Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis expects the Tennessee Titans to ignite their ground game, which has fallen strangely silent this season. He also knows a battle today between the young star and the ageless warrior -- Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis and Tennessee center Bruce Matthews -- will go a long way toward determining if the Titans come to life today on the ground with struggling Pro Bowl tailback Eddie George.
The Titans are sporting the 30th-ranked rushing attack in the league. George is averaging a mere 2.9 yards a carry. Let the Lewis-Matthews confrontations begin.
The Ravens will rely on a defensive tackle rotation that includes Larry Webster, Tony Siragusa, Lional Dalton and Fernando Smith, hoping that group can keep blockers off of Lewis, freeing him to roam the line and make tackles. Inevitably, though, Matthews, who has played all five line positions effectively during a sterling, 17-year career, will seek and find Lewis near the line of scrimmage. Just 24, Lewis is probably the best middle linebacker in the NFL.
"There is nothing you can do that [Matthews] hasn't seen. He's been an outstanding player for a long time," Marvin Lewis said. "He's obviously very knowledgeable about the game. He gets [the line] in the right calls. He gets a lot of respect. He's good with his hands. He doesn't get a lot of flags for grabbing and wrestling with guys."
Marvin Lewis recalled when Ray Lewis was a rookie in 1996, facing the Houston Oilers, and Matthews gave him a few lessons in run blocking while playing center.
"It was the third game of Ray's career, and he still hadn't learned how important it was to line up at the proper depth and put himself in position to take care of his responsibilities quickly," Lewis said. "He's gotten himself better aligned now, and he's much quicker to his responsibilities. He knows that if you let [Matthews] get into the running game, he will bury you."
Ray Lewis is working on his third Pro Bowl appearance in a row. Matthews, an 11-time Pro Bowl pick, will start his league-high 186th consecutive game today. Marvin Lewis expects their paths to cross often. "Ray is always going to have to cross that guy's face," Lewis said.