J. Lewis hitting the wall

OWINGS MILLS -- Jamal Lewis is accustomed to bulldozing defenses with his rugged approach to the game, embarrassing linebackers in the open field by delivering a series of blows with his helmet and shoulder pads. However, that has definitely not been the case so far this season for the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year

One year removed from rejuvenating his career with the Cleveland Browns after being discarded by the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns' star running back has hit a wall.

Heading into Sunday's game against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, Lewis has rushed for just 100 yards on 32 carries. He averaged two yards per carry in last week's 10-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, gaining 38 yards on 19 carries.

The Ravens' top-ranked defense hopes to keep Lewis silent, and maintain their league-high streak of 20 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. The Ravens rank fourth in the league against the run and haven't allowed anyone to eclipse the century mark since Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson on Dec. 10, 2006.

"If he gets going, he's kind of like the juggernaut," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said of Lewis. "He's kind of hard to stop, just zoom, zoom, zoom, just running through people.

"If he has a tough time getting going, you never know when Jamal is going to show up. If he gets that thing rolling and we let him up to the second level, he's going to try to embarrass us in front of some people. We've got to do our job in the front seven of stopping him."

Lewis opened the season with 62 yards on 13 carries in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys, but his impact decreased against the Steelers as virtually nonexistent run-blocking and an inability to bounce outside relegated him to a negligible role.

Unlike previous years in Baltimore where Lewis would likely have been venting by now, he has stayed diplomatic.

"I don't question what the offensive coordinator calls, but at the same time I'm sure things will start to gel soon enough," Lewis said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "He's going to put us in the right position to go out and try to make plays, whether it's running the ball or passing the ball. I just take what's given to me and just go out and try to be effective and do my part in helping to win the football game.

"It's been kind of disappointing, but we know what the problem is. We can't beat ourselves. We can't make those small mistakes. It's on us to just play much better football than we've been playing these last two weeks."

The winless Browns (0-2) have scored just one touchdown, and haven't been able to achieve the same balance that they did last season when Lewis rushed for 1,304 yards and scored nine touchdowns during his first season in Cleveland.

The Browns went 8-1 last season in games where Lewis had 20 or more carries, including a 216-yard effort in a 51-45 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

"Sometimes in situations we don't give it to him enough because of what's happening," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "But Jamal is one of those guys who would like to have it 30 times and we've been a little lax in trying to get him that 30, but we know he can make plays."

In a 33-30 overtime win over the Ravens last season, Lewis rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. He has yet to score this season.

Nonetheless, the Ravens are preparing for the Lewis they knew in Baltimore, the former Pro Bowl selection who generated 2,066 yards in 2003 for the second-highest total in league history behind Eric Dickerson.

"Outside of maybe one or two bad games, Jamal has always been Jamal," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Jamal is going to hit the hole hard. Jamal is going to play a physical football game.

"He's the still the same Jamal. He's going to really try to get down. Our job as a defense is to make sure he doesn't get rolling and pretty much try to contain the offense."

Returning to Baltimore involves little sentiment at this point for Lewis, especially since Brian Billick is no longer the coach after being fired after last season. Lewis and Billick had a frosty relationship during Lewis' last few seasons with the team.

"I just want to go into the stadium, get my job done and get out," Lewis said. "That's about it."

The Browns' offensive line could be missing offensive guard Eric Steinbach, who hasn't practiced this week due to a shoulder injury.

Cleveland has the NFL's 27th-ranked running game, averaging 72 rushing yards per game. The Ravens gave up only 70 yards on 24 carries in a 17-10 win over the Bengals, surrendering an average of 2.9 yards per rush.

Now, Lewis is hoping to reverse that trend. He's aware that he has his work cut out for him.

"I hope I don't meet anybody in the middle," Lewis said. "I hope it's wide open, but I'm sure No. 52 will be roaming around like he always is." Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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