J. Lewis hitting stride

OWINGS MILLS -- Jamal Lewis' cleats dug powerfully into the turf, giving him all the leverage he needed to plow into safety Ryan Clark's chest. Predictably, Clark ricocheted off Lewis' helmet like a well-struck tennis ball and crashed onto his back a few yards away.

As the Baltimore Ravens' burly running back finished off another physical run Sunday, itserved as a reminder of his own personal resurgence.
Although the former Pro Bowl runner might never approach his 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year form, he has emerged as a major factor again in an offense that's been much more productive since Ravens coach Brian Billick fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel five games ago and took over play-calling duties.
"That felt like old times," Lewis said following the Ravens' 27-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. "When the lanes open up like they did, it's just you and the safeties and the corners, so you have to deliver that punch.
"It wears them down, and lets them all know, 'We came out here to play.' In this game, whoever plays the most physical is going to win."
Heading into the Ravens' quick turnaround game Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, Lewis wasn't needed much in the second half after gaining 61 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown run in the first half. He was mostly a spectator after halftime in finishing with 66 yards on 17 carries.
His roughneck presence in the first half, though, affected the Steelers heavily.
"They were just coming downhill," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "They just ran it down our throats."
Lewis' numbers are extremely modest in comparison to his production three seasons ago when he gained 2,066 yards, but he is improving markedly from his meager production under Fassel.
Since Billick took over the offense, the Ravens are undefeated and Lewis is averaging 76.64 yards and 22 carries for 383 yards and five touchdown runs. Under Fassel, Lewis averaged 58.7 yards per contest with an average of 19.33 carries for 352 yards and one touchdown run. "I have had faith in Jamal all along," Billick said. "I know better than most, having looked at the film and lived it, where he maybe hasn't been as responsible for some of the runs. The easiest thing in the world is to say, ‘Just put another guy in there.'"
For the season, Lewis has gained 735 yards and scored six touchdowns. A more physical approach by the offensive line emphasizing straightforward blocking schemes has made a difference, too.
"That's how I like it," All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "I like going downhill, ‘mano y mano' so to speak."
Lewis' touchdown run gave the Ravens a 14-0 lead late in the second quarter. It also enabled him to rest up on the sidelines and watch blocking fullback Ovie Mughelli and backups Musa Smith and Mike Anderson run the ball. They combined for 51 yards on 15 carries.
"That was just about getting prepared for a Thursday game, just looking ahead," Lewis said. "Billick kept that in mind, and I was thinking about that myself."
Another thought that crossed Lewis' mind after perhaps the team's most complete win of the season was a growing parallel between this season and a characteristic of the Ravens' march toward a Super Bowl title following the 2000 season when he was a rookie.
"It feels a little bit similar, mostly in the locker room, the camaraderie," Lewis said. "Everybody's pushing each other, the offense, the defense and the special teams. It's a great deal. We're playing as a team."
NOTES: Following the Ravens' 26-20 victory over Cincinnati on Nov. 5, Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh couldn't hide the bitterness. "We're just a better team than they are," he said. "We didn't win the game and I'm sure they'll get a laugh over that," he said. "But deep down, we know we're better than Baltimore and they know it. We've got better players than they do." So far, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has been the only member of the organization to offer much of a retort. "As T.J. Houshmandzadeh said: 'They are better than we are,' so we'll find out," Ryan said. ... Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott called his hard-hitting sack of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a 'LeBron James.' "An easy layup," Scott said. "Adalius [Thomas] did a great job of drawing the tackle. All I had to do was make the layup. He pumped the ball, and it was perfect." … Ryan referenced a tradition that wasn't followed after a 27-0 shutout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to open the season where the defensive staff didn't receive game balls. "I got on Brian because we shut out Tampa and never got our game balls," Ryan said. "So we want this one, too. Really, the assistant coaches -- Jeff FitzGerald, Clarence Brooks and Dennis Thurman -- all the guys did a great job." … This latest shutout marks the first multiple shutout season for the Ravens since their Super Bowl season.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland

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