Buccaneers' LeGarrette Blount presents a big challenge for Ravens defense

LeGarrette Blount brings the subtlety of a jackhammer to M&T; Bank Stadium on Sunday. The super-sized Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie is the latest threat to a Ravens defense that has been vulnerable to big backs the past two seasons.

An undrafted free agent whose biggest hit at Oregon was delivered after a game, Blount is one of the Bucs' promising young players on offense. Since getting his first significant playing time in Week 7, the 6-foot, 247-pound running back has given Tampa Bay a powerful new dimension and better than 4 yards a carry.

"He's a big, physical running back with a downhill style," Ravens nose tackle Kelly Gregg said Friday. "He ain't going to try to make you miss; he's going to try to run over you."

The Ravens are forewarned: Blount is similar in style and size to the Cleveland Browns' Peyton Hillis, who trampled the Ravens for 144 yards in Week 3. Now, a week after the Ravens were gouged for 120 yards by the Carolina Panthers' 212-pound Mike Goodson, they face a replica of Hillis.

Although the Ravens shut down big back Michael Turner (17 carries, 39 yards) in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons and discouraged other teams (Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos) with big backs from running the ball, the running game is essential to the Bucs' offensive scheme and complementary to their playmaking quarterback, Josh Freeman.

Tampa Bay has rushed the ball fewer times (275) than the Ravens (313) but has better per-game and per-carry production.

"They are good around the run," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "They want to be a physical, downhill team that's going to establish the running game early, create third-and-short [plays] and just move the ball down the field."

Raheem Morris, the youthful 34-year-old coach who was confident enough earlier in the year to pronounce the Bucs the best team in the NFC, was careful not to overstep the line this week when speaking about Sunday's game.

"We're not going to sit here and act like we're going to go run the ball down the Ravens' throat or anything like that," Morris said. "You know, Ray Lewis and his crew of Mr. [Terrell] Suggs and all those guys have been doing it for a long time. I remember these guys went a whole season without giving up a 100-yard rusher, and not much has changed. And we're going to go out there and try to do whatever we need to do to try to win the football game."

The Ravens actually went two full seasons -- plus parts of two more -- without surrendering 100 yards to any running back.

The 39-game streak -- from December 2006 to October 2009 -- ended when the Cincinnati Bengals' Cedric Benson punched out 120 yards in Week 5 a year ago.

The next week, Adrian Peterson, a 6-1, 217-pound runner, of the Minnesota Vikings rushed for 143 yards against the Ravens.

It was only the second time since 1999 that Baltimore allowed consecutive 100-yard games. Benson, at 220 pounds, added insult to injury when he rushed for 117 yards in Week 9.

Blount has topped 100 yards once -- Week 8, at Arizona, when he gained 120 and scored two touchdowns, including the game-winner against the Arizona Cardinals. Last week against the San Francisco 49ers, he carried 26 times for 82 yards in his first NFL start.

"He's a big, physical, one-cut guy," Johnson said. "He's going to make his move, and then he's coming downhill. So I think you've got to get to him before he makes that cut. You've got to disrupt him in the backfield and can't let him build his momentum, because you get him around guys that are smaller than him, [and] he's going to hurt them."

Blount is not shy about leaving his feet or throwing his fists. He was suspended by Oregon last year after he sucker-punched a Boise State player after the game. He also got into a fistfight in training camp with the Tennessee Titans last summer when some of the defensive players pulled his helmet off.

"He's got some jumping in him," Gregg said. "Also, you've got to watch out for that right hook."

Blount, at least, has gotten Gregg's attention.

"He's a good young back. It's hard to believe a good young back like that didn't get drafted," Gregg said. "But he's definitely given them a spark."

Notes: Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Friday that he hasn't counted out right guard Chris Chester (bacterial leg infection), defensive end Cory Redding (elbow) or safety Tom Zbikowski (heel), but all will be game-time decisions Sunday. They are listed as questionable. Chester, though, is the only one who didn't practice all week. "I'm certain he could go in and play without practicing this week," Harbaugh said. Chester said he was "moving pretty good, so I know I probably could play." More than likely, though, Tony Moll will start for Chester after a solid performance against Carolina. … Safety Ed Reed said he was over the stomach ailment that caused him to miss Thursday's practice and will play. … Rookie tight end Ed Dickson (thigh) is questionable after having limited participation all week. … For the Bucs, defensive end Kyle Moore (shoulder) is out.


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