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Eisenberg: Hardest Parts Of Running Game Reboot Still Lie Ahead


After the events of last week, the Ravens' chances of mounting a more substantial running game in 2017 seemingly have improved.

But there's a difference between improving your chances and actually realizing your goal, so no one should raise their arms in triumph just yet.

The Ravens still have many boxes to check before they can say their offense is achieving a more desirable run-pass balance.

For sure, it was a big step in the right direction when Owner Steve Bisciotti voiced his opinion on the subject quite pointedly at last week's end-of-season press conference.

"I was really disappointed in the lack of a running game, the lack of commitment to the running game," he said, adding later, "I don't think that we're going to be successful putting the ball in the air 600-and-some times. It's just not our identity, and I don't know how we got that far away from it."

Bisciotti usually is careful to defer to his football people and not step on toes when it comes to X's and O's, but after watching his team set a franchise record for most pass attempts in the 2016 season while finishing No. 28 in the league in rushing, he felt comfortable expressing himself.

"I think it is bad," Bisciotti said of the 2016 run-pass disparity, "but I think we'll change it."

In any company, when the boss speaks that directly on a subject, his employees are wise to respond – a good sign going forward.

The hiring of Greg Roman also was a step in the right direction. He's a strong run-game guy, and the "senior offensive assistant" part of his title means he's going to impact the big picture even if Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg runs the unit.

The rest of an offensive coaching staff shakeup that unfolded last week also will impact the running game, with the line set to operate under new management in 2017.

Basically, after the Ravens' third non-playoff season since 2013, Head Coach John Harbaugh is doing as much as he can in January to address a key problem.

But the hardest parts of the running game reboot still lie ahead.

The line definitely needs bolstering, for instance. It wasn't a disaster in 2016, but it wasn't dominant, either. As Harbaugh noted, the Ravens didn't run the ball at times because they couldn't run the ball.

"We need to improve in the offensive line," General Manager Ozzie Newsome stated flatly last week.

The framework of a quality line exists with tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Alex Lewis on the left side and Marshal Yanda at right guard. But right tackle Rick Wagner's return is questionable as he hits free agency after a solid 2016. And Newsome's comment that he wants a "bigger and stronger" line indicates a possible change at center.

The Ravens' ability to solidify and upgrade their line will say a lot about whether they run the ball better in 2017.

They could also stand to add a breakaway threat in the backfield. Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon both ran hard in 2016 and deserve the chance to show what they can do if the running game becomes a larger part of the offense. My two cents, they might be able to handle the job. But neither popped a long run and the Ravens definitely need more offensive pop.

The biggest question about a potential run-game ramp-up can't be answered until the Ravens are playing games again next fall: Is there buy-in on the idea from Mornhinweg?

He calls the plays, and he took over last October pledging to run more after former OC Marc Trestman was fired partly for being such a pass-first guy. But little changed. Harbaugh has pledged that Mornhinweg will run more, but when an OC is described as "aggressive," that's an adjective that hints at a pass-first reflex.

All things considered, I think we need to see a reboot before accepting it as fact. If that makes me a skeptic, well, it's been two years since the Ravens really committed to the run, and they spoke a lot during those two years about wanting to run more, but never did.

For the record, I do feel more optimistic now, after last week's developments. It does seem the Ravens have gotten religion on the subject. But that's just a start.

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