Every week, the Baltimore Ravens talk about establishing the running game to ignite their offense. This might be the week they really do it.
Their opponent today, Cincinnati, has historically provided little resistance to the Ravens' rushing attack. Last season, running back Priest Holmes gained 400 yards in Baltimore's two wins against the Bengals. In his first NFL start, Holmes rushed for 173 yards, following that with a 227-yard effort. It was the fourth-most by any running back in a two-game series since 1970. But Holmes, who has played sparingly since spraining his knee in the season opener, no longer starts for the Ravens. Holmes is healthy again, but Errict Rhett has taken over as Baltimore's starting running back.
Baltimore Coach Brian Billick does not rule out using Holmes against Cincinnati (1-9) today at Cinergy Field, but is reluctant to replace Rhett, who has gained 708 yards on 171 carries.
"The other part of that equation is, is Errict Rhett playing at a level where you want to take him out of the game? I don't know if that's fair to Errict," Billick said. "If we get in a mode where we're looking at a 30-, 35-carry game, clearly it would behoove us to get Priest in there and give him a chance to continue to progress. There'll be formations you could see Priest in this week in a regular situation as well. But again, there's only one ball."
The Ravens' offense has struggled this season in part because their ineffective passing game has not opened up their rushing attack.
"I believe once the wideouts open up their game and fulfill the things that Coach Billick would like them to do, then definitely it will help the running back situation," Holmes said. "If the offense moves the ball, which I believe they will be able to do this week, I believe I'll get an opportunity to go out on the field."
With Baltimore's revamped offensive line, neither Holmes nor Rhett should have much trouble running the ball against Cincinnati. The Bengals' rush defense ranks 23rd in the league. The defense as a whole is yielding an NFL-worst 30 points a game, which partly explains why Cincinnati has the worst record in the NFL.
"It's been a disheartening season the whole way around," Bengals Coach Bruce Coslet said. "When you are 1-9, it's real difficult to point to anything that's really been good."
Although Baltimore also is disappointed in its 3-6 season, the Ravens can point to their defense as a bright spot. The unit is allowing an average of just 237.9 yards per game, which ties it with Jacksonville for the NFL lead. The defense has allowed only two touchdowns in the past three games and has not allowed a 100-yard rusher or receiver this season.
Ravens Notes: Wide receiver Justin Armour (bruised calf) is not expected to play in today's game. However, because of the healthier offensive line, wide receiver Patrick Johnson should be in the lineup.