IRVING -- Though it seems like a joke, the statistics say that the Dallas Cowboys' woeful running game has an opportunity to get well Sunday against future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis and the formerly vaunted Baltimore Ravens' defense.
After facing the NFL's second-, third- and fourth-ranked run defenses the past three weeks in the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cowboys might be looking forward to facing the Ravens.
The Ravens come into the game ranked 20th in the league against the run, giving up 118.4 yards per game. They gave up 214 to the Kansas City Chiefs last week, including 130 to former University of Texas star Jamaal Charles
Lewis, however, kindly warned the Cowboys on Wednesday during a conference call that the numbers are deceiving and if they even dream about having success on the ground against the Ravens they should wake up and apologize.
Well, he didn't say the latter. But that's the gist of it.
"It ain't going to be what they think it is going to be," Lewis said.
The Cowboys and their 29th-ranked rushing attack have been warned.
The Cowboys were never deceived by the numbers and will head into the game with a healthy respect for Lewis and the Ravens' run defense.
Still, fullback Lawrence Vickers didn't take too kindly to Lewis' prediction.
"That's just the way he feels," Vickers said. "I don't remember him being Houdini or anything like that. He is entitled to his opinion and if that is how he feels, that's cool, too. Kudos to him."
Vickers said he'll be ready for the Ravens.
"Ray or whoever it is. Names don't scare me. Teams don't scare me. I'm a man before anything. So I let other men just talk," Vickers said. "See me in between those lines."
Vickers, however, doesn't deny that the Cowboys must find a way to run the ball better because their numbers the past three games are unacceptable.
Consider that since rushing for 143 yards on 26 carries against the New York Giants in the season opener, the Cowboys have just 128 yards. That's a 42.7-yards-per-game average. Even worse, they gained just 2.4 yards per carry in that span.
Running back DeMarco Murray's statistics exemplify the running woes. He had 131 yards in the season opener. He has gained 44, 38 and 24 in the three games since.
Vickers said the struggles are not about what the other team is doing but rather what the Cowboys are doing -- poor blocking and too many penalties.
"I don't think we care about their [the Ravens'] reputation," Vickers said. "We respect them. They are a good defense. We are focused on us. We are focused on establishing the things we need to establish, eliminating our self-inflicting wounds. We put ourselves in a bad position when we couldn't run the ball. If you are starting first-and-15, it's hard to get a running game going because you are trying to get back on track."
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said his team must eliminate the minus plays and become a balanced offense. The biggest problem has been on first down, where the Cowboys have rushed for 99 yards on 43 carries. That 2.3 average per carry on first down is second-worst in the league.
"It affects everything," Garrett said. "How many possessions do you get in a game? 10? 11? 12? And if one of those is negatively affected by some kind of a penalty or a minus run or a minus play, you just start to limit your opportunity. You're trying to survive the drive instead of thriving, attacking. So we have to do a better job of that."
They must do it between the white lines against the Lewis and the Ravens.
Vickers will be ready.
Clarence E. Hill Jr.