OWINGS MILLS – The Georgia Dome figures to be a thunderous venue Thursday night considering both the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons feature powerhouse running games and stout defenses.
Something has to give between the two hard-hitting teams.
And the collisions are expected to be noisy and violent.
The Falcons’ backfield is headlined by Pro Bowl running back Michael Turner, a 5-foot-10, 247-pound bruiser nicknamed "The Burner." And the Ravens are led by Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, one of the most dangerous all-purpose threats in the league.
"A lot of respect for that team, they run the ball really well," Rice said. "We run the ball, they run the ball. It’s a matchup thing. I know it’s not going to be one of those games where it’s going to be won in the first quarter. It’s going to be one of the fourth quarter games."
Turner ranks third in the NFC with 694 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 155 carries, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. He rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"Michael Turner is a tackle-breaker, north-south, hard-running guy," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They call him ‘The Burner,’ for a reason, too. He’s fast, always has been, one of the premier backs in the league."
Dating back to 2008, the Falcons have averaged 135.8 rushing yards per contest. During that span, Turner has averaged 93.3 yards per contest.
"He’s a great running back," Ravens Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "He creates his own holes, and he makes his own blocks and still runs the ball well. So, he’s a really good running back and hopefully we can start faster than we did against Miami and stop him early."
In Sunday’s 26-10 win, the Ravens allowed running back Ronnie Brown to gain 45 of his 59 yards as well as a touchdown run on the Dolphins’ opening drive.
"With a running back like Michael Turner, it’s tough," Ngata said. "Hopefully, we can convince them to stop early and make them be a one-dimensional team."
The Falcons are tied for sixth in the NFL in rushing offense, averaging 135.5 yards per game.
Turner had strong assistance in the backfield from former Ravens fullback Ovie Mughelli, a strong lead blocker at 6-1, 250 pounds, as well as Jason Snelling (280 rushing yards, two touchdowns, 22 catches, 125 yards, one score).
The Falcons tend to remain committed to their running game.
"If you watch their games, you see that they do stick to the run," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "They have a good running back in Turner that really likes to get downhill. He’s a physical back, and he just loves to run between the tackles.
"It really sets up Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White down the field. They do a great, great job of sticking to it. We do a pretty good job of sticking to it as well, trying to stop people from running the ball. So, it should be a good test for both sides."
The Ravens are allowing an uncharacteristic 104.8 rushing yards per game, ranking 13th in the league in rushing defense. Traditionally, the Ravens are one of the top five defenses in the league at shutting down the run.
Opponents have rushed for 938 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
"It’s some guys just trying to do more than they should," Ngata said. "I’m one of those guys. Sometimes, I’ll hit a gap where I should be in another.
"It’s just some guys need to tighten up on some things. We’re getting to where we’re not doing that, and we’ll be a lot better."
Rice has rushed for 606 yards and two touchdowns, averaging four yards per carry.
And Willis McGahee has gained 231 yards and scored four touchdowns.
The Ravens are ranked 11th in rushing, averaging 118.8 yards per contest with Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain operating as a physical lead blocker.
The Falcons counter with an aggressive 4-3 defense that ranks sixth in the league in rushing defense.
Led by active linebacker Curtis Lofton, the Falcons have allowed only 95.9 rushing yards per game.
"I think they’re very fast and instinctive," Rice said. "They are very fast. They will hit you, and that’s a challenge for us. Whenever you’re running straight at them, they do a great job of stopping the run.
"So, we’ve just got to do a great job of giving them different looks and going out there and trying to mix up things with them."
Although the Ravens are having a good season running the ball, they’ve been getting stonewalled in the red zone. In particular, Rice and Co. struggled near the goal line against the Dolphins as Baltimore went 1 for 7 in red-zone scoring opportunities.
"That’s something that we’ve got to get corrected," Rice said. "The goal line is something that in the past we’ve been physical down there. We’re just trying to relish our opportunities down there, and I think we’re going to do a better job of that, definitely try to get it started this week. As the season goes on, we definitely have to do a better job at that."