Baltimore Ravens star middle linebacker Ray Lewis is the quintessential immovable object, and powerful New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs is the consummate irresistible force.
By late Sunday afternoon at Giants Stadium, a winner will be declared between Lewis, the 6-foot-1, 250-pound leader of the NFL's top-ranked run defense, and Jacobs, a 6-4, 264-pound tailback who headlines the league's best running game.
"The only way to stop somebody like that is to run into him full speed," Lewis said. "That's the name of football: hit or be hit."
The individual battle should be worth the price of admission as Baltimore (6-3) takes on the defending Super B owl champion Giants (8-1) at Giants Stadium. The Ravens are allowing just 65.4 rushing yards per game, and Jacobs leads a rushing offense averaging 168.9 yards with a team-high 806 yards and nine touchdown runs.
"He comes downhill, I come downhill and whatever happens, happens," Jacobs said. "I'm actually looking forward to the challenge."
"They like to run the ball, we like to stop the run," Lewis said. "That's what they do well. That's what we do well."
Although complemented well by Derrick Ward (490 yards) and Ahmad Bradshaw (205 yards), it's Jacobs who's the focal point of the Giants' batch of physical, inside runs.
There aren't many bigger backs in the league than Jacobs, who ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing and averages 5.3 yards per carry. He also has bruising fullback Madison Hedgecock to run behind, a 6-3, 266-pound, linebacker-busting battering ram.
"So what are you going to do, run from it?" Lewis said. "No, you just play football. I don't look on the schedule and look at somebody's weight and say, 'Oh, guess what, he's 260, I can't run into him.' Hell, no. I'm chasing him.
"It doesn't matter. Size has never mattered in this game. And the day you put size in this game you lose all your credibility on why you play the game. I remember these same stories about how Eddie George was. He was so big and so bruising."
Lewis is the catalyst of the Ravens' stingy defense, leading the team with 92 tackles as he roams free to the football thanks to 6-4, 345-pound defensive lineman Haloti Ngata.
Lewis ended Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall's season, breaking his shoulder with a tackle earlier this season. He also knocked out Oakland Raiders fullback Justin Griffith for the season with a goal-line tackle.
In his 13th NFL season, Lewis never looks to avoid a collision.
"No question, Ray Lewis plays linebacker the way I would: a downhill, hard-hitting player and nothing more, nothing less," Jacobs said. "I don't think Ray Lewis would be one of those guys. It's going to be an interesting battle. I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait."
And Lewis isn't concerned about Jacobs' imposing frame and zest for contact.
"The bottom line is I don't care how big his size is, how big none of that is," Lewis said. "When you strap on your chin strap, I don't care how big you are. Deal with whoever's got the ball, and let life take care of itself."
The Ravens are allowing 103.5 rushing yards less per game than the Giants' average.
Lewis noted that the Giants' experienced offensive line is a major reason why the running game has been so effective.
"Take no credit away from those backs," Lewis said. "But they're running through holes so big you're sitting there saying, 'What in the world?'"
Conversely, the Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 28 consecutive games, the NFL's longest streak that=2 0dates back to Dec. 10, 2006 when Kansas City Chiefs runner Larry Johnson eclipsed the century mark.
No team has more than 76 net rushing yards against the Ravens. And Baltimore has only allowed one rushing touchdown, which ties the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the fewest in the NFL.
This is also a historical meeting.
It's the first time the NFL's top rushing offensive team has faced off with the best rushing defensive team since Dec. 15, 2002 when the Kansas City Chiefs' No. 1 running game played the Denver Broncos' No. 1 run defense, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In that case, the Chiefs rushed for 185 yards in a loss.
"You've got to believe what you're saying, and we believe we can stop anybody, and they believe they can run on anybody," Ngata said of the Giants. "So, we'll see how it goes."
The Ravens have given up just 589 rushing yards for a paltry, league-high average of just 2.9 yards per carry.
The Tennessee Titans' sixth-ranked running game was stonewalled for just 47 yards by Baltimore in their 13-10 win on Oct. 5.
"We love it when people say we can't do something," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said. "I think that is when this team rises up."
The Giants rank first in yards per carry (5.2) and runs of at least 20 yards (15) with four 200-yard rushing games, gaining 200 and 219 against the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles in successive games.
New York has gained 100 yards on the ground in eight of nine games this year.
Something has to give, and Lewis doesn't plan on conceding a single yard.
"The only test is we like to stop the run, and that's the bottom line," Lewis said. "We're the best defense in football doing that. If there's a test, the test is just going and upholding what you're already built to do."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
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