No sim­ple so­lu­tion for strug­gling run game

Team’s 3.0 yards per carry ranks just 29th in league

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jeff Zrebiec

There are plenty of the­o­ries and opin­ions about what ails the Ravens run­ning game. The one thing that ev­ery­body seem­ingly agrees on is that it needs to get a whole lot bet­ter if the Ravens are go­ing to be a play­off team.

An off­sea­son spent try­ing to fix a static run game has yielded less-thanim­pres­sive re­sults. Head­ing into their Week 3 matchup against the win­less Jack­sonville Jaguars at EverBank Field, the Ravens are av­er­ag­ing just 81.5 rush­ing yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry. Those num­bers rank 23rd and 29th, re­spec­tively, in the NFL. They are also one of nine teams with­out a rush­ing touch­down.

The Ravens’ strug­gles to run the foot­ball, which date to last year, have marred the team’s first 2-0 start since 2009.

“We want that to be a fac­tor,” coach John Har­baugh said Wed­nes­day. “We want peo­ple to have to deal with it. That’s what’s im­por­tant for us right now.”

The Jaguars, who have given up 245 rush­ing yards through two games, pro­vide the lat­est op­por­tu­nity for the Ravens to fix

some­thing that has tra­di­tion­ally been one of the team’s strengths. How­ever, much work is re­quired, and when the team’s long­est run in two games is an 11-yard gain by wide re­ceiver Mike Wal­lace on a jet sweep, it’s clear there is no sim­ple so­lu­tion.

Har­baugh listed a litany of things that needed to im­prove for the team to run the ball more suc­cess­fully, from more co­he­sive block­ing up front, to bet­ter schemes, to Justin Forsett and Ter­rance West (Tow­son Univer­sity, North­west­ern High) do­ing a bet­ter job of find­ing holes and mak­ing tack­lers miss.

“You have to pop a run here and there and be con­sis­tent with a num­ber of runs over 4 yards per carry. We haven’t re­ally done ei­ther well enough,” Har­baugh said. “It’s not easy, be­cause peo­ple are de­ter­mined to stop the run, but we are de­ter­mined to run the ball.”

In the past 13 games, dat­ing to last year, the Ravens have rushed for 100 yards or more only twice and they’ve av­er­aged 4.0 yards a carry or bet­ter only three times. Har­baugh and the of­fen­sive staff, led by play caller Marc Trest­man, spent the off­sea­son mak­ing some al­ter­ations to a run game that av­er­aged just 92.4 rush­ing yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry.

The no­tice­able dif­fer­ences have been more out­side pitch plays and less run­ning be­tween the tack­les. Ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, 22 of the Ravens’ 49 run­ning plays, not count­ing quar­ter­back Joe Flacco’s five rush­ing at­tempts, have been ei­ther to the left or right edge.

Flacco con­ceded that the team is “do­ing some dif­fer­ent stuff and it prob­a­bly isn’t giv­ing our line­men the best chance to be su­per phys­i­cal.” He said the goal has been to keep de­fenses off bal­ance, and he pre­dicted big runs would pop soon.

Other ob­servers won­der what hap­pened to all the out­side zone stretch run­ning plays that worked so well for the Ravens in 2014, when Gary Ku­biak was di­rect­ing the run game. The Ravens fin­ished eighth in the league in rush­ing that year.

“Right now, I’m not un­der­stand­ing their phi­los­o­phy. It’s hard for me to do that be­cause I’m not there. I’m not in the hud­dle or in their meet­ing rooms. But I don’t see them get­ting any move­ment up front,” said for­mer Ravens tackle Jonathan Og­den, a Pro Foot­ball Hall of Famer. “It al­ways seems like there is a break­down some­where. … It’s not like it’s all five guys play­ing poorly, just one guy break­ing down on one play, and an­other guy break­ing down on an­other.”

Like Og­den, for­mer Ravens of­fen­sive line­man Wally Wil­liams was con­fused by the lack of stretch plays.

“I think the Ravens have given up on them,” said Wil­liams, who runs an of­fen­sive line per­for­mance school for high school, col­lege and NFL­line­men in Ari­zona. “That in it­self is a prob­lem be­cause you can’t keep pres­sure on a de­fense un­less you show them the full re­sume of run­ning plays, and I’m not see­ing dif­fer­ent types of plays.”

Right guard Mar­shal Yanda, a five-time Pro Bowl pick, said Wed­nes­day that the team hasn’t aban­doned the zone scheme but that it has tried to di­ver­sify its run­ning at­tack.

“We’re not run­ning as much, but we are def­i­nitely do­ing more than just the stretch-zones scheme,” he said. “When Gary was here, we were do­ing that ex­clu­sively. We’re def­i­nitely try­ing to switch it up and do a lit­tle bit more gap scheme, a lit­tle bit more tight zone along with the stretch. We’re def­i­nitely throw­ing a few wrin­kles in there.”

The Ravens haven’t had much suc­cess run­ning in any di­rec­tion, though they’ve par­tic­u­larly strug­gled up the mid­dle. Ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus, they’ve had 18 to­tal rush­ing at­tempts up the mid­dle or be­tween the cen­ter and right guard, and they’ve gained 45 yards on those.

Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus’ num­bers re­veal the team has had the most suc­cess run­ning to the left side, be­hind rook­ies Ron­nie Stan­ley and Alex Lewis. They are av­er­ag­ing 4.6 yards in car­ries be­hind the left tackle and 4.0 in rush­ing at­tempts be­tween the left tackle and guard.

Vet­eran cen­ter Jeremy Zut­tah called the team’s strug­gles to run the ball a “com­bi­na­tion of ev­ery­thing.”

“Some of the runs when you’re go­ing a lit­tle up-tempo have been a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent than stuff we had been run­ning, but it’s the same over­all con­cept,” Zut­tah said. “I think ev­ery­body just has to do ev­ery­thing a lit­tle bit bet­ter.”

Some of the team’s chal­lenges in the run game will be hard to fix im­me­di­ately. While both Stan­ley and Lewis have played well, there’s an ad­just­ment pe­riod that comes with hav­ing two new starters. With Crock­ett Gill­more not 100 per­cent healthy and Nick Boyle on the sus­pended list for the first 10 games, the Ravens don’t have a pro­to­typ­i­cal block­ing tight end on the ros­ter. They also don’t have a game-break­ing run­ning back, though Forsett and West are plenty ca­pa­ble of mak­ing plays.

Some of the onus falls on Trest­man, who has a rep­u­ta­tion as a pass-first of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. In his 13 sea­sons as an of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor or head coach, his run­ning game has fin­ished higher than 16th only once, ac­cord­ing to ESPN.

Through two games, the Ravens rank 13th in rush­ing at­tempts, so the ef­fort to es­tab­lish the run has been there. The pro­duc­tion hasn’t.

“Ev­ery­body wants to point the fin­ger at some­body, but it’s a col­lec­tive ef­fort,” Forsett said. “We’ve all got to do our job. When it’s a suc­cess­ful run game, ev­ery­body is do­ing their job.”

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Justin Forsett is driven to­ward the side­line by the Bills’ Duke Wil­liams. “We’ve all got to do our job,” Forsett said of the run game.

PA­TRICK SMITH/GETTY IM­AGES

Quar­ter­back Joe Flacco (5) hands the ball off to run­ning back Ter­rance West. The Ravens’ strug­gles to run the foot­ball have marred the team’s 2-0 start.

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