Marshal Yanda Expects Offense to Be More Committed to Rushing Attack

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Last winter, when the Ravens reviewed what went right and wrong during the 2016 season, their running game stood out as an area that needed improvement.

The Ravens finished the season ranked No. 28 in the league in rushing, No. 21 in yards per rush and No. 30 in rushing attempts. Those numbers didn't lie.

Fixing the ground game became a major organizational directive during the offseason. The Ravens hired new coaches, including Greg Roman, a run-game specialist. They installed new blocking schemes. They overhauled their offensive line personnel, both the starters and backups.

Now, with the 2017 regular season beginning Sunday in Cincinnati, it's time to see whether all the focus on the rushing game has paid off.

"I'm excited. We're all excited. It's a fresh start," Ravens All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda said Wednesday. "The word I think of is commitment. I think we're going to be committed to it this year more than we ever have."

Obviously, the Ravens will still need to move the ball in the air, especially in games when they fall behind.

"We understand that. If we have to throw the ball 60 times to win, we'll do that," Yanda said.

But the goal is a more balanced attack than the Ravens mounted a year ago, when quarterback Joe Flacco led the NFL in pass attempts, setting a franchise record in that statistic. The Ravens also set a franchise record for fewest rushing attempts in a season.

That's probably why the locker room reacted so positively Wednesday when word of Yanda's comment about renewed "commitment" to the running game quickly circulated.

"I love that. You know, I love that," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Every time Greg (Roman), every time they do something, every time I see Marshal, I'm giving him the thumbs up. They know they'll hear from me if they're doing something I don't approve of, but they've been getting a lot of thumbs up."

Terrance West, the starting running back, who certainly stands to benefit, also smiled when Yanda's comment was relayed to him.

"That's what I love to hear. Running the ball? That means we get to do some big things on the ground," West said. "We'll be a well-balanced team, but we're definitely going to run the ball, for sure. That's what they say. But we're definitely going to be balanced. We still have Joe and good wide receivers."

If last season is any gauge, there's a chance for the ground game to get off to a solid start Sunday in Cincinnati. Although the Bengals have been a strong defensive team in recent years, they struggled against the run in 2016, finishing No. 21 in the league while yielding an average of 4.4 yards per carry

Nonetheless, there's little doubt the Bengals will provide a substantive test for the Ravens' reconfigured rushing game and new-look offensive line, which features three new starters: right tackle Austin Howard, center Ryan Jensen and left guard James Hurst.

Yanda was asked what a winning performance will look like Sunday.

"Take care of the football, protect Joe," he replied, "and run the ball."

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