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When Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis rushed for 144 yards against the Ravens on Sunday, watching him break the century mark might be considered a hiccup.
But if Rashard Mendenhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers can go for triple digits this weekend at Heinz Field, a troubling – and very uncharacteristic – trend might be bubbling to the surface.
Thirteen years separated the last two times the Ravens allowed back-to-back 100-yard rushers. Twelve months could separate the next.
Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson took 27 attempts for 120 yards in Week 5 last season and Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings topped it the following game with 23 carries for 143 yards. Previous to that, it was Jerome Bettis (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Karim Abdul-Jabbar (Miami Dolphins) to do it in consecutive weeks, and that was in 1997.
Needless to say, some Ravens players are on high alert.
“Anytime you rush for that many yards, we’re going to be watching the film this week, probably until about six o’clock in the morning,” Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said after the Browns game.
Up next on the docket is Mendenhall who already has two 100-yard outings under his belt this season, hitting 120 yards against the Atlanta Falcons in the regular-season opener, and then logging 143 yards on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend.
And, at a compact 5-foot-10, 225 pounds, Mendenhall can run with power or elusiveness, depending on the situation.
The Ravens have been up and down against Mendenhall. In 2009, he hit 95 rushing yards in his first meeting with Baltimore, but was held to only 36 yards later in the year.
“He’s the type of guy that will run over a guy if he needs to, or just make the cut and run past you,” said Johnson. “We’ve faced him before, so we know what we’re getting. We just need to be disciplined and get back to the basics of run defense and not try to do too much.
“You’ve seen what he’s done to a few teams this year. He’s a big part of their offense.”
At this point, the ground game is an area where the Ravens can improve, as they are allowing 127.7 yards through three contests, the league’s 22nd-ranked unit. This is a run defense that hasn’t finished a season out of the top 10 since 2002, when it was 13th.
But even though the Ravens take pride in stopping the run, they will gladly take the victory.
“If you’ve been around here long enough you come back to work, and you go back to work, that’s it,” said Ray Lewis, the lone holdover from the Ravens’ 1996 draft class. “Last week it was, ‘We held them to this, we held them to that.’ That’s cute, but bottom-line, give me a ‘W’.
“And I go home and my food tastes better, everything tastes better, because at the end of the day you do what you’re supposed to do as a team.”