Ravens' running game getting shut down

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick isn't pointing fingers, and Jamal Lewis isn't exactly sure where the problem lies. What's clear, though, is that the Ravens' running game keeps getting stonewalled in a succession of dives, sweeps and zone plays that haven't generated big yardage.

Whether it's Lewis' fault for not bursting through holes as authoritatively and quickly as he did three years ago when he was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year or the offensive line isn't opening up large enough pathways to run through, the rushing performance hasn't been up to par.

The Ravens have dipped to 25th in the league in rushing offense following a 50-yard output in a 27-26 victory over the Tennessee Titans.

"Got to be more physical, got to call better plays, got to design better plays, got to use better technique," Billick said. "We've got to run the ball more consistently than we're running it right now."

The Ravens (7-2) have only surpassed 100 rushing yards as a team in just four of their nine game, and Lewis has hit the century mark just once this year.

"No, there's no easy answer," Lewis said. "You could say the running back has to run the ball harder. You can say that the linemen need to block better. You could say that we need to throw for 500 yards, but that's not going to happen and we just have to go out and execute and keep on doing what we're doing and we'll get better."

Against the Titans' 31st-ranked run defense, the Ravens abandoned the run early as they fell behind 26-7.

Despite Lewis' lack of effectiveness, the Titans and other defenses have continued to pay him the respect of installing eight and nine defenders at or near the line of scrimmage to account for him.

"We could've run the ball better," Lewis said. "That's all around. It starts from the line of scrimmage to the running backs being on the same page and getting the job done.

"We've had problems. There's eight or nine men stacking the box. We've just got to get downhill and try to get it blocked up and try to find a way to get those guys out of there."

Lewis has gained 50 or fewer yards in four of the past six games. He has rushed for 578 yards and two touchdowns on 168 carries for 3.4 yards per carry.

Once a breakaway threat, his longest run is 27 yards in the season opener at Tampa Bay.

"I don't really have any complaints, we just have to get better," Lewis said. "In the New Orleans game, we ran the ball well and we could have done better. Against Cincinnati, we ran it pretty well, but, of course, we could have run it better. The same thing goes for the Titans."

TRAINING ROOM: The Ravens made two additions to their injury report Thursday, adding linebacker Dan Cody (ankle) and offensive guard Keydrick Vincent (groin) as questionable.

Tight end Todd Heap (ankle, questionable) wasn't present during the portion of practice that's open to the media and was limited in team drills. Linebacker Mike Smith is out for the next two to three weeks with a partially dislocated left shoulder, and his arm is in a sling.

TRASH-TALK: Former Ravens linebacker Ed Hartwell, who signed a $26.5 million contract with the Falcons in 2004, fired a self-serving salvo at injured middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "A lot of people have talked about him teaching me, but we're football players," Hartwell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "You come into the league already knowing how to play football. Did I learn some things from him? I don't know. Honestly, I knew how to play football before I got there.

"I knew how to hit a fullback. He was just a good player who I played next to. I don't take anything from him. He was just there before me. If I was there before him, it would've been the Ed Hartwell Show."

Hartwell, who often complained to Baltimore reporters and team officials that his tackles weren't being counted properly and were being credited to Lewis instead, has battled injuries and is questionable for Sunday.

Lewis wasn't available for comment. While smiling, Ravens linebacker Bart Scott responded: "I didn't see it because I don't get that newspaper delivered to me."

QUICK HITS: After being inactive all season long, Cody is optimistic he'll play Sunday as a defensive reserve and/or on special teams. "I'm pretty excited because it looks like they're going to let me get out there," Cody said. "I've been waiting a long time for this and it means a lot to me, so I want to make the most of whatever playing time I get." … Defensive end Trevor Pryce was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after preserving the Ravens' win over Tennessee with a blocked kick. … Quarterback Steve McNair is 3-0 all-time against the Falcons with three career touchdowns and no interceptions. … The Ravens' offensive line has allowed just two sacks in the past three games. "Focus," Billick said when asked to explain the improved pass protection. "They're working together. They've matured together as a line."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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