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Underestimate Justin Forsett at Your Own Peril

The narrative of 30 year old Justin Forsett being a one hit wonder, or too old is just ridiculous and over-hyped. The argument that he will be even more successful in 2015...

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

In Joyner's phenomenal article (ESPN Insider subscription required) on why he believes Joe Flacco will break out under Marc Trestman, amongst the reasons he lists are some enlightening statistics regarding Justin Forsett.

Good Blocking Yards Per Attempt (GBYPA)

Too often I have heard fans make the mistake of underrating Justin Forsett, citing his journeyman status. This is a big mistake. Forsett led the league in yards per attempt, but fans like to attribute that to our stellar offensive line, making comments like "Anyone could have been productive behind that line." While this might be somewhat true, Forsett did alot more than most other backs could have done. A good metric of this is GBYPA, because it takes a bad line out of the equation. His GBYPA was 11.4 yards, 1.5 yards ahead of C.J. Anderson who was second. NFL leading rusher Demarco Murray, by comparison had a 8.8 GBYPA even though his teammates combined for a 9.7 GBYPA grade. So despite his stellar offensive line, Forsett's abilities are clearly underrated.

Here is what Joyner had to say:

Baltimore has the makings of a superb rushing attack

Last season, Justin Forsett led the league in my good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) metric that gauges rushing production on plays when the ball carrier is given good blocking (roughly defined as not allowing the defense to do anything to disrupt a rush attempt). His 11.4-yard GBYPA made him the only back to reach a double-digit total in this area and placed him 1.5 yards ahead of the next highest candidate in this category (C.J. Anderson, 9.9).

It is possible that this number will drop off, but two seasons ago Matt Forte posted an 8.8 GBYPA mark that placed eighth in the league. That shows Trestman's offense is capable of producing a top-10-caliber performance in this metric.

This is important to the Ravens' offense as a whole, but it is also important for some of the offensive play-calling aspects a strong rushing game should open up.

Using the Pass to Open up the Run

Joyner also mentions his belief that we will run more play action and screens, plus we will throw more against loaded fronts which will open up the lanes when we do run. Although recent draftee Javorius Allen excels in passing situations, the job will be Forsett's to lose. Forsett will benefit from the increased receptions, as well as defenses needing to be more on their toes due to the constant misdirection with screens and play action. This should also help us in the red zone.

Per Joyner:

More play-action passes

The first area of passing-game improvement will likely come from more usage of play-action. Last season, Baltimore had only 102 play-action passes, a total that placed 23rd. By contrast, Chicago's passers averaged 126 play-action passes per season in Trestman's two-year tenure there, and that was despite Trestman having to scale things back to prevent Cutler's risk-taking from torpedoing the offense. This number will trend upward even if Flacco doesn't improve his BDR, but if his decision-making does get better, look for Trestman to allow Flacco to throw play-action passes even more often.

More throwing against loaded defensive fronts

Another factor that should lead to more play-action passes is the frequency with which opposing teams seem to want to put an additional defender in the tackle box in an effort to slow down the rushing game.

Last season, Baltimore faced a loaded defensive front on 217 plays. They ran the ball 113 times in those situations and passed on 104 occasions. That made them one of only two teams (Seattle being the other) to run the ball more often than pass it in that situation.

What makes this distribution level odd is Baltimore had the highest yards per attempt (YPA) total in the league when throwing against a loaded defensive front (8.7). Trestman's Bears club last season had nowhere near that success level (5.9 YPA, ranked 29th), and yet his team had a more than three-to-one ratio in favor of passes when facing a loaded defensive front last year (169 passes, 49 rushes). Expect Trestman to take full advantage of these opportunities and allow Flacco to put the ball in the air when the opposing team goes all out to stop the ground game.

More screen passes

Flacco ranked third in YPA on screen passes last year (8.0) but was tied for 21st in screen pass attempts (39). Trestman took the exact opposite approach with Cutler, who was the league leader in screen passes last season by a significant volume, as his 87 attempts were 14 more than the next highest qualifier (Blake Bortles). This would have the added benefit of allowing the Ravens to get the most out of their talented slate of running backs.

Several other factors leading to my conclusion are:

Forsett's Track Record is Better than You Think

Justin joined the Ravens following a season in which he got injured in Jacksonville, but at the beginning of his career he was extremely successful in back to back season, The Seahawks were scared to give him a heavier load, likely due to his diminutive nature. Here are his stats in the 2 productive years in Seattle:

2009- Julio Jones: rushing 177/563/2/3.4 + receiving 35/43, 232/2. Forsett: rushing 114/619/4/5.4 + receiving 41/57, 350/1

2010-  Marshawn Lynch: rushing 165/573/6/3.5 + receiving 21/25, 138/0. Forsett: rushing 118/523/2/4.4 + receiving 33/51, 252/0

2011- Marshawn Lynch: rushing 285/1204/12/4.2 + receiving 28/41, 212/1. Forsett: rushing 46/145/1/3.2 + receiving 23/34, 128/0

After 2011, Forsett left for Houston and Lynch continued to be the beast he is today. However if you extrapolate Forsett’s stats to 285 carries (like Lynch had in 2011) in either 2009 or 2010 and you get 1547/10 and 1307/5, plus the increased receiving production Forsett would provide from being on the field more.

The bottom line is, Forsett earned the right to be given a chance to start, outproducing his competition 2 consecutive years. Neither of the primary backs averaged over 3.5 ypc, while he averaged 5.4 and 4.4 yet his carries and starts did not increase. Yes, he had a down year in 2011 with Hasselback gone, but they also cut back his carries and gave another 120 to Marshawn despite Forsett being better on a per carry basis AND as a receiver than Lynch the year before…

We Cannot Possibly Be Worse in The Red Zone Under Trestman

Football Outsiders has the Ravens ranked as 5th worst power running team in the league, ahead of only San Fransisco, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Oakland. Their power success rate of 55% is 10% below the league average. This is despite being highly ranked in every other offensive line statistic. This includes a 21% stuff rate which is tied with 10 other teams for 4th highest, and higher than the league average of 19%. So an improvement in this area is likely, especially with improved play-calling. Short yardage play-calling in the regular season was one of my biggest issues with Kubiak, so hopefully Trestman can improve on that.

Increased Opportunities

Last season began with Bernard Pierce the likely lead back, and Forsett just roster filler until Ray Rice returned from his short suspension. Forsett received some carries in week 1 due to Pierce fumbling the ball, but he really was not given a real #1 running back load until week 6, following the Colts stuffing us.

Here are Forsett's carries by week (total team carries in parenthesis): Week 1- 11 carries (Team 21), Week 2- 8 carries (Team- 36), Week 3- 11 carries (Team- 33), Week 4- 14 carries (Team- 30), Week 5- 6 carries (Team-15). Total of 50 carries, for 297 yds and 3 tds, with another 118 yards receiving- good for 5.94 Y/A rushing on 10 attempts per game.

Following the Indy game, Forsett averaged 16.8 carries per game, which extrapolated over a full season would have added another 200 yards minimum. The Ravens did not add a top back like Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley this offseason, so Forsett is the undisputed starter from day 1. With Trestman a big fan of putting the ball in his backs hands in the passing game too, I see Forsett having increased production, coming close to some of the better Ray Rice seasons.


I believe everything points to another career year for Forsett, with about 50 receptions, and increased carries in the run game, not to mention increased production. My view might not be popular, and possibly overly optimistic, but I believe that Forsett did not maximize his potential in 2014 and I think I have provided substantial support for my opinion that under Trestman in 2015 he will do so, leading to the most prolific offense in Ravens history!