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OWINGS MILLS — Willis McGahee has achieved a rare distinction. During his inaugural season in Baltimore, the Ravens’ running back has outrushed every opposing running back he’s faced this year.
McGahee ranks third in the NFL with 851 rushing yards, outdueling Jamal Lewis and Rudi Johnson twice while also gaining more yards than Thomas Jones, Edgerrin James, Frank Gore, Brian Leonard, Marshawn Lynch and Willie Parker.
Baltimore’s third-ranked run defense has limited opposing runners to 78 yards per contest with 572 total yards and a 2.9 average per carry.
Now, the Ravens (4-6) are preparing for Sunday’s encounter with the San Diego Chargers (5-5) and All-Pro running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who’s 29 yards shy of 10,000 career yards.
It’s a matchup that doesn’t provide him additional motivation, according to McGahee.
"Yeah, it doesn’t do anything for me, to tell you the truth," said McGahee, who was acquired from the Buffalo Bills in an offseason trade. "Actually, it pumps the defense up. My goal is to outrush the guy who we’re running against regardless of whoever it is.
"I know the defense isn’t going to give him any yards easily. He’s going to have to work just like I’m going to have to work."
ON GUARD: The Ravens’ special teams probably aren’t headed for any relief Sunday. One week after failing to contain Cleveland Browns’ ultra-dangerous return man Josh Cribbs, the Ravens are bracing for a faceoff with swift San Diego Chargers kick returner Darren Sproles.
Sproles and Chicago Bears return specialist extraordinaire Devin Hester are the lone players to return a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns this season.
Sproles became the ninth player in NFL history to accomplish that feat in the same game, contributing heavily to a 23-21 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
Will the Ravens kick it to Sproles?
"We embrace that challenge," linebacker Gary Stills said. "We’re not about giving up. That’s not what we’re about, so you don’t want to ever just kick it out of bounds."
Could the Ravens activate strong-legged kicker Rhys Lloyd from the practice squad?
Apparently not with too many injury concerns at other positions.
"Would love to," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who didn’t sound like he was going to make the move. "That would certainly help. Yeah, we’d love to get that up."
INJURY UPDATE: Tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) and cornerback Chris McAlister (knee) didn’t practice for the third consecutive day. Heap is expected to be out and McAlister is expected to be a game-time decision.
Billick described Heap as doubtful.
Safety Gerome Sapp (hamstring) didnâ€™t practice.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis (flu) and offensive linemen Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester didn’t practice, but are expected to play in the game.
"We’ve got a little bit of a bit of a flu going around," Billick said. "All those guys are a little bit under weather, but should be fine."
Center Mike Flynn (flu) returned to practice.
EXPENSIVE PUNCH: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was fined $5,000 by the league office for punching Cleveland Browns rookie offensive tackle Joe Thomas.
TOUGH MATCHUP: The Ravens’ offensive line will have their hands full Sunday trying to hold off the charge of a big, fast San Diego front seven headlined by star outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and massive nose guard Jamal Williams.
"They’re good, they’re good guys," offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "They’ve got a tough front seven, but we’re going to have to deal with them. It’s going to be tough. We did a decent job last year, but we’re got to improve on what we did last year, though."
The Ravens surrendered six sacks last week against a last-ranked Browns defense that entered the game with just 11 sacks.
"They’re very aggressive upfront," quarterback Kyle Boller said of San Diego.
"They’re probably one of the best that we’re going to see. Those guys are very active. They’re going to be trying to get to me. We definitely have our work cut out for us."
McGahee expressed confidence about blocking Merriman, the former University of Maryland standout.
"Kyle’s going to be all right," he said. "We’re going to handle Shawne and the group of guys that he’s playing with."
IMPRESSED: Reserve Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie’s athleticism hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Ravens. Despite not being a starter, Cromartie leads San Diego with six interceptions with one returned for a touchdown. He picked off Peyton Manning three times in the win over the Colts.
"That’s hard to do against Peyton Manning, let alone get one," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "He played well last year when we played them.
"They’re putting him in good positions right now to where he can go out and make plays. They drafted him in the first round for a reason, and he’s making good on that."
QUICK HITS: Tight end Quinn Sypniewski has thrived in Heap’s absence, starting four of the past six games and ranks fourth on the team with a career-high 29 receptions and fifth with 208 receiving yards to rank ahead of Heap. Sypniewski began the season third on the depth chart. "I’m making the most out of my chances," Sypniewski said. "I’m doing whatever they ask of me." … Billick isn’t concerned about lingering disappointment from the team’s 33-30 overtime loss to the Browns. "They’ve moved on," he said. "Yes, the disappointment and all the circumstances surrounding it, but we had a great practice, very energetic, very focused." … The Ravens are looking to build on Devard Darling’s career-best performance against Cleveland where he caught four passes for 107 yards and his first NFL touchdown. "I’m very happy for Devard," Boller said. "Corners don’t want to match up against him because he’s a big guy, a strong guy. He’s going to continue to help us out." … Lewis expressed his condolences to former NFL and University of Alabama running back Siran Stacy, whose wife and four kids were killed in an automobile accident with him behind the wheel. "One of the saddest stories I’ve heard is Siran Stacy," Lewis said. "I was a big fan of Siran Stacy. I just want to send my condolences out to the family and everybody who was affected by it. This is where you need people to keep praying for him."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.