Sunday, September 25, 2022

Ravens OC says that improving running game depends on execution

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In the first two games of the 2022 regular season, the Baltimore Ravens’ passing attack was strong and highly efficient. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of their running game, which is uncharacteristically in the lower half of the league at the moment.

Their best plays and the vast majority of yards gained on the ground have come from the Herculean contributions of their dynamic dual-threat quarterback, Lamar Jackson. While they’ve produced several big plays of 20 or more yards through the air, their longest rush and only 20 or more yards to date was the 79-yard touchdown Jackson ripped off in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins.

While the Ravens started the season without their top two running backs, while JK Dobbins was still on the rise and Gus Edwards started the year on the PUP list, they’re still in far better shape at the position than they were last year around this time their entire depth chart was riddled with injuries ahead of the season opener. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman believes the problem is a lack of overall execution but “all offense” rather than a lack of talent on the offensive line or backfield.

“I really think it’s a play-by-play situation right now where we need to execute a little bit better as an overall offense in the running game,” Roman said in a press conference on Sept. 22, 2022. “It’s going to be in be work. I think we know how to do it, but it’s going to be something we all just have to keep getting better at, and I have to do a better job with it and teach it better. I’m very confident that will happen.”

As the unit’s play caller, he takes some responsibility for not always picking the best play, but believes they are about to turn the tide and are on the verge of getting their ground game back on track.

“It’s really a thing here and a thing there,” Roman said. “In some cases I think I can also get us into better games in terms of play. Believe it or not, I felt like we took a step in the right direction last week. I think it will continue to improve week by week.”

The Ravens’ offensive line hasn’t received consistent pressure in the running game, especially near the goal line and in short-range situations. However, the starting unit and three-time Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard paved the way to take their ball carriers to the second tier for modest to long wins. They just didn’t consistently track their blocks or use vision to find cut marks when they presented.

One member of their backfield who hasn’t received many touches but has shown flashes when getting them is Justice Hill. He led the Ravens’ running backs in rushing yards against the Dolphins despite receiving the fewest carries and snaps, and became the team’s second-leading rusher behind Jackson with 13 yards on three carries.

Hill suffered a torn Achilles tendon that cost him the entire 2021 season, but he recovered quickly and seems to have more strength and explosiveness than before. Most of his yards in Week 2 came on a 13-yard run that could have made up a lot more if he’d just stayed in his blockers and just exploded north, but it was still the longest run by a Ravens running back so far anyway.

When asked if the pro could get more carries in his fourth year and see more offense going forward, head coach John Harbaugh said he “absolutely” will.

“He’s doing a great job,” Harbaugh said in a press conference on Sept. 19, 2022. “I think he’s been looking good all preseason. He came back exceptionally well from his injury. All his numbers are up – even better than before – and he’s running hard.”

Another adjustment the Ravens could make to give their quick attack a boost could be to return to the same two-man rotation they used as left guard last season. Current starter Ben Powers rotated with third-seeded Ben Cleveland from 2021 when he was healthy, and the two made a nearly even split of snaps at the position in Weeks 2-4 before placing him as a full-time starter for the final four games last year.

Many expected Cleveland to win the training camp spot outright, but Powers emerged victorious early in the season. While the gritty fourth-year pro has performed well on pass protection, he’s one of the blockers who hasn’t been able to get much pressure from inside, which has led to the offense’s short distances and goal-line problems.

A massive human at 6-foot-6 and 370 pounds compared to Power’s 6-foot-4 and 338 pounds, Cleveland has shown that he can be both a road planner and a maul when blocking escapes. His strength, size and tenacity could be key to helping the Ravens salt games where they have big leads and want long, time-consuming, run-heavy drives in the second half.

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