Eisenberg: Ravens Should Ride the Hot Hand and Make Alex Collins the Featured Back


For an NFL team endeavoring to field a winning team, there are two kinds of luck – the fortunate and the unfortunate.

A good example of unfortunate luck would be Marshal Yanda limping off the field on a fractured ankle in Week 2, his season over almost before it began.

The Ravens are familiar with that kind of luck, having experienced plenty of it in 2017. Their offensive line needed a major overhaul because of injuries. Their top three receivers all sat out a game a few weeks ago – a loss, predictably. Their quarterback took a shot to the head that gave him a concussion last week.

Too much of that kind of luck can ruin your season, and the Ravens, well, let's just say they've come close to using up their deductible.

But the other kind of luck, good fortune, can make your season, and it's becoming apparent the Ravens are experiencing some.

No, the rise of running back Alex Collins isn't attributable entirely to luck. I understand that. Let's assign the credit that's due. The front office saw enough promise in him to pick him up after the Seattle Seahawks cut him at the end of the preseason. Good move. The coaches have taken him in and helped him polish his game and alleviate a worrisome fumbling habit. Good job.

To be clear, that's talent on display, not luck, when Collins takes a handoff and bursts for a gain.

Still, no team signs a running back to its practice squad in early September with the idea that he will rank among the league leaders in early November. By any reckoning, that's good fortune. And that's the narrative with Collins this season.

Only six other backs in the NFL have rushed for more yards since he was promoted to the Ravens' 53-man roster in Week 2. Overall, he ranks ninth in rushing, first in yards per carry (6.0) and second in percentage of runs that pick up at least 10 yards.

His emergence is part of a larger success story. Coming off a lamentable performance in 2016, the Ravens' ground game is ranked No. 7 in the league in 2017. Collins has gained 478 yards. Buck Allen has gained 356. The overall per-carry average of 4.2 yards is above the league average.

The Ravens have experienced all sorts of issues on that side of the ball, but their plan to get their ground game going again is an unabashed success.

Collins, however, has provided the difference-making element, an explosiveness the organization feared was lacking.

The Ravens expected improvement when they hired noted run-game guru Greg Roman, but they weren't sure their backs could consistently pop, as the saying goes. They never hid their desire to add a running back if the right one became available.

It was impossible to know Collins, 23, was the answer. He exhibited speed and quickness when he arrived, but he was a 2016 fifth-round pick with 125 career rushing yards.

From his first carry in Baltimore, though, he has looked capable of popping big runs. In fact, he has popped a succession of them.

Yes, it's still early. He just recorded his first 100-yard game last week against the Miami Dolphins.

But watching him play – and just as importantly, watching him practice – the Ravens are beginning to believe he's a significant find.

"He's getting better every day with little things, all the details," Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said this week.

He can't do it by himself. So far, he has run well mostly in games in which the Ravens established their passing game early. Going forward, it's a must that the passing game produces enough to open things up for the running game – hardly a given considering the Ravens are ranked last in the league in passing offense.

I think it's also a must that the coaches give Collins enough carries that he's the featured back. The other guys are performing well, but to quote an old rock lyric, there's something happening here.

When the right kind of luck visits, you ride it.

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