Sunday, November 10, 2002

Bengals' defense will need to step up once again

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jeff Blake's deep passes might be the rage in Baltimore these days, but the base of the Ravens' offense is tailback Jamal Lewis.

The Bengals can't let Lewis get loose today. The third-year back from the University of Tennessee has nine career 100-yard rushing games, and the Ravens have won all nine of those contests.

This season, after missing all of last year because of a knee injury, Lewis has 646 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He also is second on the team with 33 receptions for 253 yards. His 899 total yards from scrimmage are seventh in the AFC.

"He looks like Herschel Walker," Bengals middle linebacker Brian Simmons said of Lewis, who is 5-11, 231 pounds. "He is a big back with a lot of power. He has breakaway speed. He's not overly quick, but he can make people miss."

Lewis' importance compares to Corey Dillon's with the Bengals. The more either running back carries the ball, the better it is for his team. A strong running game sets up the pass game.

In two career games against the Bengals, Lewis has 225 rushing yards and 95 receiving yards.

"He's the guy who just keeps pounding away and gets them the good, solid yardage," Bengals coach Dick LeBeau said of Lewis.

DEFENSE CAN'T REST: After getting hammered for more than 30 points a game, the Bengals' defense held the Houston Texans to three points last week.

They'll need another big effort today to stop both Lewis and Blake.

Blake throws the deep ball as well as any quarterback, and the Bengals' secondary has experienced some trouble getting safeties over to help the cornerbacks.

"It's one of those big-play offenses," Bengals free safety Cory Hall said of the Ravens. "You look, and they do a lot of different things and don't let you hone in on one thing. You can't get a tendency on them.

"As a free safety, there's pressure on me because of Blake. I don't want to be at 10 yards (deep). I want to be at 15 because they can throw the deep ball. That could hurt you because one of them (wide receivers) could break out of there."

Blake's favorite receiver is Travis Taylor, who had his first 100-yard game (127) and a career-long 64-yarder against the Atlanta Falcons last week.

In two games with Blake, Taylor has 11 receptions for 209 yards.

SCORE A POINT: Blake, ironically, helped to account for the last Bengals points in Baltimore when he threw a touchdown pass to Carl Pickens on Sept. 27, 1998.

The Bengals' last three visits to Baltimore have ended in 22-0, 37-0 and 16-0 losses.

The good news for the Bengals is that only one, and possibly two, of the Ravens' 2001 defensive starters will be on the field today.

Linebacker Peter Boulware will play, and cornerback Chris McAlister might. He's questionable with a sprained ankle from last week. Linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive end Michael McCrary are out.

Baltimore coach Brian Billick is aware that times have changed.

"There's nobody left here to remember that and draw any concepts from that," he said of the three consecutive shutouts. "This is a totally different group of athletes. All these guys want to do is get better, win and be a pro football player. It's a great energy to be around.

"By the same token, the group I have here, the Bengals just beat a team that by every measurable yardstick, the Houston Texans, is more experienced and has more experienced starters than I do."


Ravens 38, Bengals 27
Blake empathizes with former mates
Bengals' defense will need to step up once again
The Edge
Isolation booth: Johnson vs. Demps
Levi: Life as a Rookie
Bengals, Ravens stats
Bengals-Ravens by the numbers
NFL notebook, standings
Are you ready for some Monday Night Football history?
Curnutte's NFL power rankings

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