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Eisenberg: Strong Run Game Also In Ravens' 'Old School' Formula


It remains to be seen what the Ravens' 2017 draft class provides in terms of quality players. There's plenty of potential on display this weekend at the team's rookie camp at the Under Armour Performance Center, but you never know.

One thing the draft definitely provided, though, is a narrative for the 2017 season.

When they selected defensive players with their first four picks, following a free agency wave in which they focused almost entirely on their defense, the Ravens left little doubt that they intend to become "old school" Ravens in 2017, which is code for defense, defense, defense.

The Ravens were already pretty effective on that side of the ball, finishing with a No. 7 league ranking in 2016. But they're aiming to become even stingier now.

The phrase "old school" conjures distinct images in Baltimore, images of Ray Lewis crashing into runners, Ed Reed coming out of nowhere for a pick, Jarrett Johnson leveling Hines Ward.

But there was another integral element to that brand of football, which made the Ravens who they are -- a running game.

If they really intend to roll back the clock as they go forward, the Ravens need to roll out a solid ground game in 2017. That's the other half of their "old school" formula.

Defense carried the Ravens to their first Super Bowl win in 2000, but they ranked No. 5 in the league in rushing that year, with Jamal Lewis, a rookie, carrying the load. They went on to rank in the top half of the league in rushing for the next four years, finishing No. 1 in 2003, when Lewis gained 2,066 yards.

When John Harbaugh came to Baltimore in 2008, the Ravens again went run-heavy, finishing in the top half of the league in rushing in each of his first five seasons, The Ravens made the playoffs every year and won another Super Bowl in 2012.

Since then, the running game has fallen off and so have the Ravens. They've finished in the top half of the league in rushing just once in four years, in 2014, which also was the only season in the past four when they made the playoffs. Coincidence? I don't think so.

In the past two seasons, they've ranked No. 26 and No. 28 in rushing.

There's been a lot of talk and some action about getting the running game going again. Owner Steve Bisciotti said in January that he wanted to see it. The team added Greg Roman, a running game expert, to its offensive coaching staff.

But much work remains. Two 2016 offensive line starters, tackle Rick Wagner and center Jeremy Zuttah, now play elsewhere. The team didn't sign their replacements in free agency and didn't draft any potential new blood until Day 3. The depth chart features Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley and plenty of guys who have taken snaps, but right now, it's hard to see how the line will be better, as the team has pledged.

Of course, as GM Ozzie Newsome noted last week, he is not done shaping the 2017 roster – far from it.

I think the line is more of a concern than the running back corps. Although there's been some handwringing over the team not drafting a skill-position player, Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon combined to average 4.1 yards per carry in 2016, which is more than adequate. Let's see what happens if they get more carries.

Yes, it's a setback that Dixon will miss the first four games due to a PED suspension, but Danny Woodhead is an interesting addition, and my two cents, Buck Allen and Lorenzo Taliaferro have carried the load before and easily could again.

The final puzzle piece, of course, is Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's commitment to a stronger running game. He has leaned toward being a passing-game guy before. The running game struggled on his watch in 2016.

It will still be Joe Flacco's offense in 2017, but if the Ravens truly are going "old school," they'll address the issues mentioned above and give their running game a larger role in the offense than the role it has lately occupied.

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