By Chris Schisler
The Baltimore Ravens had one of the worst possible things happen in their preseason game against the Washington Football Team. They lost their star running back J.K. Dobbins for the season. According to reports, Dobbins tore his ACL and won’t play in the 2021 season. How do the Baltimore Ravens move forward? Let’s dive into that.
This obviously makes Gus Edwards the top running back in Baltimore. An outside signing isn’t out of the question. Todd Gurley talked to the Ravens this offseason. Frank Gore hasn’t retired yet and is available. With the regular season coming in just a couple of weeks, the timing for a move like this isn’t ideal.
The most likely scenario is that the Baltimore Ravens roll with the running backs on their roster. This probably means that on the 53 man roster, Gus Edwards, Ty’Son Williams, and Justice Hill will make up the running back spot. Dobbins is hard to replace, though there isn’t suddenly room for a fourth running back on the 53 man roster.
The Ravens didn’t just have two unproven running backs play amazing football to sign an older and staler player on a knee-jerk reaction. The roster is loaded but the Ravens should absolutely get Nate McCrary on the practice squad. He could be called up if needed. The running back position as a whole got a little less proven, but it’s not a completely disassembled unit.
Edwards is in a very interesting position. On one hand, he’s one of the most consistent running backs the Baltimore offense has ever had. Edwards has had three straight seasons over 700 yards. On the other hand, Edwards has never been the Jamal Lewis or the Ray Rice type of player. He’s been the compliment of the Ravens run game more than he’s been the bell cow. Edwards is looking at a bigger role.
Dobbins averaged six yards per carry in his rookie season. If Dobbins stayed healthy he more than likely would have had over 1,000 yards on the ground. Last year, Dobbins, Edwards and, Jackson totaled 2,533 total yards. To stay on track Edwards needs to have his best year ever and at least flirt with the 1,000-yard mark.
As good as Ty’Son Williams has looked in the preseason, the Ravens running back group took a huge hit. The Ravens lost one of the best one-two punches in the NFL. Whether the number two back becomes Williams or Justice Hill, it won’t pack the same dynamic. Edwards’s role was often to be the closer at the end of the game, who would run without mercy against a tired defense. Now he’s the starting pitcher.
One of the major concerns of training camp was how severely the injuries prevented the offense from gelling. Should Lamar Jackson and the now-injured Dobbins have been playing in the final preseason game? No. The motivation to play them though was to get as much of the starting offense rolling together as the Ravens could.
The Dobbins injury compounds the chemistry problem. The purple and black now have to go into the preseason without working out the kinks in a game with their real starting offense. They have to figure out the new rotation at running back and establish a new pecking order in the backfield.
The Ravens should still be one of the best running football teams. They even have a chance to remain the top running football operation in the NFL. Lamar Jackson will always boost the ground game. He does this not only by producing on the ground but by making the defense mindful that he can produce on the ground.
The Ravens aren’t going to go from being one of the best running teams in the history of football (maybe even the best) to struggling on the ground. The ground game should still be the core competency of this offense. The question isn’t even how many yards this will shave off their total production running the football, but how will it impact the crazy efficiency of the unit on the ground.
Jackson averaged 6.3 yards per rushing attempt last season. Dobbins averaged an even six. Edwards picked up five yards a pop. At the end of the year, if the Ravens don’t have their three top runners picking up five or more yards per attempt, it takes a bit of the bite out of the strength of the offense.
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The Dobbins injury doesn’t sink the Ravens. It is however completely deflating to lose a potential superstar breakout year from a young running back. The Ravens lost star power and it’s awfully early to be turning to the next-man-up mentality. One way or another the Ravens needed to see gains from their passing attack in 2021. This surely reinforces that. If the Ravens don’t add an outside running back it shows you that they are still confident in their ability to be a dominant team running the football.
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