- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. It has been 37 games, including last season's playoffs, since a running back gained at least 100 yards against the Baltimore Ravens' formidable defense.

But today, for the first time in nearly three years, Ray Lewis, Tony Siragusa and the rest of the record-setting defense that sparked the Ravens to the Super Bowl title in January get a chance at redemption against that running back when they open the season against the Chicago Bears at PSINet Stadium.

The AFC Central is loaded with great backs like Eddie George, Corey Dillon, Jerome Bettis, and Fred Taylor. Yet it was the Bears' James Allen who last ran more than 100 yards against the Ravens. Allen may not be in the same category as the aforementioned backs, but on Dec. 20, 1998, the Oklahoma product raced for 163 yards on 23 carries at Soldier Field in his first NFL start.

Allen's total from that game represented more than half of his 270 rushing yards for that season. Last year he proved that outburst wasn't a fluke when he rushed for 1,120 yards on 290 carries and two touchdowns.

"We've stopped running backs for the last 2-1/2 years, some better running backs than him [Allen], not to take anything away from him," said Ravens four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "When we step into a game, our first thoughts are that no back is going to get over 100 yards. Period. That's not being cocky; that's just what we do. We don't allow 100-yard rushers. You can take it any way you want to take it."

Allen and the Bears' offense will certainly have their hands full. The Ravens' defense is coming off a season where it set NFL records for fewest points scored (165) and fewest rushing yards allowed (970) in a 16-game schedule. The defense posted four shutouts, one shy of the post-merger NFL record, and led the league in forced turnovers with 49.

Thirteen of the Ravens' top 14 defensive players are back. The only defection was the free agent loss of strong safety Kim Herring to the St. Louis Rams.

"Unfortunately, if you're an opponent of the Ravens and you're looking at them from the offensive side, you don't see a lot of weaknesses in fact you don't see any weaknesses," said third-year Bears coach Dick Jauron. "You look at them man-for-man, their whole 11-man team … they are really outstanding at all positions. That's one of the reasons why they are the world champions."

The Bears will start their third opening day quarterback in four years when Shane Matthews, the starter two years ago, gets the call today.

Matthews, an eight-year pro out of Florida, is coming off a decent preseason, completing 23 of 37 passes for 265 yards and one touchdown with a quarterback rating of 81.5. But Matthews is not the biggest concern for the Ravens' defense; it has something to prove to the 5-foot-10, 215-pound Allen.

"This defense always thinks in terms of having a shutout," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Every team, every defense does, and this team in particular. Yeah, I would think every team in the league right now would like to think of coming out playing well defensively and getting a shutout. Our team is no different."

Earlier in the week, Billick said the Ravens' running game will be by committee, with veteran Terry Allen getting the start and rookie Jason Brookins and veteran Moe Williams also playing. The running game has been under scrutiny since star back Jamal Lewis suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp.

The Bears are solid in the middle defensively with Keith Traylor and Ted Washington manning the tackles in front of middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year last season.

If the Ravens can't run against the Bears, Billick might turn quarterback Elvis Grbac loose. Grbac, signed as a free agent from the Kansas City Chiefs, had an outstanding preseason (20 of 35 for 261 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a quarterback rating of 90.3).

"The biggest upgrade is Elvis, no question about it," Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "Elvis has done great. He's done everything and been everything that I think Brian and Ozzie [Newsome, senior vice president of football operations] thought he would be. I have no questions about Elvis. Hopefully, we don't get into a situation where we have to throw the ball because of our running game, but I sleep real well knowing that I've got Elvis throwing the football 40 to 50 times a game."


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