Maurice Jones-Drew: Ravens Can Improve Running Game Without Making a Trade
A popular opinion is that the Ravens should trade for a running back such as Marlon Mack (as noted in yesterday's Late for Work) to get more out of their running game and be less reliant on Lamar Jackson carrying the ball.
NFL.com analyst Maurice Jones-Drew agrees that the Ravens need more production from their running backs to help Jackson, but he believes they can achieve that without making a trade.
Jones-Drew said, first and foremost, Ty'Son Williams needs to be more involved, even when Latavius Murray returns from an ankle injury that forced him to miss this past Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"[Williams is] averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season, and his physical, downhill rushing style provides a nice complement to Jackson's," Jones-Drew wrote. "Giving his carries to a veteran crew that hasn't been as efficient doesn't make a ton of sense."
Williams, who had a strong preseason after spending last year on the practice squad, had 142 yards rushing on 22 carries (6.5 yards per carry) and five receptions for 45 yards in the first two games of the regular season.
Over the next five games, however, he was a healthy scratch in two and received just 11 total carries in the other three.
"He's not been able to keep the momentum from a standout preseason," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Williams is the team's most explosive back, but he's run tentatively at times, had issues with ball security and in pass protection and has not always been on the same page with Jackson."
None of the Ravens' veteran running backs — Murray (31), Devonta Freeman (29) and Le'Veon Bell (29) — have been outstanding thus far (although some of that can be attributed to the offensive line struggling to consistently open up holes).
Freeman (20 carries for 109 yards and two touchdowns) has shown the most burst, and Murray leads the team with four rushing touchdowns, while Bell is averaging 2.0 yards per carry (17 carries for 34 yards).
Jones-Drew noted that since Week 4, Ravens' running backs are tied for 30th in the NFL in yards per carry (3.4) and rank 27th in rushing yards over expected (-54). Jackson, meanwhile, accounted for nearly half of the team's rushing yards in that span.
That said, Jones-Drew said he's not ready to give up on the veterans.
"[Offensive Coordinator Greg] Roman must use Bell and Freeman in different ways and put them in favorable positions in an effort to lessen Jackson's load," Jones-Drew wrote. "It's clear Bell, whose style doesn't match what the Ravens want to do in the run game, isn't the same player he was in his Pittsburgh heyday. Still, his greatest asset was always his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield – and yet, he's been targeted just three times in Baltimore so far. Why not use him more on draws, screens or counters, so he can pick up chunk yards via his vision and stop-start quickness, or line him up out wide?
"Freeman, meanwhile, is a one-cut slasher and good check-down option for Jackson. This pair of vets can still provide a spark, even if the bulk of the usage should go to Williams. I know it's not ideal, but Baltimore has to figure out how to squeeze more production out of the backs on hand. Hopefully Murray will get healthy, Williams will step up and Freeman and/or Bell will click somehow."
Are Ravens More Dangerous Because of Loss to Bengals?
This time last week, the Ravens were the top seed in the AFC, riding a five-game winning streak and the pundits' darlings.
After this past Sunday's lopsided loss to Cincinnati, however, the Ravens are no longer in first place in the AFC North, and the Bengals are the pundits' new flavor of the week.
In other words, the Ravens are right where they are the most comfortable and dangerous, according to Baltimore Beatdown's Joshua Reed.
"As bad as the end result was, it might have been just what the Ravens needed heading into their week off," Reed wrote. "It not only quickly quieted a lot of the hype they were getting nationally during their win streak but it also likely gave them the reality check they needed that will force them to do some hard self-reflection before the second-half stretch."
Reed noted that historically the Ravens seem to thrive when they are cast as the underdogs rather than the team to beat. Russell Street Report's Tony Lombardi also sees it that way.
"It's as if the Ravens way is not to enjoy prosperity — that they know that they're a more dangerous club when their collective back is to the wall," Lombardi wrote. "Seemingly forever, but at least since the arrival of Brian Billick, the Ravens embrace the us-against-the-world mentality. Whether that's really true or not, they believe it and that's all that counts. Somehow it galvanizes the locker room and they re-focus with laser, steely-eyed resolve.
"It's never easy with the Ravens. No one will ever think of them as the league's beauty queens nor will they be among the best in style points. But the team's willingness to stare down adversity, individually and collectively can't be dismissed. … And just as Billick did all those years ago, John Harbaugh will use the doubters and naysayers to fuel the rest of the season, as he too has done in the past, and will surely do again."
The Case for and Against Each AFC North Team Winning the Division
The Ravens missed an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC North, as all four teams are now within a game of each other in the loss column.
With the midpoint of the season nearly here, The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker sized up the teams in the division and predicted their final records. Here are some excerpts:
Why they could win the division: "They have the best player in Jackson and a coach who excels at keeping them on track in John Harbaugh. Jackson is finally throwing to receivers who can flip a game with one big catch. They have the best special teams in the league. Their defense seems to be getting healthier, too."
Why they won't: "They're still a wounded team with no tackle depth, a group of running backs that doesn't scare anyone and a defense that has allowed three quarterbacks to throw for more than 400 yards. The Ravens can't fall back on power football the way they did down the stretch last season, and they better play well in November because they'll face the Green Bay Packers, the Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams in Weeks 15, 16 and 17."
Predicted record: 12-5
Why they could win the division: "They discovered a new level of self-belief by standing up to the Ravens, even embarrassing them late in the game. [Joe] Burrow to [Ja'Marr] Chase is the new connection to fear in the AFC, and Cincinnati's defense has quietly played better than its offense. The Bengals have avoided the injuries that have harpooned the Ravens and Browns, and their remaining schedule is the easiest in the division."
Why they won't: "Burrow still throws interceptions at key moments, and the right side of his offensive line is not reliable. For all their young star power, the Bengals did not light it up on offense over the first five weeks. Were they rounding into form against the Ravens or playing over their heads? They have not had to deal with a major injury to an essential player or roll with the ups and downs faced by most contenders. They have put themselves in a wonderful position. Now, we'll see if they can hold it."
Predicted record: 11-6
Why they could win the division: "The Browns have the best offensive line, best running back (Nick Chubb is averaging 104.6 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry) and best defensive player in the AFC North [Myles Garrett]. Even with injuries dragging them down, they have exceptional front-line talent. They're quietly very good on special teams as well, so they will be a difficult out for any opponent."
Why they won't: "The Browns might be better positioned to win without their starting quarterback than any serious playoff contender, but [Baker] Mayfield's uncertain status is still a problem. Without him, they had to scrape by the toothless Denver Broncos at home. On the other side of the ball, the Browns have given up 39 points a game to the three best offenses they've played, so their talent does not always translate to results. They won't face any 'easy' games after a Week 11 matchup with the Detroit Lions."
Predicted record: 10-7
Why they could win the division: "The Steelers are a long shot, no matter which playoff odds you care to consult, but if they beat the Browns, they could get to 6-3 heading into a Week 11 meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers. [Ben] Roethlisberger has played poorly by almost any measure, but his past two games were his best of the season. The Steelers' defensive front still makes life difficult for any opposing quarterback, and coach Mike Tomlin always finds a way to keep his team competitive."
Why they won't: "The three teams ahead of them in the AFC North have played better, simple as that. With Roethlisberger seemingly on his last legs, the Steelers don't gain yards in chunks, and they're not as overwhelming on defense as they were a few seasons ago. They might not be favored in any of their last eight games, so they won't be in great position to make up ground if the Bengals and Ravens keep winning."
Predicted record: 7-10
Should Ravens Try to Trade for Allen Robinson?
In recent years, it seems like every big-name wide receiver available in free agency or perceived to be on the trade block was linked to the Ravens.
One such player this offseason was Allen Robinson, who ended up playing under the franchise tag with the Chicago Bears.
Even though the Ravens are getting more production from their wide receivers this season than in years past, CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin says the team should make a deal for Robinson before the Nov. 2 trade deadline.
"Lamar Jackson is doing just fine with his current crop of wideouts, and Marquise Brown has emerged as a true No. 1. But Robinson would be a premium rental for a title run, bringing size and physicality to a group that should only get better," Benjamin wrote.
The case against trading for Robinson was made by Benjamin himself. Brown has looked the part of a No. 1 wide receiver.
Plus, first-round pick Rashod Bateman has been impressive in two games since returning from groin surgery and is just scratching the surface, and Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II have all been contributors.
Moreover, the Ravens certainly have greater needs at other positions (offensive line, cornerback, running back). They also have less than $2 million of available cap space, so there's virtually no way this could be done.
"Robinson signed a one-year deal for just under $18 million dollars. Baltimore would be on the hook for his remaining salary this year, and then would have to sign him to a presumably massive contract extension in order to keep his services," Ravens Wire's Kevin Oestreicher wrote. "That combined with the draft capital needed to acquire him and the plethora of talented young wide receivers that the Ravens already have on their roster makes it difficult to see Baltimore making a move for Robinson at this point."