- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said his team's anemic rushing attack is not Terry Allen's fault.

The Ravens have the 29th-rated running game in the 31-team NFL. And after two games, Allen has 37 carries for 98 yards (2.6 a carry). A good portion of his season total came on a 26-yard run Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Allen, an 11-year veteran, was signed as a free agent Aug. 11, three days after star running back Jamal Lewis blew out his knee in training camp. Allen, 33, has had reconstructive surgery on each knee during his otherwise stellar career and still came back to rush for more than a 1,000 yards.

Billick is quick to defend Allen's performance this season and says he has no plans for a shakeup in the backfield.

"What change? If you do, you're saying Terry Allen is the reason we're not running the ball as effectively as we like, and that's not the answer," Billick said. "Terry is running hard. It has to do with the offensive line, it has to do with how much we are running. There is a lot to do with that. We'll get [backups] Moe Williams and maybe Jason Brookins more involved, particularly on certain down and distance situations, but Terry is running hard. It's a total team thing, so I'm not just going to arbitrarily say, 'Oh, this will fix it. I'll put somebody else in there.' "

The Super Bowl champions are going nowhere on the ground and allowing opposing defenses to unload on quarterback Elvis Grbac. Only 118 of the Ravens' 698 total net yards have come via the ground game.

In Sunday's shocking 21-10 loss to the Bengals, Grbac attempted 63 passes seven shy of Drew Bledsoe's NFL record. Teams that aren't effectively running the ball must at least have the threat of being able to run. Right now, it appears the Ravens (1-1) don't.

"I'm feeling comfortable, I'd like to have a little more [carries], but the pace of the game dictated what we had to do yesterday," Allen said.

Letting Priest Holmes leave as a free agent in the offseason appeared to be a sound decision at the time because the Ravens were focused on re-signing defensive stars Rod Woodson and Jamie Sharper and having enough money left over to land a competent and affordable backup to Lewis.

Nice plan, bad execution. Lewis suffered his season-ending injury before the Ravens were fully prepared to bring in their back of choice, though they safely secured Woodson and Sharper under contract.

Subsequently, the Ravens, searching for a way to make up for the 1,952 yards that Lewis and Holmes combined for last season, were forced to hold an emergency five-back training camp tryout featuring Allen, Chris Warren, Greg Hill, Mario Bates and an out-of-shape Robert Chauncey.

The Ravens signed Williams, who played his first five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, on Sept. 4 five days before their season opener against the Chicago Bears. For now, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Williams is clearly Allen's backup even though Billick denied benching the first-year Brookins.

The play of the Ravens offensive line hasn't helped the running game. In Allen's defense, he hasn't been given many holes to run through. In Sunday's loss, Billick benched ineffective right guard Kipp Vickers in the second quarter for rookie Bennie Anderson.

"I'm going to play the best people I can to win," Billick said. "That's in my best interest. That's in the team's best interest. Anybody that can help this football team, we're going to play them."

Fifty of the Ravens' 146 plays this season have been runs. The Ravens are averaging 59 yards a game on the ground, while opponents are averaging 61.5 rushing yards against Baltimore's record-setting defense. The Ravens have an unhealthy balance between run and pass, relying too much on Grbac's arm.

Grbac is treating Sunday's pivotal AFC showdown at the Denver Broncos (2-0) as a "must-win." When asked if he can throw the deep ball even deeper in Denver's thin air, Grbac replied, "A little bit. Hopefully, we won't have to do that. Maybe it will be on the ground a little bit more."

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