The Baltimore Ravens lost 28-27 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 12. It was their fourth loss of the season, leaving them at 7-4.
The defeat marked the fourth time this season that the Ravens failed to hold onto their lead in the fourth quarter. They have a comfortable path to the playoffs, but they need to work on their ability to close out games if they are to find any success during the playoffs.
One obvious way to have more control in the fourth quarter is to utilize the run game more. The Ravens running backs have had a turbulent season so far but have found some success of late. Greg Roman’s offense should look to develop their ability to control the clock (and possession) in the fourth quarter by relying on their running backs.
Gus Edwards served as the team’s top running back against the Jaguars, and he had a solid game. He carried the ball 16 times for 52 yards and a touchdown. As expected, however, Lamar Jackson was the team’s top rusher. He managed 89 yards on 14 carries. Despite the solid production, both Jackson and Edwards lost fumbles, which proved detrimental for the Ravens.
2nd-and-goal from the 1: Gus Edwards touchdown pic.twitter.com/iTFetgRvND
— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) November 29, 2022
With Jackson hurting from a hip injury, this seems a more important time than ever for the Ravens to rely on their running backs.
Baltimore Ravens Running Backs Crucial Down the Stretch
The Ravens running backs had a slow start to the season. J.K. Dobbins and Edwards suffered season-ending injuries in 2021, leaving both players unavailable for the start of 2022.
Up stepped Kenyan Drake and Justice Hill. However, neither produced effectively. In Week 1 against the New York Jets, Drake managed just 2.8 yards per carry. The running backs were largely underwhelming until Dobbins’ return.
While Dobbins injected a breath of fresh air, he soon returned to the Ravens injury report. Drake showed vast improvement in Dobbins’ absence. He carried 10 times for 119 yards and a touchdown against the New York Giants.
The Giants defense had only 10 players on the field on Kenyan Drake's 30-yard TD run.
🔹 Expected Rush Yards: 8
🔹 Rush Yards Over Expected: +22#BALvsNYG | #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/FXgEaoxz1j
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 16, 2022
Drake followed his strong performance with a dud, however. Against the Cleveland Browns, Drake managed just five yards on 11 carries. Instead, it was the returning Edwards that showed out. The veteran managed 66 yards and two touchdowns.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore used an effective game plan for both Drake and Edwards. It seemed that the run game finally clicked, especially with Ronnie Stanley back to full health. Edwards was used for early downs and short yardage while Drake was the change-of-pace back.
The system was short-lived, however. Edwards picked up an injury, ruling him out for two weeks. The team relied on Drake, who had a tale of two games. Against the New Orleans Saints, Drake managed 93 yards and two touchdowns but, against the Carolina Panthers, he recorded just 46 yards. Hill served as the third-down back and he showed good efficiency on limited touches.
Edwards returned for the loss against the Jaguars and Drake was a non-factor. With a lead in the fourth quarter, the Ravens running backs should have been used more in the fourth quarter to control possession better.
Dobbins Returning Again
Dobbins has been on the Ravens IR since his injury versus the Giants. However, he returned to practice this week, opening up his 21-day window to return to the squad.
Dobbins gave the running game a boost when he came back toward the start of the season. The hope is that he will have the same impact on the Ravens running backs when he returns this time too.
Truthfully, Dobbins’ season has been underwhelming so far (not least because of the injuries). Over four games, he has 123 rushing yards, 39 receiving yards and two total touchdowns. In his first game back, he seemed slower than before too.
With more time for recovery this time, the hope is that Dobbins will return to the field with some rejuvenated energy and fresh legs. With Edwards back as well, Ravens fans can be optimistic that Roman can finally use his top two running backs in tandem. A good system, like they had against the Buccaneers, would be an effective foundation for the entire Ravens offense.
J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill and Gus Edwards were all out on the practice field today.
The last time the trio played in a game together was back on January 16, 2021 against the Bills. It's almost been two years #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/kqaAUnd680
— Rocco DiSangro (@RoccoDiSangro) December 1, 2022
Offensive Line are Unsung Heroes
The Ravens running backs need to be relied upon because of how good the offensive line (and general blocking) has been for the Ravens. This is an underrated aspect of Baltimore this season.
Despite having a tough time in the run game at the start of the season, the Ravens offensive line has slowly solidified itself as a top-five unit across the league. 2022 NFL Draft pick Tyler Linderbaum has been particularly impressive, as reflected in the rookie report at the bye.
However, the main reason for the change of fortunes was the return of Ronnie Stanley. Stanley is one of Baltimore’s many Pro-Bowl caliber players, but he was absent to start the season. His return was a huge boost for the offensive line, and he has changed their fortunes vastly.
In trusting the running backs, Baltimore are also putting faith into their elite offensive line.