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Steven Jackson or not, Ravens run defense will be ready

FootballBaltimore RavensSteven JacksonSt. Louis RamsNFLRay LewisCadillac Williams

St. Louis Rams star running back Steven Jackson wasn’t ruled out of Monday’s game against the New York Giants until about two hours before kickoff, when his on-field workout didn’t produce the necessary comfort level for the player or his team.

A decision on whether Jackson (quadriceps injury) will play Sunday could again be made late, but don’t expect the Ravens to be sitting around and fretting over whether they’ll have to tackle Jackson or his backups, Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood.

“Whoever shows up, we’ll be ready for,” Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “It’s the same run game. We fully expect him to play.”

As dangerous and physical as Jackson is — and Ray Lewis said this week that the Rams’ all-time leading rusher plays the game like a linebacker — you could hardly blame the Ravens for feeling good about their ability to stop whoever takes the handoffs from St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford.

Against two productive running backs over the first two weeks, the Ravens have allowed just 140 total rushing yards, fourth lowest in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson, one of the game’s most dangerous backs, totaled just 53 yards on 24 carries last week.

In the season opener, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall gained just 45 yards on 12 carries, and that was largely inflated by one 23-yard run.

“We’ve done a good job up front so far,” Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “We’ve played good in eight-man [front] and seven-man, against two big-time backs. We have another one coming up this week. We’ll see how we do.”

A stout run defense, of course, is nothing new to the Ravens. They’ve ranked in the top five in the NFL in that area every season since 2006. Not coincidentally, that was defensive tackle Haloti Ngata’s first season in the league. They’ve also allowed a league-low 32 rushing touchdowns during that span.

Since 2006, the Ravens have never allowed more than 93.9 yards per game on the ground. The 70 yards per game this season would be a low, but it would be foolish to draw too many conclusions after just two weeks. Still, the Ravens’ defense does look as formidable as ever in the running game.

“Our front seven is rough,” Lewis said. “We love that challenge. That challenge is, you’re telling us that you’re going to hand the ball to somebody a certain amount of times and they’re going to get a certain amount of yards. So every week that’s highlighted for us, and we take that personal. That’s something that we’ve done for many, many years.”

At 6 feet 2 and 240 pounds, Jackson is a rare combination of power and speed. He has 8,004 career rushing yards, 48 career rushing touchdowns, six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and 27 career 100-yard rushing games.

Jackson was hurt while getting just two carries (one went for a 47-yard touchdown) in the Rams’ season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He has never faced the Ravens because he was inactive when the two teams met in 2007.

Williams and Norwood are capable backs, but they would represent a huge drop-off, not that it matters to the Ravens.

“Cadillac kind of runs like a big guy,” Johnson said. “He’ll throw his body in there, try and run you over. He runs extremely hard; he’s a one-cut guy. It doesn’t change preparation. You’re preparing for both of them. You know what Steven Jackson brings to the table. If he plays, he plays. If he doesn’t, you still have a good back in there that you have to face.”

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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FootballBaltimore RavensSteven JacksonSt. Louis RamsNFLRay LewisCadillac Williams
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