CLEVELAND — Ray Lewis and Jamal Lewis appreciate the same things in a football game. Teeth-rattling tackles, bone-crunching blocks, pad-popping runs.
For the first time, the Lewises will be standing on opposite sidelines, which should lead to some memorable collisions between one of the top running backs of the decade and one of the best defensive players of all time.
“It’s going to be a slugfest,” said Browns running back Jamal Lewis, who spent the last seven years in Baltimore. “I don’t think there’s going to be a 90-yard run here, a 60-yard run here. It’s going to be some 3s, some 4s, some 6s, some 8s, let them turn into those big runs later in the game.
“You’re going to have to stick your nose in there. It’s going to be a physical game.”
The Ravens play that style of football every week, so it’s on the Browns to bring their A-game and manhood this afternoon. After a letdown last week in a 26-24 loss to the Raiders, the Browns are relying on a big bounce-back against a hated rival in front of the home crowd.
“We’re 1-1 in the division. Want to be 2-1 and make the Ravens 0-2,” cornerback Daven Holly said.
Today completes the highly unusual first month that included home games vs. all three AFC North opponents (loss to Steelers, win over Bengals). If the Browns can finish the gauntlet 2-2 overall and 2-1 in the division, it would be considered a success.
It won’t be easy. The Ravens are 2-1 and boast 13 Pro Bowlers. (The Browns haven’t had a Pro Bowler since Jamir Miller in 2002.) The Ravens have the top-ranked run defense, holding opponents to 61.7 yards per game. They haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown in 10 games; the Steelers have the second-longest streak at four.
“They’re strong in the middle and have speed everywhere else,” Browns coach Romeo Crennel said.
Jamal Lewis saw Ray Lewis and Co. up close for years. He said this version doesn’t compare with some of their best and thinks he’ll benefit from his inside information.
“I know what they do best. I know what they don’t do best,” he said. “I think that kind of gives me a little bit of an edge. But at the same time, they’re still a hard-nosed defense. I think they’re going to play me a little different than they play any other running back.”
Ray Lewis is the team’s engine and emotional leader. From his elaborate gyrations in pregame introductions to his nonstop trash talk, Lewis sets the tone for the Ravens.
“He controls the team … in all kind of ways,” Jamal Lewis said.
Ray Lewis’ conference call with the Cleveland media was as electric as his play. He spoke a mile a minute and a single answer took minutes. He was at his best talking about his love of old-time football and his displeasure with today’s game.
“We once praised people for being tough,” Lewis said. “We once praised the Jack Lamberts and the Dick Butkuses, and all those guys. Now, in today’s game, if you hit somebody too hard you’ll get fined.
“That’s what makes it very difficult for a person who understood old-school football. Old-school football was very simple. It was by any means necessary and that has changed now because of the economics of things. People want the high-scoring games and they want us to never touch the quarterback. There’s so much that has changed to kind of soften our game instead of letting our game be what it truly is.”
Browns quarterback Derek Anderson is probably thankful for the changes. He can use every ounce of protection he can get against the confusing blitzes of the Ravens. They sacked him and Charlie Frye 13 times in two games last year.
“They’re aggressive and try to confuse you,” said Anderson, who completed 13 straight passes vs. the Ravens in a loss. “They just don’t stay blocked. But the more you look at it (on film), the more it clears up. We can move the ball.”
Anderson said the key will be making quick decisions and getting the ball out of his hand in a hurry. Crennel said it would be returning to the form he showed vs. the Bengals (51 points) as opposed to the one on display in the first half last week vs. the Raiders (two interceptions, 18.5 rating).
“He needs to make the throws, manage the game, take what the defense gives him, and then when he has to make a play be able to make a play,” Crennel said. “He has to be consistent early and carry it through the game.”
Anderson will be counting on help from Jamal Lewis. Ray Lewis knows what to expect.
“J-Lew is an old-school football player,” he said with admiration.
Defensive end Orpheus Roye (knee), punter Dave Zastudil (back) and safety Gary Baxter (knees) were downgraded to out Saturday. Shaun Smith is expected to replace Roye, and Scott Player will replace Zastudil. Baxter hasn’t played this season.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.