The Ravens lost an important weapon in Keaton Mitchell, but they don't plan on losing their ability to run the football successfully.
Baltimore has the top-ranked rushing attack in the NFL through 15 weeks, and it was on full display during Sunday night's 23-7 victory over the Jaguars. The Ravens churned out 251 yards rushing. They churned out 204 of those yards and controlled the game in the second half with an impressive mixture of power and speed.
When the Ravens hired Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken during the offseason, they didn't want to lose elements of the potent rushing attack that had become a successful part of their DNA. They remained committed to the run this season after losing running back J.K. Dobbins in Week 1. That commitment won't change after losing Mitchell to a season-ending knee injury.
"It was important to have elements of the rushing attack we worked so hard on the last four years," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We didn't want to run away from that run game. We had a lot of reps under our belt, a lot of institutional knowledge. Our players understood it - a lot of the plays that we run fit our guys really well."
Lamar Jackson (741 yards rushing) remains the most dynamic running quarterback in the league, while Gus Edwards (663 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Justice Hill (313 yards, three touchdowns) are having strong seasons. They will be joined in the backfield rotation by 30-year-old Melvin Gordon III, who will be elevated from the practice squad. Gordon saw action in three games this season (13 carries, 53 yards) and had his most productive year with the Chargers in 2017 when he rushed for 1,105 yards.
It won't be easy to replace Mitchell, who rushed for 73 yards on just nine carries Sunday night before his knee injury. Mitchell brought a high-end speed threat while averaging 8.4 yards per carry, and he seemed to run with more confidence each week as an undrafted rookie who had clearly found his comfort zone.
However, Harbaugh has faith in Gordon, and the Ravens have displayed enough variety in their blocking schemes to bring out the strengths in backs that have different styles.
"Melvin Gordon is a high-pedigree football player in this league," Harbaugh said. "It's almost kind of shocking that we're going to have the opportunity to put him into the mix right now. He's been practicing so hard, working so hard.
"His opportunity comes, and he's been there before. Great player, talented. You can't hide talent."
Harbs Happy With First Crack at Ravens' "Tush Push" Variation
The "Tush Push" is all the rage around the NFL thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles, but nobody has been as good at it as Jalen Hurts and his offensive linemen.
The Ravens broke out their own version Sunday night using 6-foot-6, 257-pound tight end Charlie Kolar instead of 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback Lamar Jackson.
With helpful pushes from behind courtesy of fullback Patrick Ricard and running back Gus Edwards, Kolar got one yard on the fourth-quarter play with the Ravens leading by 10 points.
The play worked even though the Jaguars had an extra defender on the field and the Ravens sacrificed one player by leaving Jackson out of it. It was 10 vs. 12, which gave Baltimore the first down regardless because of penalty.
It was the Ravens' first time using the "Tush Push" concept and it sounds like it may not be the end. Harbaugh said the team had practiced it for several weeks.
"I was really happy with the way we executed it. I thought we did a great job. Charlie was awesome," Harbaugh said. "He's a big dude. He's an athlete. We had some big dudes pushing him in there, which was nice to see. Our center and guards were really good. We have the tools to run that."
The Ravens ran a similar sneak last year with tight end Mark Andrews, except that didn't have the pushers from behind.
If the Kolar "Tush Push" becomes a thing in Baltimore, some fans have already dubbed it "The Kolar Express."
Daniel Faalele 'Took it to Another Level' vs. Jaguars
It was the second straight week of the Ravens splitting reps at both tackle positions, but it was much closer to an even split at right tackle this week between veteran starter Morgan Moses and second-year blocker Daniel Faalele. Moses played 36 snaps while Faalele played 34.
Faalele’s Pro Football Focus grade of 71.9 was the highest of his career and best on the Ravens' offensive line against the Jaguars.
"Daniel really took it to another level, I thought," Harbaugh said. "Since he was doing well, he got more reps. It was good for us."
Harbaugh said he thought Moses and Ronnie Stanley played "really well" considering they were going against the Jaguars' Josh Allen and Travon Walker, who Harbaugh called some of the best power rushers in the league off the edge.
"I thought they had their moments, but our tackles had their moments, too," Harbaugh said. "Lamar had his moments, too."
Ravens Look to Improve on Third Down Conversions
For the most part, Baltimore's offense has been consistent converting on third downs this season, ranking eighth in the league overall (42.61%).
However, the Ravens have struggled on third down lately. Their conversion percentage has fallen to 35.14% over the last three games, and they were 5-for-12 on third down against the Jaguars.
Harbaugh said the Ravens know their recent performance on third down isn't good enough.
"It's a big deal. Third down is important. We've been talking about it a lot the last couple of weeks, it hasn't been quite as good," Harbaugh said. "It's one of those areas we want to do a lot better at. Some of the defenses we've been playing have been top third-down defenses. That's something that's really important to us and we need to improve in that area."