When Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs and his staff watch the Baltimore Ravens run the football, they cannot help but recall their great Redskins teams of old. They observe perennial Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden blow defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage, and think back to former Hogs Joe Jacoby and Jim Lachey. They see 2,000-yard running back Jamal Lewis crumple opposing defenders with his 245-pound frame and their minds flicker to images of John Riggins or Gerald Riggs doing the same thing, only without Lewis's game-breaking speed.
Baltimore's power running game may be unrivaled in the NFL, and uses many of the same principles that Gibbs instilled in Washington as the franchise marched to three Super Bowl titles during his first tenure with the team.
Gibbs has yet to rediscover that grinding ground attack in his first four games back with the Redskins, with the offensive line lacking consistency and running back Clinton Portis unable to duplicate the kind of production that led Washington to trade for him in the offseason. When Washington and Baltimore meet at FedEx Field on Sunday night, the Redskins expect to see a heavy dose of Lewis doing the kinds of things Gibbs hopes his offense soon will be able to achieve, while the Redskins may have to revert to more no-huddle, quick passing sets to offset their slump running the ball.
"I think any team up here would want to be like [the Ravens], a team that could rush the ball for that many yards," Gibbs said. "And yes, they're big up front and I think they do a great job and they have a great scheme, too. . . . We have to find a way to get where they are. We ought to be patterning ourselves after some of the things they're doing."
It remains to be seen if Portis (5 feet 11, 205 pounds) is the ideal back for Gibbs's system. He has gone three straight weeks without rushing for 100 yards, and the Redskins have lost three straight games. Lewis ran for 2,066 yards last season -- the second-highest total in NFL history -- behind his hefty yet agile offensive line. In Monday night's loss to Kansas City, Lewis rushed just 15 times despite averaging 4.9 yards per carry, and the Chiefs were able to dominate time of possession in a 27-24 victory.
The NFL suspended Lewis for two games yesterday, a day after he pleaded guilty to drug charges stemming from an incident more than four years ago. But he will be eligible to play Sunday night. Feeding him the ball frequently enough is one of the common refrains among Coach Brian Billick's critics, and the Ravens likely will run far more against the Redskins, particularly behind Ogden, a dominant left tackle, and into the inexperienced right side of Washington's defensive line.
Billick said he takes comparisons between his team's running effectiveness and those of Gibbs's great teams as a high compliment. Before being hired by Baltimore, Billick was the offensive coordinator with Minnesota under Coach Dennis Green; Green was a huge proponent of Gibbs's running style and Billick helped implement those schemes into the Vikings' offense, and then brought that package to the Ravens.
"I hope [the Ravens resemble Gibbs's running game]," Billick said. "That would be great. Denny [Green] long admired that aspect of Coach Gibbs's offense and we tried to meld the two, the power running game and the multiplicity of the West Coast offense, and clearly when I came here I brought that pedigree or background with it. So, it's not something you specifically set out to do, but it's just as you continue to accumulate athletes, a big, power back like Jamal Lewis and a big offensive line, it just lent itself that. That seemed to be the way to go."
The Ravens excel at blocking downfield. Ogden is a superior athlete who can flatten a lineman off the snap and then continue as a lead blocker for Lewis, clearing a path through the secondary. He is flanked by 345-pound guard Edwin Mulitalo, giving Baltimore a dominating left side. With weak-side linebacker LaVar Arrington and starting right defense end Phillip Daniels out with injury, Washington could be particularly vulnerable to that matchup.
Ogden was injured for Baltimore's first game, a loss to Cleveland, but since his return the Ravens have averaged 5.3 yards per carry
"We talk about a Joe Jacoby type being a road grader," Redskins offensive coordinator Don Breaux said, "and their big left tackle there, he is a legitimate road grader.
"I'll tell you what was really impressive to me. The other day -- and I hadn't seen much television -- but Baltimore's past game [a Week 3 win over Cincinnati], their back [Lewis] had a run for 85 yards and he broke away from everyone and this guy is 250 pounds. Two-hundred and fifty pounds! That was impressive. And that was to the left side as I remember it. That was to the left side behind that big tackle."