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Eisenberg: Ravens Right to Prioritize Patrick Ricard

FB Patrick Ricard runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD.
FB Patrick Ricard runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD.

When the decisionmakers at the Under Armour Performance Center studied what went wrong in 2021 and how to get better in 2022, a clear conclusion materialized.

The Ravens need to do a better job of being who they already are.

That means playing better defense, getting more out of their "schemed" running game (i.e., intentional runs, as opposed to quarterback scrambles) and just being more physically dominant, period – all qualities for which the Ravens are known.

They're already working on a plan to address those and other issues, having gained and lost players in the first wave of free agency, with more changes coming.

No matter what happens, though, the decision to retain fullback Patrick Ricard, announced Monday, won't be topped as the move that most accurately reflects what the Ravens are trying to do.

Ricard's nickname is "Project Pat," but I like what Lamar Jackson calls him -- "Pancake Pat," a moniker that gets to his essence. The Ravens have utilized him as a 311-pound battering ram at the point of attack, crushing defenders and opening holes for backs to run through.

His new deal reportedly makes him the NFL's second-highest-paid fullback, and given the Ravens' tight salary cap situation, it pretty much guarantees the departure of several other players. Unfortunately, that's how things work in the NFL.

But I'm all for Ricard having been marked "priority," regardless of the consequences. No player better embodies who the Ravens are and what they want to look like in 2022 and beyond.

A lack of production from schemed runs was a consistent issue in 2021. Baltimore's non-quarterbacks rushed for 1,408 yards, down significantly from 1,957 in 2020 and 2,019 in 2019.

Ricard did his part, playing well enough in 2021 to earn a third straight trip to the Pro Bowl. But the offensive line ranked No. 21 in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, and injuries to tackle Ronnie Stanley and running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards were too much to overcome.

Schemed runs were "something that really fell off this year," Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the season.

The impact on the offense was impossible to miss. The Ravens' run-pass option plays are most effective when defenses are worried about stopping the run. If they aren't as worried about who Jackson is handing off to, Jackson isn't as effective.

That's why there's so much focus in 2022 on rebuilding the offense around Jackson after it sputtered at times last season – and rebuilding it a certain way, as a more physical unit.

Ricard has many talents, as evidenced by his 29 career receptions and five touchdowns. He played 225 defensive snaps before becoming a fulltime fullback in 2020.

But the Ravens wanted him back mostly because of how he plays, which is how they want to play.

His signing pairs neatly with the hoped-for return to form of tight end Nick Boyle, another fierce blocker. He only played in five games and caught one pass in 2021 while recovering from a major knee injury, and at 29, it's fair to wonder what he has left as a receiving target. But the Ravens are hoping his blocking can help the running game and bolster pass protection – another of Ricard's strengths.

The idea of losing Ricard and Boyle was a possibility, but now, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman can count on both as well as Morgan Moses, a 335-pound starting tackle who signed last week, solidifying the right side of the offensive line.

What did the Ravens see in Moses? Among many things, another forceful blocker at the point of attack.

"We're going to have him block a bunch of power (assignments)," said Joe D'Alessandris, who coaches the Ravens' offensive line.

It remains to be seen how the rest of the 2022 offense develops; the O-line needs more clarity, which could come in the draft, and the recovery timetables for Stanley, Dobbins and Edwards obviously are pivotal.

Regardless of who ends up in the huddle, though, the Ravens are looking for more players who are relentless and physical – guys who play like "Pancake Pat.""

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