Running game in line for an overhaul
‘3.3 yards per carry is not what we’re looking for,’ Harbaugh says after win
For 31⁄ quarters Sunday, the Ravens’ run game failed to gain much traction. Running backs Justin Forsett and Terrance West got to the second level of the Buffalo Bills defense a couple of times, but the Ravens relied mostly on their passing game to move the ball.
However, 1 yard away from a game-icing first down, quarterback Joe Flacco handed the ball off to West, who muscled his way up the middle for a 3-yard gain. The run allowed Flacco to kneel on the final three plays and the Ravens to celebrate a season-opening 13-7 victory.
“Those are the best runs, when you take a knee,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday.
After an offseason in which the Ravens stressed the importance of fixing their running game, the team took some satisfaction in its ability to close out the game on the ground. Leading by six, the Ravens had the ball at their own 36-yard line with 4:29 remaining. Five runs later — three by West, one by Forsett, and a jet sweep by wide receiver Mike Wallace — the Ravens had killed much of the clock and extinguished any hope for a comeback from Buffalo. Sunday, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 7
However, the Ravens’ total body of work on the ground left plenty of room for improvement. The Ravens finished with 83 rushing yards on 28 attempts. Take Flacco’s three kneel-downs and one scramble out of the equation, and they averaged 3.3 yards on 24 carries. Only five teams averaged fewer yards per attempt over opening weekend than the Ravens, and one of them was their opponent.
“Three-point-three yards per carry is not what we’re looking for,” Harbaugh said. “At times, I thought we had some good runs. We held the ball for 12 minutes in the fourth quarter. The last time, it was by the run game. I thought we had some real creative runs in there, some real schemed-up runs. We may have run [the outside flip] five times in the game and we ran it in the end, and Justin made their best player miss on the edge, and I think he got the first down. Before that, we had the jet sweep to Mike Wallace. Our guys executed those plays beautifully.
“The nuts-and-bolts runs, we were hit and miss. Some of it is their front. Some of it is us not executing, not blocking, not running to the right spot, all those kinds of things. We just have to get better. There’s no magic formula. We just have to become really good at it and run against the right fronts at the right time and execute.”
The Ravens players were off Monday. When they return to team headquarters today, they’ll accelerate preparations for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns while going to work on some of the problems the team had against Buffalo.
There was little fault to find with the Ravens defense. The group kept Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor under wraps and held Buffalo to 160 yards of total offense and 11 first downs. Offensively, the Ravens made the game’s biggest play through the air, with Flacco connecting for a 66-yard touchdown pass with Wallace. Beyond that, getting into an offensive rhythm proved challenging, which wasn’t entirely surprising considering that several offensive starters missed all of the preseason or most of it.
“We have to pick it up next week on offense,” Wallace said after Sunday’s game. “We made some plays, but we’re not near where we want to be. It’s not going to be hard for us to find things to get better at, because I don’t think we did a great job, but at the same time, we have hard-working guys who know exactly what we need to do, and I think we’ll get it done.”
In his first regular-season game since tearing his ACL and MCL last November, Flacco was under siege throughout and sacked four times by the Bills. The offense
Ravens receivers Mike Wallace, front, and Breshad Perriman toss game gloves to fans after Sunday’s victory. Wallace’s 66-yard touchdown reception was the game’s biggest play.