Run Games Hitting the Wall

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When watching the Ravens' battle the Tennessee Titans this weekend at LP Field, fans may want to wear a mouthguard and perhaps a seatbelt.

It is a safe bet that this game will be a bumpy ride.

The Ravens feature the NFL's fourth-ranked rushing attack, averaging 148.5 yards per game on the ground, while Tennessee is seventh (137.4).

Both teams will stay committed to the run. Baltimore has handed off on 58 percent of its offensive snaps this season. The Titans rushed for 53 percent of their attempts.

But lying in wait are two stout defenses that pride themselves on stopping running backs in their tracks.

In a contest surely to be marked by epic collisions, something must give way.

The Titans have done their damage on the legs of lightning-fast rookie Chris Johnson and the burly LenDale White. Johnson, a Pro Bowler in his first year, led the team in yards with 1,228, and White led the team in touchdowns with 15.

"Chris Johnson is the speedy guy," said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. "LenDale White is the guy that likes to run inside. Both of them have their own little flavor, things they like to do. All the credit really, a lot of it, goes to the offensive line.

"They have a nice core, which is one of the reasons why they can run the ball so well. We're going to have our hands full."

That core may not include team captain Kevin Mawae, however. The Pro Bowl center all but ruled himself out for Saturday with an injured elbow, telling a Sirius NFL Radio show, "I'm not going to play this week," on Tuesday.

Whether not having their anchor in the middle changes anything for the Titans' rushing plans for the lightly listed 235-pound White remains to be seen, but they certainly have another weapon if their want to exploit the edges.

Johnson, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.24 seconds at the NFL Combine and turned enough heads for Tennessee to select him 24th overall, boasted the eighth-most yards among all NFL runners and had four bursts of 33 or more yards.

In addition, Johnson finished second on the team with 43 receptions for 260 yards to add to his prolific season.

"They've made a bunch of plays on the perimeter with him," head coach John Harbaugh said of Johnson. "Obviously, he was a candidate for Rookie of the Year, and he's a big challenge. He's a big-play threat every time he touches the ball."

The Ravens have faced this two-man assault before, however.

In Week 5, the Titans may have pulled out a 13-10 victory at M&T Bank Stadium by scoring 10 fourth-quarter points, but they couldn't get anything done on the ground.

Johnson totaled 44 yards on 18 rushes, and White only mustered three carries for 4 yards.

Baltimore's stingy run defense – currently ranked third in the league by allowing only 81.4 yards a game – is up to the challenge again.

"We've faced them before, and we know they're an outstanding running team," said assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "They've got the two-headed monster there, Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. We respect them.

"But, we respect ourselves. We think we can match up with anybody in the league, and we'll find out who's better."

With hulking defensive tackles Haloti Ngata (6-foot-4, 345 pounds) and Justin Bannan (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) eating blockers, Lewis and the Ravens' three other starting linebackers combined for 448 tackles during the regular season.

And of course, there is that streak of 35 contests without letting an opposing runner top the century mark the Ravens have continued all year.

"We expect to do that every week," said Ngata, a first-round draft pick in 2006, the same year Bannan and defensive tackle Trevor Pryce arrived via free agency. "The fact that this is our third year together on defense helps. We're playing a lot better together."

For their part, the Ravens' trio of running backs has played in stellar fashion all season.

Le'Ron McClainWillis McGahee and rookie Ray Rice have all seen success toting the football at different times. McClain, the 260-pound workhorse, led the team with 902 yards, but McGahee chipped in 671 yards and Rice added 454. No other NFL squad had a player with 900, 650 and 450 rushing yards, respectively.

What's more, McGahee and McClain also have 17 touchdowns between them.

Such production is a basic tenet of a unit coached by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

"It's been good, the versatility of our offense," McClain said. "Coach Cameron has been telling us we're going to be running the ball since he got in here, and it's been paying off."

The challenge exists for Baltimore, as well. The Titans have a tough front wall, as well, led by Pro Bowler Albert Haynesworth and the unheralded Tony Brown.

"They've got a good defensive line," McGahee explained of a rush defense that averaged 93.9 yards allowed per game. "The point is we've got to get by them. The big guys, both of them are having a good year.

"We've got our work cut out for us."

The same could be said for the Titans. With such strong running attacks and defensive fronts on both sidelines, it seems that hard hats will be a requirement this weekend.

It could be a tough day at the office.

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