Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis has not practiced this week because of various injuries, leaving his status for Sunday's matchup at M&T Bank Stadium in question.
Portis, whose 1,228 rushing yards are second in the NFL, is battling a sprained left knee that he injured Nov. 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a strained oblique that occurred Nov. 23 in Seattle, and a sore neck from a jarring hit last Sunday versus the New York Giants.
But considering how important this weekend's contest is for both teams to remain in their respective conference's playoff race, the Ravens are preparing to face the playmaker.
"Clinton Portis, we expect him to be there, no question about it," said head coach John Harbaugh, also noting Portis' backup, Ladell Betts. "But Ladell Betts, having seen him plenty of times over the years, as a returner and a running back, he's a starting-caliber running back in the NFL.
"They've got two, they've got three, really good guys that can handle the ball. So whoever we see we'll be ready for them. With all their different backs they run the same offense, so preparation will be the same."
Harbaugh's counterpart, Redskins coach Jim Zorn, remained vague regarding his star player.
"Clinton has got a real sore neck," Zorn said in a conference call. "He took a shot in the game and the back of his neck is real sore. The knee is not great. He's beat up a little bit; I can tell you that.
"He always has seemed to straighten it out by the end of the week," the first-year head coach continued. "This is a little bit different situation. So, it will be a [day-by-day decision]."
The Redskins have leaned heavily on Portis all year. He owns 1,415 of Washington's 4,069 total yards, with his all-purpose yardage leading the league.
The workhorse averaged 124.8 yards per game in each of the Redskins' seven wins, but only 70.8 yards in all five losses. Perhaps even more telling is that in Washington's last three losses, Portis failed to top 15 carries.
"Portis is a great running back; you have to give him the ball," said safety Ed Reed
, who was a college teammate of Portis' at the University of Miami. "I know from playing with him [at Miami], if you give him the ball 20-plus times, you've got a chance at winning."
The Ravens will have something to say about that, as they boast the NFL's third-ranked run defense, having only allowed 78.3 rushing yards per game. Baltimore has not let a running back top the century mark in 31 contests, which is the league's longest streak.
But while the run-stopping trend is in the Ravens' favor, there is a great deal of respect for Portis that goes beyond collegiate connections.
"Clinton Portis, regardless of what you may think of his injuries and stuff in the past, he's still one of the top running backs in the league," explained linebacker Terrell Suggs
. "He's arguably the best right now, between him and A.P. [Adrian Peterson]. He's definitely a dangerous threat."
The only time the Ravens have let a team rush for over 100 yards this year was Week 11, when the New York Giants totaled 207 yards on the ground behind Brandon Jacobs' 73 yards (on 11 carries) and Ahmad Bradshaw's 96 yards (nine). It was a hard-nosed battle that saw Baltimore fall 30-10.
With the 5-foot-11, 221-pound Portis coming to town, the Ravens are looking forward to another physical test.
"When we play fast and physical, we are at our best," said defensive tackle Haloti Ngata
. "We take pride in stopping the run, and we've done that except one game. We've got to do what we do best, and that is stopping the run to make them one-dimensional."
The Redskins' fifth-rated rushing offense (138.4 yards per game) is just another in a long line of prolific running teams Baltimore has faced all year.
However, according to linebacker Ray Lewis
, another Miami alumnus, Portis might be the best back of them all.
"I just think he's one of those people that they want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible," he said. "Maybe I'm a little biased. He's from 'The U,' so he has a big heart. He plays the game the way the game should be played. He's probably one of the exceptional backs in the game right now."