Ravens Running Game Here To Stay


When the Ravens took the field Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, their running backs included a rookie mid-round draft pick from Coastal Carolina, a career backup who had bounced around five NFL teams, and an undrafted rookie who had been called up from the practice squad 24 hours earlier.

The Ravens still went out and rushed for a season-high 160 yards against a divisional rival.

The solid rushing performance in Sunday's victory illustrated how quickly the Ravens have adjusted to Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak's scheme, and it was further proof that the improved running game isn't going anywhere.

"It's here to stay, and it's here to get better," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I think we're going to do nothing but improve on that front."

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Ravens' early success on the ground is that the Ravens running backs have found holes regardless of who's carrying the football. Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice is gone and his expected replacement Bernard Pierce missed last week's game with a thigh injury.

With the top two backs out of the lineup, the Ravens turned to rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro and veteran Justin Forsett. Taliaferro rushed for 91 yards against Cleveland, and Forsett currently leads the team with 189 yards on the ground through three weeks. The backfield should get a boost this week when Pierce returns to the lineup.

"Three backs that can all play a role – absolutely that helps us and it makes us stronger," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

The three-headed backfield is a new approach for the Ravens. The team has historically had a bell-cow at running back that gets the bulk of the carries, but now the plan is to go with the hot hand.

"They're all going to play," Kubiak said. "We're going to keep a fresh guy on the field – that's what we're going to do – and if we feel like one guys has the hot hand so to speak, then obviously he's going to go back out. I want them all to prepare as if they're starting."

Having three running backs who could each break out for a big day makes life difficult for fantasy football owners trying to play Baltimore running backs, and it's also a challenge for opposing teams as they gameplan for the Ravens. Pierce, Forsett and Taliaferro all have different styles, but they all fit in Kubiak's stretch-zone system.

"The style of offense that he uses is one of those that I think handles that situation well," Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera said. "If you look at the Ravens, all three backs are similar, but they have their own different characteristic style of the way they run."

Getting results from an unproven backfield is nothing new for Kubiak, as he has a history of turning late-round picks or undrafted players into 1,000 yard rushers. During his time as an offensive coordinator and head coach, running backs Olandis Gary (sixth round), Reuben Droughns (third round), Mike Anderson (sixth round) and Arian Foster (undrafted) all topped 1,000 rushing yards with Kubiak as their play caller.

The common thread with all of those successful backs in his system is the play of the offensive line.

"I think it starts up front. We're getting confidence up front and our guys are playing real well," Kubiak said. "We've had some continuity up front, which has helped us move the ball, period. All of those backs have done a good job."

The Ravens currently rank eighth in the NFL by averaging 137 rushing yards a game. Last season, the Ravens topped that mark just once. The Ravens have topped 150 rushing yards in back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 16 and 17 of the 2012 season.

The early success is part of the reason that Harbaugh said Kubiak has been "even better than I thought," and the Ravens will look to continue the performance that currently has them ranked as one of the NFL's top-10 offenses.

"I love the offense that he's built," Harbaugh said. "I love the fact that he always [wants to] get a little bit better. He feels like we're just scratching the surface with what we can be, and I agree, and so do all the players."

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