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Eisenberg: Ravens' Ground Game Will Still Dominate

RB J.K. Dobbins
RB J.K. Dobbins

If what happens during training camp accurately foretold what's going to happen once the season begins, Baltimore fans would be gearing up to watch an aerial circus from the Ravens in 2021.

Hour after hour, day after day, they're passing the ball a ton on the fields of the Under Armour Performance Center. I don't have a percentage handy, but the vast majority of snaps lead to a ball being in the air, headed for a receiver.

They're throwing in 11-on-11 scrimmages. They're throwing in 7-on-7 drills. They're throwing during individual position drills.

What they aren't doing, almost ever, is running the ball.

That wouldn't be a surprise at the camps of many teams. Passing attacks dominate offensive strategy in the NFL more and more every year.

But the Ravens have indefatigably zigged while the rest of the league zags, developing a record-setting, history-making ground game since Lamar Jackson became their starting quarterback.

That isn't changing. I don't know what the 2021 season will bring, but I'm pretty sure no team will run more than the Ravens – even taking into account their determination to accelerate their passing game.

I'm also pretty sure no team will run more effectively than the Ravens, who've averaged 5.53 yards per carry over the past two seasons, easily besting the 4.36 league average.

Why aren't they polishing that central aspect of their offense during training camp? Well, quite simply, they can't.

Years ago, NFL training camps were a brutal survival test designed to hammer players into shape. Teams held two fully-padded practices per day. Each practice lasted up to three hours.

Talk about hard knocks. There was no shortage of running plays and/or players passing out from exhaustion.

Over the years, though, the owners and players' union have significantly eased the experience through collective bargaining. Making the game safer for players has become a priority, and nowhere is that more evident than during training camp.

According to the CBA, teams can't practice in pads at all until Day 7 of camp. After that, they can don pads for three straight days but must follow that stretch with unpadded practices for at least three days.

Padded practices are capped at two-and-a-half hours. Camp ends a lot sooner than it once did.

Bottom line, there's a lot less hitting, and thus, it's not the best environment for burnishing your ground game.

This turns the Ravens' training camp into a sleight-of-hand performance. You can't actually see their running game. But it's there.

Believe me, it's there.

If anything, the Ravens hope to bludgeon opponents with it even more in 2021. They did a year ago with a makeshift offensive line that wasn't always great, as the coaches tried to satisfy three running backs – a tough chore that got in the way at times.

A year later, they've overhauled their O-line with big dudes such as tackle Alejandro Villanueva, guard Kevin Zeitler and rookie guard Ben Cleveland. The idea is to better protect Jackson when he drops back, but also, do a better job of opening holes for backs.

Meanwhile, the picture at running back is all cleared up. J.K. Dobbins is the starter, with many predicting he'll have a huge season. Gus Edwards is the strong No. 2, with a new contract in hand after three years of consistent production.

Jackson, the key to it all, is aiming for his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season. No quarterback had ever run for 1,000 in two straight, let alone three.

You wouldn't know any of that was on the table from watching training camp, where, day after day, hour after hour, fans watch the team's young receivers compete with the defense's elite cadre of cornerbacks and safeties. It's a ton of fun. Passes soar. Plays are made. Fans roar.

For sure, the Ravens hope to display some of that passing-game electricity in their season opener against the Raiders next month. But they're the Ravens. More than likely, they'll end up trying to ground the Raiders into silver-and-black dust with their ground game. Because that's who they are, yes, still.

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