Saturday, October 18, 2003

Ravens' air attack a token threat



By Kevin Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Seven. Eight. Nine.

The odds for Jamal Lewis have never been worse than the instances when an opposing team focuses 10 defenders on him.

"That's just their way of saying, 'You're going to have to throw to beat us,' " said Lewis, who leads the NFL in rushing and attention from opposing defenses.

With Lewis successfully lugging Baltimore's offensive load, the Ravens are atop the AFC North in spite of a lean passing attack.

Baltimore has the NFL's most unbalanced offense - it leads the league in rushing but ranks last in passing - entering Sunday's game against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

With rookie quarterback Kyle Boller running the offense, the Ravens average 33 fewer passing yards per game than any other team.

"They found their niche and are riding their horse," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. "When you run the football the way they do, you can control the game."

The lack of a passing game, however, could become a liability if a defense unearths a way to stop Jamal Lewis.

None has so far.

Lewis, who has four consecutive 100-yard games, leads the NFL in virtually every rushing category.

He also is on pace to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record with 742 yards on 115 carries through five games.

"My goal is to actually bring guys down in the box so Kyle can complete passes over the top," he said. "I think that will come, if not this week, in a couple of weeks.

"I'm not really concerned with that because we will balance this offense off."

The ample running game, along with the Ravens defense, might, in fact, be aiding the maturation of Boller.

Baltimore used the 19th overall pick in this year's draft on the former Cal quarterback and handed him the starting job.

"We felt like we had enough assets to wrap around Kyle that maybe we could endure some of the things you do with a quarterback," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "And if it didn't cost us too much early in the season, and when we got into the key months of November and December ... that's where the payoff would be."

It is a vastly different scenario than in Cincinnati.

Bengals rookie quarterback Carson Palmer, who played against Boller while at USC and was the first pick overall, has yet to take a snap in the regular season.

"I'm happy for him," Palmer said. "He's got a couple wins and played pretty well in some games. There's no jealousy at all."

Five games into his NFL career, Boller is the lowest rated quarterback in the AFC.

He has completed 52 percent of his 125 passes for 543 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions.

"The numbers aside, we think he's playing very well," Billick said. "There is still a lot of work yet left to do."

Though Boller has experienced his share of growing pains, Baltimore's receivers have provided little assistance.

Just one of the Ravens' top 12 plays from scrimmage this season came on a pass. The rest are rushing plays or interceptions and fumbles returned for touchdowns.

"Hopefully he'll be able to get his timing together," his teammate Lewis said, "and we'll be clicking by midseason."

E-mail kkelly@enquirer.com




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