If the Baltimore Ravens are known for one thing collectively, it is great defensive play. Secondly, they are known as a team that likes to be physical on offense and run the football down the opposing team’s throat.
That has not quite been the case in 2018 even though there certainly has been an uptick in Baltimore’s offensive output, which is a reflection of the front office’s increased investment in the passing game. It is not as if they neglected the running game; Alex Collins proved to be worth building around last season, and Baltimore did so by making a few draft picks along the offensive line. Unfortunately, the results have not been there through six weeks, and if the Ravens want to be seen as a serious threat like the New Orleans Saints, they will need more from the ground game.
In their two Super Bowl seasons, Baltimore got plenty of production out of feared backs Jamal Lewis and Ray Rice. A reliable running game takes pressure off of a quarterback in the same way strong receivers and pass protection can alleviate stress.
While Collins is not expected try to emulate the aforementioned franchise greats, the backfield as a unit needs to make strides. This applies to Collins, Javorius Allen and a third rotational guy that has been a bit of a revolving door thus far. Collins has busted off several big plays this season (including two huge touchdowns last week) and Allen has developed into a very nice situational weapon with an uncanny nose for the sticks. So is there a solution, or are they just going to be stuck in the mud all season?
The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec recently discussed the issue in a round table article where he makes the case that the Ravens not only need to run the ball better but make more attempts:
The Ravens talk every week about how that’s going to be a focus and the game starts and the run game stalls. They’ve run the ball the seventh most times in the league, but they rank 25th in rushing yards per game and 30th in rushing yards per carry. Alex Collins, their starting back who was a revelation last year, hasn’t hit the 70-yard rushing plateau in a game this season. While the biggest issue is running the ball better and not necessarily more, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could certainly stand to be a little more persistent with his run calls. Already this season, Joe Flacco has the second and third highest totals for single-game pass attempts in his career. The Ravens are 3-12 all-time when Flacco throws the ball 50 times or more, so pass-heavy game plans are never going to be the best recipe for them. They need to run the ball more.
Especially salient is the reference to Joe Flacco’s number of pass attempts. It is well known that Flacco does not have a ton of success with a high volume of passes in games. So what can be done to fix it? Probably a shake up along the offensive line, which will take place by default due to the injury to Alex Lewis.
With an offensive line change and an update to Morninwheg’s game plan, the run game could get more traction this week even against New Orlean’s strong rush defense. Even with their struggles, Baltimore’s backs have been able to make plays this season:
Forced missed tackles per touch among RBs:— Nick Olson (@NicholasJOlson) October 19, 2018
10. Kareem Hunt (0.26)
9. Ito Smith (0.26)
8. Ty Montgomery (0.26)
7. Alex Collins (0.27)
6. Duke Johnson (0.29)
5. Saquon Barkley (0.30)
4. Aaron Jones (0.31)
3. James Conner (0.31)
2. Austin Ekeler (0.31)
1. Dalvin Cook (0.40)
Collins has made plays when presented with the opportunity, and Allen has carved out a nice role in limited opportunities. If the offense can capitalize better on their abilities, Baltimore has a good chance to beat the Saints at home.
A more consistent running game is what currently separates the Ravens from the true contenders. This can be observed by their two losses where a completely imbalanced offensive effort lead to their demise. This is the first season in a long time for Baltimore where the passing game is outpacing the running game, and that has to be addressed moving forward. That way, if there are games in which the passing game falters, a balanced attack can provide refuge for the offense. The Ravens will have to make adjustments today in order to counter Drew Brees’ highly explosive attack.