Ravens face Broncos' three-headed monster

Ray Lewis isn't prone to raging insecurity, or mortal fear. The Baltimore Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker all but scoffs at this suggestion regarding tonight's game against the undefeated Denver Broncos: His defense might not be able to slay this dragon visiting the Ravens' lair. A three-headed monster represents the Broncos' running game, which ranks fifth overall in the NFL.

There's Olandis Gary, the stocky Riverdale native whose vision and rise from obscurity closely mirrors the early career track of retired Bronco superstar Terrell Davis.

There's Mike Anderson, the ex-Marine who has converted to fullback after earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors over Jamal Lewis two years ago with 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Plus, there's rookie Clinton Portis to contend with. Portis has brought a new dimension of breakaway speed to Mile High after spearheading the Miami Hurricanes' national title campaign.

Between the trio's cumulative effort, the Broncos (3-0) have 468 rushing yards, averaging 156 yards per contest as a different back has led Denver in rushing during victories over the St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills.

"I've heard that Denver runs very well," said Lewis, who leads winless Baltimore with 36 tackles after 19 stops in the Tampa Bay loss. "They do run on people, but all the people they run well on are always on the ground. They cut the defensive linemen. The linebackers are on the ground. The running backs are just running free.

 "One of the successes we've had here is not being on the ground, being able to shed blocks and still get to the football. So, I think we match up very well with them."

Lewis and the Ravens have a legitimate background to not be intimidated by the Broncos' runners. In last season's win, Baltimore stymied Gary and Anderson to the tune of 50 yards on 18 carries. Two years ago in the playoffs, the Ravens held the Broncos to 42 yards.

Baltimore counters the Broncos' ground attack with a rushing defense that has yielded no touchdowns and ranks ninth in the AFC by allowing 109.5 yards per game.

Even after a switch to the 3-4 defense under new coordinator Mike Nolan, the Ravens surrender just 3.3 yards per rushing attempt.

"I've seen a few Ray Lewis tapes," Portis told reporters in Denver. "He's on all the highlight films. It ain't nothing spectacular. Ray Lewis has got to be blocked. I hope nobody lets him shoot through there untouched."

There was considerable speculation that Lewis' production would go into a downward spiral after the change from the 4-3, but the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is on pace to set a club record with over 250 tackles.

"I love it more," Lewis said. "You put an emphasis so much that we don't have big, big tackles, but I can do whatever I want to do on that field. It don't matter whether I'm in a 2-5 or 4-3 or 3-4.

"Getting to the football is not a problem for me. Now, you don't know where I'm coming from, and that's why I think I'm making a lot of plays."

Portis leads the Broncos with 149 yards on 27 carries, filling in last week when Gary sprained an ankle.

Gary, who has rushed for 98 yards, a 4.3 average and a touchdown, is set to play tonight.

Anderson has 140 yards and a 5.8 average with a long run of 32 yards.

In Lewis, though, the trio faces an established linebacker who has owned the Broncos.

"You've got to try to contain him," Portis said. "It's Ray Lewis. He's going to make plays."

 Despite the team's struggles, the Ravens ranks seventh in the league in total defense, third in the AFC, and gave up just 74 rushing yards to the Buccaneers' Mike Alstott and Michael Pittman.

"Defensively, they're a very disciplined, unselfish team," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "Bottom line: They've given up one touchdown in two games, so they've been playing exceptionally well."

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