night.
Before the Ravens can fulfill their goal of sending speedster Broncos running back Tatum Bell crashing to the earth, they have to account for blocking tactics that typically center on cutting defenders' legs out from underneath them.
Knees, ankles and shins are usually in grave danger against a mobile, undersized and nasty Denver offensive line.
"They are very athletic," said Lewis, who leads Baltimore with 53 tackles. "They try to get you on the ground to make sure you can't run through and make plays. That is why I believe their running backs have so much success is because of the offensive line.
"They are patient. For the young guys, it's going to be a bigger test. You never get used to cutting, but I do know their style of play."
The Broncos believe strongly in running the football, and feature the fourth-ranked rushing attack in the NFL with an average of 150 yards per contest.
Bell, who finished with 921 yards last season as Mike Anderson's backup, is on pace for 1,573 yards this season. He's averaging 98.3 rushing yards per game, tying him for second in the NFL with Kansas City Chiefs star Larry Johnson.
"We think we can run against everybody," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.
However, hardly anyone ever runs on Baltimore. Even San Diego Chargers All-Pro runner LaDainian Tomlinson needed 27 carries to gain 98 yards in last week's 16-13 Baltimore win.
The Ravens are allowing a stingy 63.3 rushing yards per game with three of their four games ranking among the top six fewest rushing yards surrendered in franchise history, including 26 given up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 39 against the Oakland Raiders and 38 by the Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens lost 12-10 in Denver last season, but that was mostly because of quarterback Kyle Boller's inexplicable three turnovers. It wasn't because of Bell, who was limited to 63 yards on 16 carries even with Lewis out for the season with a torn hamstring.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge of seeing Ray because he didn't play last year," Bell said. "I tell everybody I play with the best middle linebacker in the league anyway [Al Wilson], so I'll be all right."
This season, Bell has a long run of 39 yards and eight runs of 10 or more yards and three of 20 or more. He gained 123 yards on 27 carries in a 17-7 win over the New England Patriots.
"Tatum Bell is a homerun hitter," said linebacker Bart Scott, who had a 19-tackle outing against the Chargers. "We have to stay on our feet and not get cut off on the back side. It's going to be a long day's work, but I think we'll be up for it.
"You have to be technically sound and stay on your feet so you can make a play. If you fall down, that's all the back needs to create a seam."
While Denver averages an impressive 4.7 yards per rush, the Ravens have only granted 2.6 yards per rush and barely two yards per carry on the road.
Bell has vowed that the Broncos will continue to grind it out despite his lack of ideal size at 210 pounds. He compared himself this week to the New York Giants' Tiki Barber and the Atlanta Falcons' Warrick Dunn, two worthy role models for a smaller, shifty back.
"I can get it done," Bell said.
Traditionally, the Broncos' commitment to the run has been forced to waver whenever they're playing the Ravens.
Ravens coach Brian Billick, who owns a 4-1 record against Shanahan dating back to 2000, has watched his team hold the Broncos to 400 yards on 122 carries (3.3 average) in those games. Only once did they eclipse 100 yards or average four yards per carry.
"Our guys are very technically sound," Billick said. "Not to be self-serving here, but I think our defensive staff through the years do a good job of stressing the fundamentals and techniques. If you are fundamentally and technically sound, you have a chance to succeed against anybody."
QUICK HITS: Tight end Todd Heap (thigh) and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (thigh) were limited in practice Saturday morning and remain questionable on the injury report. Baltimore upgraded linebackers Adalius Thomas (neck) and Mike Smith (hip) to probable along with tight end Daniel Wilcox (thigh), cornerback Evan Oglesby (thigh) and fullback Justin Green (neck). … Scott's colorful descriptions extended to himself, Lewis and Adalius Thomas, referring to Lewis as the clear-cut leader, giving a nod to Thomas' versatility and calling himself the "crazy one" of the linebacker trio. "Together, we're like Voltron," Scott said, referring to the 1980s Japanese cartoon series, Voltron: Defender of the Universe, that depicted a group of robots who combine to form one single powerful robot. "You put us all together and we're complete. Apart, we've got our specialties, but together we're a pretty cohesive group." … In an effort to counteract offenses' competitive advantage when they go no-huddle, NFL director of officiating Mike Pereira sent out a memo to all 32 teams informing them of a countermeasure for when they rush in substitutes to catch the defense off guard. Now, the umpire will stand over the football and won't hand it to the center until the referee signals that the defense has had enough time to make a personnel change. Only then will play be allowed to resume.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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