Ravens' Running Game Showing It Can't Be Boxed In
With a 1-2 punch of J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, the Ravens' running game is firing on all cylinders.
Knowing full well the Ravens are going to run the ball, opposing defenses game-plan to neutralize it, but there's simply no boxing in Baltimore's potent rushing attack.
That was evident again in Saturday's win over the Atlanta Falcons, as the Ravens rushed for 184 yards. Over their past three games, the Ravens are averaging 199 rushing yards and 5.7 yards per carry.
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer analyzed the ground game in his latest Ravens film study.
"The Ravens needed only one first down to put away the game late in the fourth quarter Saturday. The Atlanta Falcons lined up accordingly," Shaffer wrote. "On first down, they had five defenders along the line of scrimmage and 10 players within 10 yards of the ball. On second down, with just one Ravens wide receiver on the field, Atlanta again matched heavy personnel with another run-stopping look: three defensive linemen, four linebackers, four defensive backs, all expecting a run.
"It didn't matter. Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley handed the ball off to running back Gus Edwards for a 3-yard gain and then an 8-yard gain. First down, simple as can be. Three kneel-downs later, the Ravens had run out the clock on a 17-9 win. About 25 minutes later, they'd clinched a playoff berth."
With Lamar Jackson (knee) sidelined the past three games, the Ravens haven't been able to threaten defenses with their passing game, but their ground-and-pound attack has been unstoppable.
"Facing Huntley, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Falcons knew what was coming. They still weren't able to stop it," Shaffer wrote. "On their way to nearly 600 rushing yards total over the past three weeks, the Ravens have run through and around defenses selling out to stop them. Against eight or more defenders in the box, according to TruMedia, the Ravens have averaged 6.4 yards per carry and posted a 47.4% success rate since Week 14, ranking first and sixth, respectively, in the NFL.
"Against nine or more defenders in the box, the Ravens have averaged 5.2 yards per carry and posted a 45.0% success rate over the past three weeks. (A play is considered successful for the offense when it gains at least 40% of the yards to go on first down, 60% of the yards to go on second down, and 100% of the yards to go on third or fourth down.)"
Shaffer acknowledged that Baltimore feasted on two teams who are among the worst in the league at stopping the run the past two weeks in the Falcons and Browns, but the Ravens also had their way against the Pittsburgh Steelers' stout run defense in Week 14, rushing for 215 yards, their second-highest total of the season. In the two games since, the Steelers, who play the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday night, have allowed just 79 rushing yards and 2.3 yards per carry.
When Jackson returns, which could be as soon as this week, the run game will be even more dangerous.
"With Jackson expected back for the Ravens' playoff run, if not sooner, the offense will likely add another weapon for run defenses to respect," Shaffer wrote. "Jackson is averaging 7.4 yards on scrambles and 6.6 yards on designed runs this season, according to TruMedia. At full strength, he has a gravitational pull on second- and third-level defenders that should make life even simpler for Dobbins and Edwards."
Jackson Has a '50-50' Chance to Play vs. Steelers
All eyes remain on the health status of Jackson and Head Coach John Harbaugh is not giving any tips.
According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, Jackson has a "50-50" chance of playing.
"There’s actually a chance he’ll play this week. As explained on Sunday's Football Night in America, it's right around 50-50 that he'll play against the Steelers," Florio wrote.
"For Jackson, the real question is whether he's willing to risk playing if he's anything less than 100 percent. He's so close to finishing his rookie contract that the risk may not be worth it — especially if the risk is enhanced by Jackson's knee not being fully healed."
The Ravens will practice today, so reporters will be watching to see if Jackson is back on the practice field after being sidelined the past three weeks.
Mike Tomlin: 'It's Disrespectful' to Label Mark Andrews As Just a Tight End
Mark Andrews hasn't put up big numbers against the Steelers (he hasn't scored a touchdown and has only once had more than five receptions or more than 50 yards receiving in seven career games against them) but Pittsburgh Head Coach Mike Tomlin has nothing but respect for the All-Pro tight end.
"I think to label him as a tight end is kind of disrespectful to his talents," Tomlin told reporters yesterday. "He's kind of a No. 1 receiving option. He's like Travis Kelce if you will, or that young guy in Atlanta [Kyle Pitts]. Their skillset and the plays that they make are kind of caged in if you describe them in a tight end sort of way. We got some work there to try to minimize him.
"As we prepare, we also acknowledge men like Mark Andrews is a significant guy for them in the passing game, he always has been. And even through some of their quarterback instability, continues to be a dangerous vertical threat."