Ravens running back Alex Collins didn’t get a touch in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Through two weeks, he has 16 carries for 48 yards and four catches for 61 yards.
It’s plays like these, however, that have Ravens fans yearning for more – and his quarterback wanting to supply them.
Joe Flacco said the reason for Collins’ lack of touches down the stretch in Cincinnati was “one of those unique circumstances.” The Ravens have often used Javorius Allen in obvious passing situations because he’s a bigger, better blocker and adept receiver.
“But I mean, yeah, come on, we want to get the ball in Alex’s hands,” Flacco said. “He’s a playmaker, man. He’s dynamic.
“You can just see him breaking tackles on a couple little check-downs that he’s not even scheduled to be anywhere near those plays. When you have a playmaker like that, and we all know what he can do with the ball in his hands, you definitely want to find ways to get him the football – and we’re aware of that.”
It’s just four receptions so far, but Collins is averaging 15.3 yards per catch through two weeks. If he continued his pace, he would post 36 catches for 488 yards after logging 23 grabs for 187 yards last season.
But there’s a feeling that Collins could end up with even more of an impact in the passing game than those projections.
Wide receiver John Brown said Collins reminds him of former teammate and Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson with the way he can take short passes and “break them into something big.” In 2016, Johnson caught 80 passes for 879 yards and four scores.
“He is amazing with the ball in his hands,” Brown said of Collins. “Sometimes, it’s like you’re sitting there watching it on TV, but you have to focus in and try to grab a block.”
Justin Tucker Feels for Other NFL Kickers
The kicking business is a tough one, and it was on full display Sunday when NFL kickers missed 19 opportunities – two shy of the league’s single-day high.
Thankfully, the Ravens have the best in the business in Justin Tucker, who continued to prove his worth by banging a 55-yard field goal through the uprights in Cincinnati with ease.
Tucker is 3-for-3 so far this season and has hit 22 straight, the second-longest streak in the NFL behind the San Francisco 49ers’ Robbie Gould (29).
Tucker is still the most accurate kicker in NFL history (90.3 percent). Dan Bailey, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys and signed by the Minnesota Vikings this week after a clutch miss by Daniel Carlson, is second with a career 88.2 percent mark.
As Tucker saw all the misses on Sunday, he said it made him appreciate the operation he has with long snapper Morgan Cox and punter/holder Sam Koch.
“The ball basically kicks itself,” Tucker said.
“You certainly want to see guys do well. You never wish poorly upon anybody. As a specialist, you understand that there’s a duality that comes with playing this position. The highs can be really high. At other times, you can be stoked about making a kick and everybody else is thinking, ‘Well, you’re supposed to do that. That’s your job.’ And then the lows can be low.”
Tucker had some preseason misses last month from long range, raising some eyebrows among fans. But those are in the distant past now.
“I don’t like to miss any kicks,” Tucker said. “I don’t like to miss my first warm-up ball in practice, let alone a preseason game, or any game for that matter. But it is important to have perspective and take those preseason games with a grain of salt.”
Harbaugh Trusts His Guys to Block Von Miller
On Monday, Harbaugh said Broncos pass rusher Von Miller can wreck a game. After putting the game plan together, Harbaugh's outlook on Miller’s talent, and threat, has not changed.
But Harbaugh also has confidence in the Ravens’ plan to neutralize the former Super Bowl MVP, who has four sacks in two games.
“We have a plan, and …” Harbaugh said, crossing his fingers with a smile. “I trust our guys. I think our guys are going to be ready. We have a lot of tough guys, smart guys, and that’s the plan.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco said it's a "all hands on deck" situation with Miller. Miller lines up all over the defensive front, but most times is across from the right tackle, meaning starter James Hurst will have his hands full.
The Ravens could use an assortment of methods to help Hurst block Miller, but Baltimore also has to worry about rookie fifth-overall pick Bradley Chubb, who will be applying pressure from the other side. Harbaugh said the Broncos have four legit edge rushers who sometimes take the field all together.
“All that being said, it comes back to ’58’ [Miller],” Harbaugh said. “We have to know where he is. We’ll have a plan for him. Some of these teams are blocking him one-on-one, and they’re doing it, most of the time, with success, but then, all of the sudden he wrecks the play. So, that’s the problem.”
Denver’s Offense Gets the Ball Out Fast
A major reason why the Ravens didn’t get any sacks against the Bengals is because Cincinnati’s offense is predicated on getting the ball out fast. Quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals did a nice job picking up and quickly attacking Baltimore’s blitzes.
So will the Ravens get back to sacking the quarterback this week as they did against the Buffalo Bills?
Perhaps not, as Harbaugh said the Broncos are also a team that gets the ball out quick with veteran quarterback Case Keenum in Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave’s system. Keenum was that way in Minnesota last year and Musgrave previously ran the same quick-fire offense in Oakland.
“They want to get the ball out quick, on time, on rhythm and to completable passes,” Harbaugh said. “That’s kind of what they do. They combine that with a really good running game.”
So what’s the defense against an offense like that? Basically, it’s push the pocket, try to get batted balls that hopefully lead to interceptions, and play tight press coverage to try to disrupt the offense’s timing and thus make the quarterback hold the ball.
“If the ball is going to come out in two seconds, you’re not going to get there. We want to get there,” Harbaugh said.
“Some of it has to do with coverage. We opened up some of the receivers a little bit in our zone coverages more than we wanted to, and gave [Dalton] some quick throws that allowed him to get the ball out quickly. We want to try to force those to be tipped balls, interceptions, or he has to hold the ball and take the sack. So, the coverage and the pass rush go hand in hand.”