One of the major reasons why the Titans are in last place in the AFC South is their porous run defense.
Ranked one spot from the bottom of the league by allowing an average of 163.5 rushing yards per contest, the Titans (2-6) have only gotten worse since massive, hot-headed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth was hit with a five-game suspension that culminates this week for stomping on the head of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode.
Now, Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis is hoping to be the beneficiary of the Titans' generosity upfront on Sunday at LP Field.
Although Lewis is averaging just 66.25 yards per game, he has experienced something of a resurgence since Ravens coach Brian Billick assumed offensive coordinator duties two games ago.
He doesn't sound anywhere close to overconfident, though. Especially since the Ravens sport the 19th-ranked rushing attack in the league with 104 yards per game.
"It's just one of those things where you can't really go by what they've done in the past or what they've done to other teams," said Lewis, the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year who has gained 533 yards in eight starts, which puts him on pace for 1,066 for the season. "The Ravens and Titans have a history, and it's going to be one of those execution games where we have to come out and be the best at executing at the line of scrimmage and that's it."
"I really don't look at the numbers or what people have rushed on them or what their ranking in the rush category is. I just worry about myself and doing my job."
One reason why Lewis is so respectful of the Titans. They held him to nine yards on 10 carries in last season's 25-10 loss as he lost a fumble and Baltimore didn't generate a first down until the third quarter and finished with a franchise-low 14 rushing yards.
Without Haynesworth anchoring the middle, linebackers Keith Bulluck and Peter Sirmon have often been overwhelmed at the point of attack and haven't gotten much support or penetration from a smallish front four.
"Haynesworth is a great player, and you really can't replace a guy like him," Lewis said of his former college teammate. "It's still a stout group upfront."
Over the past two games, Lewis has carried the ball 55 times in consecutive victories for 181 yards and a touchdown.
"Solid, solid," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Needs a little bit more, but it was very solid."
With the Ravens demonstrating a renewed commitment to the running game, Lewis is beginning to run better even though he hasn't broken a long run and hasn't looked nearly as explosive in terms of acceleration or tackle-breaking as he did in the past.
Baltimore is 35-10 when Lewis carries the ball 20 times or more.
"I feel more like I want to feel," Lewis said. "I feel like the coaches are letting me get in a rhythm. I think they have more confidence in what we're doing in running the football."
QUICK HITS: The Ravens have scored 18 defensive touchdowns since 2003, which outranks any other team during that period. With four touchdowns this season and three in the past two games, it's clear the Ravens have a knack for scoring. "The way we kind of hand off and pitch back drives me nuts, and I'm dog-cussing them the whole time - right up to the point they get into the end zone," Billick said. "We seem to be good at it." The Ravens? offensive line has only allowed two sacks in the past three games with 13 allowed for the year. Their single-season record is 35 allowed in 2004. "When those guys are focused and they like the scheme, it's easy for them," quarterback Steve McNair said. "They're working together, they're communicating and they're doing the right things." Titans wide receiver David Givens, who has missed the past four games with a thumb injury is expected to play Sunday with a protective brace. The Ravens are 3-1 on the road and haven't won four games away from M&T Bank Stadium since 2001. Troubled Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones, who's coming off a suspension for allegedly spitting in a woman's face at a Tennessee nightclub, hasn't talked to the media since Oct. 1. "I think Pac wants to show that he can put some things behind him, stay focused and just let his play on the field speak for itself," Titans coach Jeff Fisher told reporters.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.
Notebook: J. Lewis primed for Titans
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