The Baltimore Ravens improved to 3-1 on the 2020 season with a shaky but comfortable 31-17 victory over the Washington Football Team this past Sunday. It was a needed victory after one of the team’s most forgettable performances of the Lamar Jackson era — the previous week against the Kansas City Chiefs. Against Washington, Baltimore got back to their winning ways thanks to another solid air and ground performance by the Ravens former-MVP quarterback. Still, the game left a lot to be desired from a team that has been labeled a powerhouse by most pundits.
After going up 28-10 late in the third quarter, the game was never in doubt. However, there were still moments that likely left the Ravens faithful squirming. This included a first-down Jackson interception at his own 37-yard line with 42 seconds remaining in the first half. The pick was Jackson’s first of the season and while it only led to a field goal, it was another example of the Ravens struggling to pass the ball when they are forced to do so.
The ground game has been the bread and butter of Baltimore’s offense ever since it was turned over to Jackson in 2018 and the Ravens seem to be less reliant on it, to a fault, in 2020. This may not seem like a huge deal when your team is winning but getting away from what makes your team so special is usually a bad idea in the long run.
The Ravens and offensive coordinator Greg Roman set the league record for team rushing yards in a single season in 2019 and need to get back to doing what they do best in 2020. Baltimore’s rushing offense is not a problem but it needs to be properly utilized if the Ravens are to contend for a Super Bowl in 2020.
Baltimore Ravens Run Game Needs to Be Properly Utilized
The Ravens Are Not Bad At Running The Ball
First things first, the Ravens are not bad at running the ball. Over their first four games, Baltimore has the third-most rushing yards in the league with 160.8 per game and a total of 643 yards over the past four weeks. Their 5.4 yards per carry as a team are the third-highest in the NFL. Only the Cleveland Browns have more 20+ yard runs and only the San Francisco 49ers have as many 40+ yard runs. The problem is with the frequency in which they do/don’t run the ball.
Last season the Ravens led the league in rushing attempts by a wide margin. The next team behind them, the 49ers, finished almost 100 attempts behind Baltimore’s 596. The Ravens compiled 3,296 rushing yards with an average of 5.5 yards per carry and an average of 37.25 attempts per game.
Now in 2020, the Ravens are running the ball, on average, 30 times a game — the sixth most on average in the NFL. That drop of around seven attempts per game from 2019 to 2020 comes with a discrepancy of around 45 yards every game. That is a big deal when you consider the Ravens, with a historically great offense, passed for the fourth-least yards in the NFL last season. Despite finishing so low, they are still passing for fewer yards in 2019 than in 2020. Overall, the offense is averaging about 55 fewer yards per game than last season but the biggest loss is on the ground, not in the air.
The reason the Ravens had so much success running the ball a season ago was that even though teams knew what they were going to do, they couldn’t stop it. Baltimore is still running the ball nearly as effectively as last season but the frequency of which they do it is down too much.
The Running Backs Need More Touches
While the Ravens rushing attack has still been good in 2020, it is currently relying on Jackson too much. Jackson has made a living off of his ability to take off from the pocket, as no quarterback has done before, but when he has to carry the run game, you have an unbalanced offense.
Last season in 2019, Jackson led the Ravens in rushing with 1,206 yards. He had 176 rushing attempts, the most by a quarterback in a single season, and set the record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in league history. However, the trio of Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill combined for 393 carries for an average of 24.5 attempts per game. This year, the trio of Ingram, Edwards, and J.K. Dobbins, average just 19 attempts per game. While Ingram is averaging his least yards per rush since 2014, Edwards and Dobbins are both averaging over six yards per carry.
The Ravens have still been running the ball more than they’ve been throwing it in 2020, but the difference between how much they do each is dramatically different from a year ago. In 2019, the Ravens ran the ball an average of 9.75 times more per game than they passed it. In 2020, the Ravens have run the ball just 4.75 times more per game than passed it. Shrinking that gap would seem like a good way to get the running backs more involved.
Baltimore does not have to run the ball 37 times a game again but using the diversity in the Ravens backfield to dictate play should be a big strength of the team. All three running backs have performed well when called upon and getting them more touches could be a key to opening up the Ravens offense.
Roman Cannot Give up On the Run Early
The Ravens have been stereotyped as a team that is unable to play from behind and while this seems unjust, the statement holds some validity to a point. Jackson is 0-6 in his career when going into half time trailing, even though he is 20-0 with a lead at the break. But it isn’t just Jackson that has a problem playing when he’s down late; it’s the whole team — players and coaching staff combined.
In the loss to the Chiefs, the Ravens only ran the ball 21 times. Baltimore received the ball to begin the game and drove the ball 67 yards for a field goal. On that drive, the running backs had a combined four carries. They then ran the ball just eight more times the entire game. The offense was finding holes on offense too, but Roman neglected to run the ball with consistency for the majority of the game. Baltimore finished the game averaging 7.8 yards per carry while Jackson averaged just 3.46 yards per passing attempt.
What makes the Ravens offense so scary is the ability to smash right through teams when they know they’re going to try and run the ball. The Chiefs did not show they could stop the Ravens runners; Roman just had the offense stop running the ball. Even in the lopsided matchup, the game was within one score early in the fourth quarter. There was no good reason not to run the ball for the majority of the game. Drops by each Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown were a big topic of discussion following the loss but the passing attack was asked to do far too much when trying to keep up with the arm of Patrick Mahomes. Against Washington, prior to the final drive in which the Ravens ran the ball six times, Baltimore had run the ball just three more times than they passed it.
Roman seems to be overthinking the offense right now and needs to get back to what made them so great a year ago. Jackson is a great passer but there’s no reason to stray so far from his offense’s best asset.
It’s Time For The Rushing Attack To Make A Statement
Baltimore currently sits at a respectable 3-1 but are likely still unsatisfied that they are not in first place in the AFC North. The Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers each have great running attacks of their own and the Ravens need to assert their dominance on the ground over the next few weeks before the most crucial stretch of their schedule. Following their Week 7 bye, Baltimore has a seven-week span that sees them face the Steelers twice and the Browns for their second matchup in 2020.
The Ravens currently have two weeks before their bye week and play two opponents – the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles – that they should handily beat. The two teams have a combined record of 2-6-2 after tying each other in Week 3.
Over the next two weeks, the Ravens should get back to running the ball down their opponents’ throats and establish a running attack that more closely resembles the record setting pace they set in 2019. Jackson is still running the ball like the greatest athlete to ever play the quarterback position and all four of his running backs are finally healthy. There is nothing holding the Ravens back from re-establishing the dominant ground presence that led to the team’s 14 win season a year ago.