By Chris Schisler
The Baltimore Ravens offense needs to spark the running game and no time is like the present. This can’t be a lingering problem when there are actionable steps to fix the run game. The Baltimore Ravens must reclaim confidence on the ground in their battle with the Minnesota Vikings.
The Ravens oddly enough are a pass-first team. It sounds odd but it’s true. Lamar Jackson has thrown for over 230 yards in every game but one. Mark Andrews at tight end and a good group of receivers are carrying the offensive box score. How can the Ravens finally achieve the balance they’ve been looking for now that their run game is struggling and their passing attack is mostly flourishing?
Open rushing lanes with the passing game:
The first part of this is to realize that the passing game has to open up the run game while subsidizing some of the production. Screen passes and a quick-firing passing game can act much like the run game. It’s a staple concept of the west coast offense. While that’s not the Ravens’ deal, there are elements of the west coast approach that would help the Ravens.
Having more of an underneath passing game would keep Lamar Jackson honest as he tends to ignore his safety valve. Jackson either keeps the football too long or he forces it down the field when a passing play breaks down. The idea however of using this approach is all about getting something extra in the offense. It’s like working at a restaurant, you scrape every extra drop out of those big plastic jars of mayonnaise.
Lamar Jackson is the key to the run game. He’s always made a huge impact on the defense. The Ravens need to use more RPO (Run pass options) and get back to more of the zone-read concepts that Jackson and company have made such a dangerous attack in the past. Surely, the lack of chemistry with the running back fill-ins has factored into everything, but these concepts are a requisite threat when Jackson is the quarterback.
Baltimore Ravens always must lean on Lamar Jackson:
More quarterback runs make sense. Jackson is going to do more damage than 30-year-old running backs seeing lesser results. Jackson is averaging 6.3 yards per rushing attempt. That’s a good way to get the run game going. The running backs are only going to get going to an extent. Accepting that is a key component to understanding the run game as it is.
Jackson had 16 rushing attempts against the Chiefs. That may have been the best the offense functioned the entire season. Winning that game without those rushing attempts would have been a tall order. Jackson won’t always have to tuck the football. He didn’t really have to do much against the Broncos the way his passing was torching Denver. The Detroit Lions got beat by his arm, and the Chargers got beat by the most complete team win of the Ravens’ season.
When Jackson has to turn on the run game by himself, he has to realize it. He also needs to take off more rather than taking sacks he doesn’t need to take. Improvised run plays may be the single greatest danger to the defense, and Jackson is forcing it sometimes as a pocket passer to prove that he can do it. Mr. Jackson – it’s proven, you can take off and make something magical happen with your legs.
The offensive line is a huge part of this. Say what you want about Tyre Phillips, he may be the answer at left guard. At right tackle, Phillips looks abysmal his heavy footwork is his undoing and he loses leverage a lot. Remember he was the Ravens’ first choice at left guard. He clearly struggles at tackle but if we just accept that he’s a guard he could give the offensive line a boost next to Bradley Bozeman. Down the line, Phillips can move back to guard if the Ravens can find anything better at tackle (Cedric Ogbuehi is that anything better).
Greg Roman needs to be less predictable with his play-calling. The Ravens need to stop with a simple dive play to a running back who doesn’t have much burst in short-yardage situations where the middle of the offensive line is closed for business. Creativity has always been Roman’s calling card. I’m going to go back to the Chiefs game again… What happened to the offensive coordinator who bragged about how many running plays he didn’t even use yet?
The Vikings won’t see Latavius Murray, who is listed as doubtful for the game. This is a good chance to let Devonta Freeman audition for the main spot. How much does he have in him? Go find out already. When the Ravens have had big plays it’s either been Freeman or Ty’Son Williams and Williams has been stuck in John Harbaugh’s doghouse.
Speaking of young running backs, Nate McCrary is sitting on the practice squad. The running back one job was Ty’Son Williams’s job to win at the time the season kicked off. He lost the job, why not see if McCrary, a player who was neck and neck with Williams this preseason, can win the job this year?
NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens defense: 3 keys against the Vikings
The run game has to get going. It’s an essential part of the Ravens’ identity and the offense needs to reclaim it. This was an exercise of throwing ideas against the wall to see what could be done. The Vikings and Dolphins present a perfect chance for the Ravens to spark the run game and get back to something they love to do.