Head coach Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals will try to slow down Jamal Lewis and close the gap on the first-place Ravens when the teams meet at Paul Brown Stadium.
In five games this season, Jamal Lewis has rushed for an NFL-high 742 yards—an average of 148.4 per game and 6.5 per carry. He is on pace to break the NFL single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984.
What makes Lewis’ performance even more remarkable is that he missed the entire 2001 season with a knee injury sustained early in training camp.
This will be Marvin Lewis’ first game against his former team. He was Baltimore’s defensive coordinator from 1996-01, and played a huge role in the championship season of 2000, when the Ravens allowed an NFL record-low 165 points.
Considered one of the game’s best defensive minds, Marvin Lewis has seen a difference in Jamal Lewis this season, compared to 2002 when he ran for 1,327 yards.
“Last year, when he was playing, he looked different,” Marvin Lewis said. “This year, he doesn’t look different. It’s been two years since his surgery.”
Middle linebacker Kevin Hardy will be one of the Bengals responsible for slowing down Lewis.
“This is a game we look forward to because it’s a test,” Hardy said. “They run the ball so well. At times, at critical times this year, we haven’t stopped the run as effectively as we needed to.”
While Baltimore’s ground game is the main reason it leads the AFC North, Jamal Lewis knows his team must improve the NFL’s lowest-rated passing attack.
“Sooner or later, the passing game is going to have to pick up,” Lewis said. “Hopefully, it’s going to be real soon, like this week. We need to catch the ball more and be able to take a lot of people out of the box.”
Ravens coach Brian Billick agrees with his star running back.
“We’re very aware of it. We need to throw the ball better,” Billick said. “But right now, I’m satisfied with the overall productivity. I’d throw the ball every snap if I thought we could win, but that’s not who we are.”
Rookie Kyle Boller’s quarterback rating is 17th in the 16-team AFC—behind both Cleveland quarterbacks.
Boller completed only nine of 18 passes for 75 yards in Sunday’s 26-18 victory at Arizona, but Lewis rushed for 131 yards and the Ravens scored on a blocked punt and an interception return.
The Bengals also have one of the league’s best running backs in Corey Dillon, but his status for Sunday is unknown. Dillon practiced Monday after missing Cincinnati’s last game—a 22-16 loss at Buffalo on Oct. 5—with a strained groin.
“Everything looked fine,” Marvin Lewis said after practice. “Everybody worked today. It was good to have Corey out there.”
Although the Bengals have won just one of their first five games, their last three losses have been by a combined 16 points. A win Sunday would put them back in the race in the AFC North.
“We are a lot better off than when we started,” Lewis said. “We are not where we need to be and not where we are headed, but we are better off.”
Cincinnati has lost nine of its last 10 meetings with Baltimore, and Billick is 7-1 against the Bengals.