Eisenberg: Ravens Need To Run More To Beat Bengals


The Ravens' rematch with the Cincinnati Bengals is coming a little soon for my tastes. You aren't getting the full dramatic effect of a charged-up divisional rivalry when the home-and-home series is completed before Halloween.

But the scheduling quirk certainly gives the Ravens a quick shot at redemption. Their season-opening loss to the Bengals remains a fresh memory. Sunday's rematch amounts to a do-over, a chance for them to right what went wrong that day.

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking they should commit more firmly to running the ball this time around.

Since their loss to the Bengals, the Ravens have won five of six games to take over first place in the AFC North. They've rushed for at least 120 yards in each of those wins and currently are ranked seventh in the league in rushing, averaging 133 yards per game.

Yet they never really gave their running game a shot in the loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 7.

Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, who calls the plays, is a well-known purveyor of the run, but in his debut as a play-caller in Baltimore, the Ravens passed on their first three snaps, four of their first six, seven of their first 10 and 11 of their first 15.  By then, the Bengals had a 9-0 lead that soon grew to 15-0, forcing Kubiak to lean heavily on the pass during a second-half rally.

In the end, the Ravens passed on 65 of their 85 snaps. They had a similarly out-of-whack run-pass ratio in a Week 5 loss to the Colts, after which Kubiak said he was unhappy about the imbalance.

I'm not saying the Ravens should just reverse course and start pounding away on the ground Sunday. Kubiak's overarching goals for the offense are unpredictability and balance. It didn't matter that he largely bypassed the run when Joe Flacco threw for five touchdowns in the first 16 minutes in Tampa a few weeks ago. Whatever wins is good.

But there are several reasons to make sure the running game is given a chance to establish itself Sunday. Tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele are expected back after missing several weeks with injuries. That should help. And the Bengals' rushing defense is reeling. It was among the league's best a year ago, ranked third, but has plummeted to No. 30 this year amid numerous injuries. (Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is expected to play.)

A lot has happened to the Ravens' running game since the opener. Bernard Pierce got the start that day and was expected to carry the heaviest load, but his early-game fumble, which caused him to spend the rest of the day on the bench, created an opportunity for Justin Forsett, who has emerged as one of the NFL's most productive backs. His per-carry average of 5.7 yards leads the league.

It's going to take a balanced approach to beat the Bengals Sunday, which means relying on Forsett's feet as well as Flacco's arm.

The Ravens have had years when their draft was spectacular; other years, not as great. Most experts will tell you it usually takes three or four years to know.

But seven games into the 2014 season, there's no guesswork about this year's Ravens rookie class. I can't remember one making such an immediate difference in so many ways.

Top pick C.J. Mosley, a linebacker, might be the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year. Tackle Timmy Jernigan and safety Terrence Brooks are also getting a lot of snaps and seem destined for major roles on that side of the ball.

On offense, guard John Urschel and tackle James Hurst have manned the left side of the line for the past two weeks and lived to tell about it. Crockett Gillmore had to step into the No. 2 tight end role after Dennis Pitta's injury; known for his blocking, he is also starting to catch passes. He will start this week with Daniels undergoing a knee procedure. Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro hasn't played as much lately because of Forsett's emergence, but when needed in Week 3, he almost gained 100 yards. Wide receiver Michael Campanaro is finding a role in the offense; his first career reception went for a touchdown.

I'm not sure the Ravens would be 5-2 and in first place in the AFC North without their rookies. They might all become contributors.

The Ravens' first draft class, with Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, will always be their best, but if early indications are worth anything, the rookie class of 2014 could be something special.

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