Run Game is the More Pressing Issue, Not Quarterback Situation
A lot of the focus during Head Coach John Harbaugh's press conference with the media yesterday was on the team's quarterback situation.
With Joe Flacco dealing with a hip injury, there are questions about whether the 33-year-old be able to play in Sunday's crucial contest against the Cincinnati Bengals. If Flacco is unable to go, it would mean either rookie Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III would start.
A quarterback battling an injury always gets a lot of attention from pundits and fans alike because it's the most important position on the field. But to some analysts, focusing on who will be under center for the Ravens is misguided. They have a different idea of what actually needs to happen to rejuvenate the offense.
"Whether if it's Jackson or Flacco, this team has to run the football more effectively," WNST's Luke Jones said. "There's just not ifs about that. You have to do it."
The Ravens sit at No. 31 in the NFL in yards per carry (3.6) and No. 27 in yards per game (92.7). Another telling stat is that Baltimore's longest run this season is just 22 yards, which is No. 31 in terms of longest runs by teams. And according to PressBox's Bo Smolka, "the Ravens are the only team in the league without at least one 20-yard run by a running back."
Indeed, to Jones and others, the pressure will be lessened tremendously on whoever is playing quarterback if the Ravens can move the ball on the ground. That will be very useful when considering Baltimore's three options for Sunday: a potentially banged-up Flacco, Jackson making his first NFL start, or Griffin, who hasn't played in a regular-season contest this season.
This is also an issue that will linger because of the Ravens' future matchups. "They're facing some of the best offenses in the league the rest of the way, whether if it's the Chiefs, Chargers or Falcons," said The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec.
The best way to keep those high-octane offenses from doing serious damage is by having them on the field as little as possible.
"They'll need to run the ball on offense, control the clock and keep the defense from being out there on the field totally and not getting expended too much," Zrebiec said.
Thankfully, there are some indications that the run game is set to improve, including the offensive line getting healthier. Running back Alex Collins has averaged 3.93 yards per carry over the past three games, which is an improvement from earlier this season. The unit also has new blood in running back Ty Montgomery, who was acquired in a trade with the Green Bay Packers.
Something else that could help the run game (and I know I said not to focus on the quarterbacks) would be more playing time for Jackson, whether if that is as a starter or simply having more of his plays getting called.
"With Jackson on the field, teams are more wary of the edge, guarding against him on the outside, and even when he is a decoy in motion he often pulls defenders with him, opening space up the middle," Smolka wrote.
Though Jones does think Jackson's presence would help with the rushing attack, he also believes expectations should be tempered. Most likely, Jackson won't be able to run all over NFL defenses right away like he was able to in college.
"Do I think they'll average more than four yards per carry with Jackson as the quarterback? Sure," Jones said. "Do I think it is going to be six or seven yards per carry and they don't have to ever throw the ball? No of course not. I don't think it is going to be that effective."
Whether if it's more time for Jackson, or by another way, the Ravens need to find some way to get the running attack going.
"They've got to figure out a way to run the ball more effectively," Jones said. "I just don't see this team getting to where it wants to go if they rank 31st in the NFL in yards per carry. So that's the big key."
A Breakdown of Upcoming Unrestricted Free Agents
This offseason will be one filled with difficult decisions for the front office. The Ravens have a long list of players who are set to become unrestricted free agents, so one of soon-to-be General Manager Eric DeCosta's first tasks will be to figure out which guys the team wants to re-sign.
PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz took a look at 10 players who are about to become free agents.
"What's clear is these potential free agents — a group that includes two Pro Bowlers and other starters — face a crucial stretch of their careers in which they stare down an opportunity to boost their value before hitting the open market," Kasinitz wrote.
OLB Terrell Suggs: Kasinitz refers to Suggs as the "headliner of this group." There's no doubt that Suggs will go down as one of the all-time great Ravens, but will the Ravens want to hold onto a 36-year-old pass rusher?
"If the Ravens believe they can make a playoff run in 2019 and Suggs wants to continue playing for a modest price, it'd make sense for him to stick around," Kasinitz wrote. "But if Baltimore puts a full rebuild in motion, there wouldn't be much incentive for Suggs to return."
ILB C.J. Mosley: Another big name in this group, Mosley leads the Ravens with 59 tackles despite not playing in two game this season. A three-time Pro Bowler, Mosley is one of the best at his position in the NFL, but it could come down to how much the Ravens are willing to pay.
"The problem he faces is that teams often devalue inside linebackers in the modern, pass-heavy NFL," Kasinitz wrote. "Baltimore would lose arguably its best defensive player if Mosley walks this offseason, so the team and general manager-in-waiting Eric DeCosta must decide how much they are willing to pay an elite inside linebacker."
WR John Brown: After signing a one-year $5 million contract this past offseason, Brown is set to become a free agent again. He enjoyed a fast start to his career in Baltimore but has just six catches for 43 yards over the past two games. Brown will want to stop that from continuing in the second half of the season.
"Baltimore has reason to sign Brown to an extension, but the 28-year-old wideout might want to test the market again this spring," Kasinitz wrote.
RBs Javorius Allen and Ty Montgomery: These two have similar skillsets as pass-catching running backs that can also block, but also have very different backgrounds in Baltimore. Allen was drafted by the Ravens in 2015, while Montgomery is still yet to play a game in purple and black.
"While the Ravens might re-sign one of these two next season, it's unlikely both running backs return," Kasinitz wrote.
TE Nick Boyle: Boyle has carved a niche in the offense as a reliable blocker who can also make a couple catches a game. Plus, he hurdles defenders whenever he gets the chance.
"Rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews have promising futures in Baltimore, and if the team wants to keep Boyle around as the No. 3 guy, it could probably do so at a reasonable price," Kasinitz wrote.
Don't forget to check out the other upcoming free agents Kasinitz highlighted.
Shutting Down Marcus Mariota Looks More Impressive
Baltimore's most recent victory was the team's shutout of the Tennessee Titans in Week 6. The Ravens bullied the Titans and their quarterback Marcus Mariota, setting a franchise mark with 11 sacks in a single game.
At the time, some pundits said the Ravens were simply taking advantage of an overwhelmed young quarterback. In recent weeks though, that victory has started to look better and better. The Titans have won back-to-back games, the most recent of which came against the New England Patriots.
"It was an encouraging performance from quarterback Marcus Mariota, who showed just what his ceiling can be," Pro Football Focus wrote of his performance on Sunday. "His ability to extend plays with his legs helped the Titans keep putting points on the board, and their defense did the rest."
That was far from Mariota's performance against the Ravens. This is what PFF wrote during its recap of Tennessee's game against Baltimore:
"It was a lifeless performance from the Titans offense in this one. Tennessee had no answer for Baltimore's pass-rush, which beat them all afternoon with a variety of blitzes and stunts, and they had guys ready to wrap Mariota up when he looked to escape the pocket. Tennessee couldn't get anything going, whether it be on the ground or in the air."
Mariota has thrived since facing Baltimore, scoring five touchdowns, while tossing just one interception. Part of that is because his injured throwing hand, which was a factor in Week 6, has improved.
The Titans have also done a far better job of protecting Mariota, only allowing eight sacks in their past three games. As a result, Tennessee is now 5-4 and much like the Ravens, are in the mix for the final wild card spot.
You have to wonder if the beatdown the Titans suffered at the hands of the Ravens was weirdly a good thing for them. Their offense has certainly done a lot better since Week 6.
It's not the worst news for the Ravens that they're now competing with the Titans for a playoff spot. Sure, you'd rather not have a plethora of teams going seemingly for one spot, but competing with a team you have the head-to-head tiebreaker with makes it an easier prospect.
Maurice Canady's Versatility Would Be A Welcome Addition
As was reported yesterday, cornerback Maurice Canady is eligible to return to practice tomorrow after being on injured reserve for the past eight weeks with a thigh issue. The Ravens now have 21 days to figure out if Canady is healthy enough to be added to the 53-man roster, or if he'll need to return to IR.
Though it might be a little time before Canady returns, Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy thinks he could be a crucial addition to the secondary. He played very well in his lone game appearance this season, registering four tackles against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1.
"Canady provides the defense with some versatility as he can play both in the slot and on the outside," Levy wrote. "He also seemingly has the skillset to play safety, but Baltimore has yet to give him a full-time opportunity at that position. He also can be a key contributor on special teams, which boosts his roster stock."
Canady is not expected to be in contention to become a starter, but he's quality depth. Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith and Anthony Averett have all missed games due to injury this year. Having someone like Canady who can play multiple positions would greatly bolster a cornerback group that Harbaugh referred to last week as "the best corner situation we've ever had here, by far, since I've been here."
- The Bengals have made two coaching changes that involve former Ravens coaches. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Baltimore's secondary coach from 2011-2013, was released yesterday. Head Coach Marvin Lewis also hired Hue Jackson, most recently the Cleveland Browns Head Coach this season and Baltimore's quarterback coach from 2008-2009, as a Special Assistant to the Head Coach.