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OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Jamal Lewis is hoping his downward spiral is an aberration and not the rule. The Baltimore Ravens entered the season banking on a major resurgence from their former Pro Bowl runner after giving him a $5 million signing bonus as part of a new deal essentially structured as a one-year arrangement.
Instead, Lewis ranks 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (62.2) and has averaged only 2.6 yards per carry over the past two games.
Despite some gaping holes to run through in a 13-3 loss Monday night to the Denver Broncos, Lewis managed just 43 yards on 15 carries. His explosiveness and tackle-breaking ability were pretty much nonexistent, or at the least a shadow of his old roughneck self.
â€œIâ€™m pretty much confident in the offensive line, and we are doing things to try to figure out what the problem is,â€ Lewis said. â€œIn the first three games, we were doing pretty good. I was averaging four yards per carry, which is good, but we ran into some good defenses. Thatâ€™s what I think people fail to realize.â€
Lewis has rushed for 311 yards on 88 carries for a 3.5 average and one touchdown. He has yet to eclipse the century mark, and his longest run is 27 yards. Baltimore ranks 24th in rushing offense, producing a franchise-low 97.2 yards per game.
â€œWeâ€™ve got to find out what we want to do and make it work,â€ All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. â€œI know that sounds kind of vague and simplistic and every week we say the same things, but itâ€™s the truth. We have to make sure we know how we want to attack people."
Against the Broncos, the Ravens reduced Lewisâ€™ workload for the second consecutive week and reserves Mike Anderson and Musa Smith clearly outperformed the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Anderson rushed for 31 yards on five carries, plowing straight ahead for whatever yardage he could pick up. Smith caught a career-high six passes for 53 yards, including an 18-yard reception.
â€œWe have to run the ball more, we need to run the ball better,â€ Ravens coach Brian Billick said. â€œIf we run the ball 35 times a game, weâ€™re going to be in good shape. I donâ€™t mean to be insensitive, but I donâ€™t give a flip who carries it as long as we get the productivity and the number of runs out of the running game.â€
Billick ascribed the lack of production largely toward a lack of execution and how the Ravens have fallen behind and abandoned the run in the second half.
â€œYouâ€™ve got to earn those carries,â€ Billick said. â€œIâ€™ll get you your 25 carries, but youâ€™ve got to earn the next five, 10 or 15. We havenâ€™t earned it so far, schematically or physically.â€
Now, Lewis has gained a combined 2,223 yards in the 37 games he’s played since rushing for 2,066 yards during the 2003 season alone.
When asked how he felt about sharing playing time more extensively after being the Ravens’ workhorse for years, Lewis replied: â€œThatâ€™s hard for me. Itâ€™s hard to get into a good tempo. It is what it is. Iâ€™m not the one who makes that call.â€
TRAINING ROOM: Ravens cornerback Corey Ivy was released from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian Hospital on Thursday and was driven back to Baltimore with his wife to avoid being jostled on an airplane.
Ivy suffered a torn kidney against Denver, prompting the team to land their charter flight in Pittsburgh because of his increasing discomfort.
Meanwhile, linebackers Terrell Suggs (hamstring) and Gary Stills (abdomen) didnâ€™t practice and are listed as questionable. The Ravens also listed the following players as questionable: tight end Todd Heap (ankle, leg), fullback Justin Green (thigh), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee, chest) and linebacker Mike Smith All missed a portion of team drills.
â€œThe ankle affects me more in practice,â€ Heap said. â€œIn games, I kind of go off adrenaline.â€
QUICK HITS: Jason Brown is a tough grader, but the left offensive guard wasnâ€™t discouraged by how he performed during his first start of the season in place of Edwin Mulitalo. â€œIt wasnâ€™t as bad as I thought,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m really hard on myself. Thereâ€™s still a ton of room for improvement.â€ Added center Mike Flynn: â€œHe seemed pretty poised out there even though it was a pretty rough crowd. The biggest thing is he wasnâ€™t overwhelmed by the situation. With his poise in the huddle and his demeanor in the locker room, heâ€™s doing a really good job.â€ â€¦ Rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is showing signs of progress at shedding blocks, and the first-round draft pick has registered 16 tackles and an interception. â€œYou love the way heâ€™s trying to get better,â€ Billick said. â€œYou see that improvement every week.â€ â€¦ In conjunction with the United Way and M&T Bank, the Ravens presented a refurbished home in Sandtown this week to a family displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.