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Can Latavius Murray’s downhill style help Ravens soften the loss of Edwards and Dobbins?

The veteran back is a North & South runner who can simulate the same style that the two injured runners have

The Baltimore Ravens have now added running back Latavius Murray following the losses of running backs Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill to season-ending injuries.

While fully “replacing” Edwards and Dobbins is virtually impossible, Murray is a stylistic fit that should excel in the Ravens’ downhill rushing scheme. According to ESPN’s Next Gen Stats, Murray is the closest fit to Dobbins and Edwards in two key metrics: efficiency and “TLOS” or “average time behind the line of scrimmage.” The two are defined as such:

Efficiency (EFF)

Rushing efficiency is calculated by taking the total distance a player traveled on rushing plays as a ball carrier according to Next Gen Stats (measured in yards) per rushing yards gained. The lower the number, the more of a North/South runner.

Avg. Time Behind Line Of Scrimmage (TLOS)

Next Gen Stats measures the amount of time a ball carrier spends (measured to the 10th of a second) before crossing the Line of Scrimmage. TLOS is the average time behind the LOS on all rushing plays where the player is the rusher.

In terms of efficiency, Edwards, Dobbins and Murray ranked third, fourth and fifth in 2020, respectively. In terms of TLOS, Murray spent the sixth fewest amount of time behind the line of scrimmage, while Edwards was 11th. In 2019, it was more of the same, with Murray ranked ninth in efficiency and sixth in TLOS. This shows that Murray is capable of being the downhill back that will hit the designed gap without hesitation and can be useful in short yardage, or “power,” situations.

Earlier this week, I wrote an article detailing how the Ravens could surprise the Raiders, and perhaps their first few opponents, with an under center “pro style” offense that they haven’t used in games with quarterback Lamar Jackson, but worked on this offseason. Murray has worked almost exclusively from this style of offense in New Orleans the past two years. According to Sports Info Solutions, 128 of Murray’s 146 carries came from under center formations. However, Murray was relatively impactful when the Saints handed him the ball out of shotgun formations. Over the past two seasons, Murray has taken 30 carries for 165 yards and three touchdowns from shotgun formations, with four of said carries gaining at least 15 yards.

Murray’s significant carries by run concepts since the start of 2019:

  • Inside zone: 55 carries for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Outside zone: 81 carries for 458 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Lead: 56 carries for 217 yards and one touchdowns.
  • Power: 28 carries for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Duo: 46 carries for 144 yards and one touchdown.

These concepts accounted for 94% of Murray’s carries over the last two years. Murray hasn’t had any carries in the read option game with New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill, which could take some time to adjust to. The Ravens favorite run concepts over the last two years have been:

  • Inside zone: 183 carries for 746 yards and seven touchdowns.
  • Power: 245 carries for 1,171 yards and 12 touchdowns.
  • Lead: 64 carries for 382 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Outside zone: 70 carries for 395 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Duo: 42 carries for 165 yards.

They’ve also run (obviously) tons of option runs with Jackson. They’ve run 470 option rushes for 2,847 yards and 13 touchdowns over the last two years. Those include read options, veers, bashes and other variations.

While the option game will need some time for Murray to get comfortable with mesh point exchanges, the Ravens scheme is a good fit for a runner who has excelled on power, lead, inside zone and outside zone concepts. In those concepts (removing duo, essentially), Murray has rushed for 1,038 yards on 220 carries in those concepts (4.71 yards per carry). Specifically, his success in power concepts (the Ravens run more power than any team in the NFL) is enticing (4.89 yards per carry).

Considering Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman’s scheme and the degree to which defenses must allocate resources and assignments to account for Jackson, it’s not impractical to expect Murray to average 5.0 yards per carry in the Ravens offense. While they would love to have Edwards and Dobbins, who were second and third in Next Gen Stats rushing yards over expectation in 2020, Murray is a nice replacement considering the fact that he was cut by the Saints less than a week ago.

With running back Ty’Son Wiliams having familiarity at the mesh point, it would be reasonable to expect Williams to be on the field for more option runs over the first few games. Murray shouldn’t take long to get acclimated. He’s spent time with three different NFL teams over his career and been in a bevy of offensive systems. Former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis had an interesting quote on the Glenn Clark show regarding how long it takes a back to pick up a system.

The aspect that Murray doesn’t project to replace the production of Edwards and Dobbins is broken and missed tackles. Among 51 runners with at least 100 carries in 2020, Murray had the seventh lowest rate of missed and broken tackles forced (4.1%). In comparison, Dobbins (11.2%) and Edwards (8.3%) ranked 9th and 22nd respectively. The other aspect is losing the mesh point security and option run familiarity. There will be time to acclimate Murray, as well as running backs DeVonta Freeman, Le’Veon Bell, Trenton Cannon or whomever ends up taking snaps in the Ravens backfield. However, that could give opposing defenses a “tell” when Williams is on the field, vs. another back who doesn’t have familiarity in the option game.

Playing defense is about eliminating possibilities pre-snap so you can react quickly when the ball is snapped and execute the correct assignment based on the offenses first few steps. If the Ravens aren’t comfortable enough to call option concepts with other backs, it will take away the threat the defenses fear when playing the Ravens, which is problematic. That should only take a few weeks of practice in order to gain enough confidence to execute those concepts, but ultimately could prove to make the first few games a bit more difficult than they would’ve been otherwise.

The Ravens will certainly need to lean on Williams in those games. If he’s able to perform at a high level, the Ravens offense will be in good shape while taking on two AFC West opponents that have high aspirations this year.