For the Ravens, running football has become winning football.
Baltimore has been the NFL's top rushing team since Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback five games ago. At the start of Week 11, Baltimore ranked 27th in the league in rushing averaging 92.7 yards per game. In just five weeks, the Ravens have jumped 25 spots to second in the league in rushing, averaging 141.9 yards per game, second only to the Seattle Seahawks (154.9).
In large part because of that, the Ravens (8-6) have won four of those five games, putting themselves in the hunt for a playoff spot.
What the Ravens are doing is no longer a surprise. There has been plenty of time for opponents to study film on the Ravens' read-option offense. Yet, the Ravens are still running their foes over.
That bodes well for the Ravens heading into Saturday night's critical game against the Los Angeles Chargers (11-3).
"To me, it's good football," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday.
Baltimore has become a physical team offensively, capable of wearing down opponents. In Sunday's 20-12 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 81 of Gus Edwards' 104 yards rushing came in the second half. Jackson rushed for 55 of his 95 yards in the second half.
By methodically controlling time of possession (37:10 to 22:50), the Ravens wore down another opponent, who knew what to expect but had no answer.
"The running game does have that kind of effect," Harbaugh said. "It's tough to stop that style of play when it's executed well with physicality. Our guys are doing that and I'm proud of them for that. That's the way we're playing football right now."
It has been questioned if the Ravens can continue running with so much success, while keeping Jackson healthy. In a league where passing prevails, the Ravens are winning a different way.
Here's another question. Can opponents find an answer for what the Ravens are doing? They haven't yet, but it will face a tougher test this weekend.
The Chargers rank ninth in the NFL defending the run, the best run defense Baltimore has faced since Jackson became the starter. But the Ravens feel good about what they are doing offensively, regardless of the opponent.
"I talked to my dad, obviously; he has good feelings about it," Harbaugh said. "It's good football, and I appreciate the way our guys are playing. I think we can play better football, and Terrell Suggs mentioned to me in the locker room after the game that very thing, that when we talk to the guys on Tuesday, this is one of the things we need to talk about. We can play better football – better winning football – and that's what we'll keep striving for."
Lamar Jackson Needs to Cut Down on Fumbles
Jackson has fumbled nine times this season and has lost three of them, including his lone fumble Sunday that Tampa Bay turned into a touchdown drive on its next possession.
The read-option requires Jackson to make quick decisions with the football, and Sunday's wet weather conditions were challenging. However, Harbaugh wants to see improvement.
"They've all been different fumbles," Harbaugh said. "The common thread is that we need to secure the football in different situations.
"So many different things come up for any player in a game, especially a young player. It was wet. It was a high snap. I do think, when you have the option football, and you're doing it in the gun, the snap is very critical that it's in the right spot every time, and that's hard to chase perfection. So, we're chasing perfection on that, because the timing and the ball-handling is really precise. The snap was a little high, the ball was a little slick, it had a little steam on it, it was a quick read – all those things kind of worked against us on that one, and we just mishandled it."
James Hurst and Bradley Bozeman Shared Time at Left Guard
While four of the Ravens' offensive linemen played every offensive snap Sunday, James Hurst (56 snaps) and Bradley Bozeman (28 snaps) shared time at left guard.
It was Hurst's second start at left guard this season, replacing Alex Lewis (shoulder), who missed his second straight game. Hurst was sidelined for six games with a back injury this season, and Bozeman, a sixth-round rookie from Alabama, has been solid when asked to play.
It remains to be seen what role Lewis will have when he returns. Lewis could be plugged back in as the starter, share time with Hurst or be a valuable reserve.
But Harbaugh was happy with the left guard rotation against Tampa Bay. He said Hurst was not injured.
"That was part of the plan," Harbaugh said. "We planned to do that and we thought it worked out really well."
Chargers RB Melvin Gordon Expected to Return Against Ravens
After missing the past three games with a knee injury, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is expected to play Saturday night against the Ravens.
Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn told reporters Monday that Gordon was "very close" to playing last Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"He looked good in pregame, but without having a full week of practice -- if we would have played that game on Sunday, he probably would have played it," Lynn said.
Gordon's return is big for the Chargers, although they won all three games without him. He has rushed for 802 yards this season, including three games with over 100 yards. He also has 453 yards receiving, making him one of the league's best duel-threat backs.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen, who suffered a hip injury in the first half in Kansas City, will be limited to individual drills in practice Monday, but has a chance to return, per ESPN's Eric Williams. Reserve running back Austin Ekeler has still not cleared the NFL concussion protocol.