How Finally Slowing Down Helped J.K. Dobbins Speed Up

Baltimore Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins (27) warms up before an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in Baltimore.

In his first game following arthroscopic knee surgery, J.K. Dobbins rushed for 120 yards against the Steelers on Dec. 11, but still wasn't satisfied.

Dobbins kept thinking about a 44-yard run in the first quarter when he broke into the clear, but was caught from behind by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Two years ago, Dobbins said he would've taken that run to the house.

"On a run like that, I'm usually gone," Dobbins said on “The Lounge Podcast”. "You've seen it."

That's the explosiveness Dobbins is still chasing, and he's getting closer to it as the Ravens prepare for a rematch against Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football. The return of Dobbins, who has averaged 101.3 yards per game over the last three games, has added an undeniable spark to Baltimore's running attack. With Dobbins and Gus Edwards back in the lineup, operating behind an offensive line that's one of the best in the NFL, Baltimore has a running game that is gashing opponents.

However, Dobbins has gone through hell since his devastating knee injury in the 2021 preseason. In addition to losing a year of football, months of grueling rehab took Dobbins to dark places mentally. He remembers when he couldn't lift his leg following surgery. Weeks later, he was still walking with a cane, taking showers while sitting in a chair, unable to stand up or bend his leg.

Even when Dobbins returned in Week 3 against the Patriots, he didn't have much explosiveness. In his first four games this year, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, and more doubt began to creep in.

"Am I ever going to be good again?" Dobbins said. "Is this the new me? Am I going to be bad? Am I done?"

At that point, Dobbins decided to have another knee procedure in October to alleviate some of the scar tissue and improve his range of motion. It was a tough decision, because more surgery would mean more missed playing time. However, Dobbins felt strongly that he was making the right choice.

"I got woken up out of my sleep by God to tell me to do that," Dobbins said. "First game back, I go for 120. It was the right decision.

"A lot of people didn't want me to sit out. A lot of people weren't informed on it, thought it would be bad for me. I stuck with it. I had to. I wasn't myself mentally. My personality wasn't the same. Cause I just wasn't me. It was a tough time, because I knew my knee wasn't right."

Now Dobbins feels like himself, and it's showing. Even without all his explosiveness, Dobbins' vision, patience, quickness and ability to set up blocks makes him a special back. He's running with speed and power, breaking tackles and making people miss.

"Before the scope, I was like 70%," Dobbins said. "Now I'm probably in the 90's. I've just got to get that last little bit, which comes with time and strengthening."

The Steelers remember what Dobbins did in Week 14, so containing Baltimore's run game will be high Pittsburgh's priority list. Watching Baltimore rush for 215 yards at Pittsburgh in Week 14 didn't sit well with Head Coach Mike Tomlin.

"That was a fork in the road, if you will, for our run defense," Tomlin said via the Steelers’ website. "More than anything, I thought we had a bad day. I think our run defense has been really solid over the second half of the year. It wasn't reflected in our play that day. There's nothing we can do about that. That tape's in the can."

Dobbins wants to give Tomlin more headaches on Sunday night, with the Ravens (10-5) hoping trying to capture the AFC North by winning their last two games. When Dobbins can't play football, he drives people close to him crazy. But he has an insatiable desire to be great, and now that's he back on the field, he's running toward daylight.

"I hate sitting out," Dobbins said. "Sometimes my passion can be seen as something harmful. But it's just me. I can't fix my passion. I just love playing the game."

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