Through three weeks, the excitement about the Ravens’ offense has been justified.
With Monday Night Football still to be played, the Ravens are scoring the fifth-most points per game (32.3) and piling up the 13th-most yards per game (378.7).
But one aspect – the part that most pundits believed Baltimore would once again hang its hat on – has yet to take off. And if it does, the Ravens’ offense will be even better.
The Ravens’ running game is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. That’s the second-worst mark in the league and could fall into the cellar with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2.9 yards per carry) set to play the Steelers tonight.
Leading running back Alex Collins has run for 116 yards, which is below 40 yards per game. After putting up nearly 1,000 rushing yards last season, he’s currently on pace for 619 this year.
There were a lot of good things to talk about Monday after the Ravens’ 27-14 win over the Denver Broncos, but Head Coach John Harbaugh also pointed to some reasons for Baltimore’s running woes.
Last week, the talk was about the Ravens’ pass-run balance. Baltimore ran plenty against the Broncos, including 18 carries from Collins and 28 total. It’s the efficiency that needs to be improved.
Harbaugh said some of the reasoning is because teams have committed extra players near the line of scrimmage, which could also explain why the Ravens have been so successful throwing the ball.
“Safeties have made a lot of tackles against us if you go back and look at it. One of the best tackling safeties, Darian Stewart, was on the field yesterday. He had a number of tackles, even in the backfield,” Harbaugh said.
Another factor is the teams the Ravens have faced. The Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Broncos are all predicated on stopping the opponent’s run game first. The Broncos, Harbaugh said, are particularly similar to the Ravens’ defensive scheme.
“I don’t think it’s just against us; I think the team’s we’ve played that’s the way they play defense. They commit to stopping the run,” Harbaugh said. “This [Broncos] team is probably more like us. … They have some big, strong guys up front and they were knocking with us on the ball. That’s their mantra.”
The other part of the low average yards per carry is that there hasn’t been any long runs to pull the stat up. The Ravens’ longest run of the season has been by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson for 16 yards. Running back Kenneth Dixon, who is on injured reserve with a knee injury, has the second-longest run at 15 yards.
“We still haven’t popped any big runs,” Harbaugh said. “A number of our runs in the red zone have scored, but that’s five yards. That doesn’t help your average too much. We need a 40-yard run, we need a 50- or 60-yard run. If you get that, all of a sudden, that [stat] goes up. We haven’t earned that yet. We have to get our back through there, and that’s what we’re working on.”
Despite the troubles, the Ravens know they still need to keep pounding the rock.
“We feel like we can run the ball and need to run the ball against anybody,” Harbaugh said. “You have to make them still stop the run. If you don’t, then you’re not going to defend it, and it’s harder to throw the ball too.”
Tim White Does Well in First Game as Returner
The Ravens made the move Saturday afternoon to switch special teams returners, calling Tim White up from the practice squad and releasing undrafted rookie Janarion Grant.
It was a “toss-up” when determining the roster, and after Grant had two fumbles in his first two games, Baltimore opted to make the change. In the first game, it obviously paid off.
White didn’t have any ball security issues and sprung a 37-yard kickoff return that set up Baltimore’s first touchdown, which was instrumental in the trajectory of the game after the Broncos jumped out to a quick lead.
“I thought he did well,” Harbaugh said. “If we would have blocked a little better for him on two of the other kickoff returns, he might have hit those, too. So, he did a good job.”
Harbaugh said there were still some things for White to improve on (he wished he came up to catch some punts), but he was happy that White was also playing it safe with the Ravens holding onto a late-game lead.
It’s still not a job that’s definitely settled for the rest of the year, however. Harbaugh said he hopes to get Grant back on the practice squad and believes he’ll get another shot at some point.
Yes, Lamar Jackson Is a Viable Receiving Option
The Ravens used less of their Lamar Jackson package in Sunday’s win, but there were a couple notable plays.
On the first, Jackson was used as a moving decoy in the backfield to help open up a running lane for Collins on his 6-year score in the first quarter.
On the second, Flacco actually threw a pass intended for the backup rookie quarterback. It didn’t connect with its target (it wasn’t really close), but it did show that Baltimore isn’t afraid to use Jackson as a receiver if need be.
Harbaugh said Jackson wasn’t the first guy on Flacco’s progressions, and that the play was intended to draw some coverage up to throw to a seam route behind. A crossing route came open, but Flacco tried to flick a quick pass to Jackson.
“But [Jackson’s] definitely in the progression on that,” Harbaugh said. “If you want to put it out there, you have to be willing to throw it to him. [He] probably wasn’t as open as we’d like him to be.”
Chris Wormley Is Emerging on Defensive Line
Sometimes the big fellas on the defensive line don’t get much love unless they get a sack, but defensive end Chris Wormley is starting to draw attention.
Wormley played 35 defensive snaps (51 percent of the game) in Sunday’s win over the Broncos. He finished with just one tackle, but it’s a sign that the Ravens like what they’re seeing from the second-year product out of Michigan.
“‘Worm’ has really improved, he’s really gotten better,” Harbaugh said. “He always had it in him and he’s still just scratching the surface of his potential. He and I talk pretty much every week and he’s a smart guy, very mature and he knows exactly what he needs to do from one week to the next to improve, and that’s why I think he does it.”
Harbaugh said Wormley is stronger and quicker this year as a result of his dedication in the weight room this offseason. He’s also doing a better job of tearing off blocks, staying square and getting some pressure on quarterbacks.
Wormley’s high snap count is likely in part because Michael Pierce (foot) was sidelined, but it’s good to see that the Ravens have a reliable rotation of big, physical linemen.
Harbaugh’s Daughter, Alison, Will Attend Notre Dame and Play Lacrosse
Harbaugh stepped to the podium Monday wearing a Notre Dame lacrosse sweater, which prompted a question about whether he had any news to announce about where his daughter, Alison, will play in college.
“She committed to Notre Dame to play lacrosse,” Harbaugh said smiling. “How about that? Very proud of her.”
Asked if he knew the Notre Dame fight song, Harbaugh said, “No. I know the Michigan fight song. I can hum it. I will know it soon enough.
“Great place. Really amazing coaching staff there. Great university, great people. She’s gotten really close to all the players. As a dad, you can’t be more proud.”