Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ravens to use RB Taylor more, Lewis less

His production has plummeted this season, and now Jamal Lewis can expect a reduction in playing time.
Lewis has started every game, a trend that should continue in Week 12 in Cincinnati. But Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick has grown impatient waiting for the 2003 NFL offensive player of the year to get into a groove, and has decided to give more carries to backup Chester Taylor.
Taylor ran 19 times for 59 yards and caught four passes for 26 yards in a 16-13 overtime win over Pittsburgh on Nov. 20. Lewis received only three carries after halftime and finished with 28 yards on 13 attempts.
"Chester seemed to get into a pretty good rhythm," Billick said. "He hit a couple of things, in combination with trying to get him the ball out of the backfield a little bit."
Lewis and Taylor both become unrestricted free agents after this season, and the Ravens need to decide which one to bring back next year. Because Baltimore (3-7) is all but out of contention for a playoff berth, much of the importance of the last six games is determining jobs for 2006.
It's hard to imagine Lewis being in this situation, given that he started the season with 5,763 career yards rushing compared to Taylor's 1,112.
Lewis ran for 2,066 yards in 2003, the second-highest total in league history. He gained 1,006 last year despite missing four games and receiving only five carries in another.
This season, however, has been a major disappointment. Lewis has yet to get a 100-yard game, hasn't had a run over 25 yards since the opener and is averaging a mere 3.0 yards per carry. He has one touchdown rushing, compared to 14 in 2003.
"I wish I could put my finger on it. He's healthy, he's running hard. He's practicing hard. There's plenty of want there," Billick said. "Why we haven't gotten that break-a-tackle, step aside and get the big run, I'm sure he's scratching his head as much as we are."
It could be because Lewis spent the offseason serving prison time for a guilty plea to using a cell phone to set up a drug buy in 2000. Maybe it's the ankle surgery he had in February that caused him to miss much of the preseason.
Or, it's all of the above.
"All the things we've commented on before, the offseason, the rehab, the training camp, the whole nine yards, yeah, they are factors," Billick said.
Lewis lost a fumble in the second quarter against Pittsburgh and walked off the field to jeers from the home crowd.
"I've been through much worse, trust me. That's really nothing. That doesn't do anything to my confidence level," Lewis said after the game. "I know the type of running back I am and I know what I can do. I don't let nobody control that but me."
Lewis has been outdone by Taylor, who has 300 yards on 67 carries, an average of 4.5 yards per carry.
After the 2000 season, the Ravens decided to keep Lewis over backup Priest Holmes. Come January, Baltimore must choose between Lewis or Taylor.
"We can practice, we can have training camp, we can have preseason games, and that's all well and good. But the only real valid evaluation you can draw from any player comes in a game," Billick said. "We have six more opportunities to get some great evaluation done."
Winning, however, remains a priority.
"We've got two good backs," Billick said. "We're going to need both backs through the rest of the year and we'll use both backs in whatever combination we think is necessary to A, win the game, always, and B, to give them both a chance to hopefully get a rhythm."
Taylor was the most productive back against the Steelers, and will continue to see plenty of action the rest of way.
"I have no doubt that Chester can be an every-down back. That is not part of my thought process right now," Billick said. "I don't need to know any more about Chester Taylor to know that he is an outstanding back and can be a lead back for a team. I also know that Jamal Lewis has been, and will be, a great lead back for any team, regardless of what he's going through right now."


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