Ground game shaping up at just the right time
in rushing yards per game, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns. The weekly debate over whether the Ravens are running the ball enough hasn’t taken over the running back room, where the mantra is “control what you control.”
The calendar will officially turn to December today, and that means colder weather, well-worn fields, and tired and banged-up defenses. If there ever was a time for the Ravens’ much-maligned running game to hit its stride, this would be it.
“This is the best time of year for running backs,” said West, the former Towson University and Northwestern High star who leads the Ravens with 600 rushing yards and four touchdowns. “This is when running backs come up big in big games.”
Dixon’s expanding role and improved health are certainly reasons for optimism. He missed the first four games with a partially torn MCL in his left knee. He was tentative in his first three games back, but he’s looked more and more explosive the past three weeks.
He had 80 all-purpose yards on11touches in the Nov. 10 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Against the Dallas Cowboys, he had a season-long 20-yard run. And last week, he rushed for 49 yards and caught four passes for 31 yards.
In recent weeks, the Ravens have divided the carries almost evenly between West and Dixon, a nightmare for their fantasy football owners but an arrangement that Ravens coach John Harbaugh believes has benefited the team.
“Whatever it takes to win, if it’s getting the running game going, I feel like we’re ready for it. We’re ready to tote the load,” said Dixon, a fourth-round pick who has averaged more than 5 yards per carry over his past three games. “Every game, they give us a little bit more opportunity and we take advantage of it.”
The Ravens have averaged 104 rushing yards over the past three games. It might not seem like much, as 17 teams are averaging more over the season. For the Ravens, though, it qualifies as progress. They finished with under 100 rushing yards in six of their first eight games.
In recent weeks, the Ravens have at least started to develop cohesiveness on the ground. The competition for carries, which has also included Buck Allen, Lorenzo Taliaferro and, to a lesser extent, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, has essentially been settled in favor of West and Dixon.
“Both those guys are going to be so important for us,” Harbaugh said. “Both running backs are getting better every single week. They’re both young guys. Neither one of themhasplayedalot of football. Ofcourse, Kenny is a rookie. They’re starting to really get their feet under them, so to speak, and they’re making some plays for us. They run hard, they’re not easy to bring down, they catch the ball. They’ve both been solid in In recent weeks, the Ravens have divided their carries almost evenly between Terrance West, left, and Kenneth Dixon. pass protection, whichisnoteasyfor a young back. They’re doing a good job.”
Harbaugh cautioned not to dismiss Allen or Taliaferro. Allen, though, doesn’t have a carry in four of the past five games. Taliaferro remains sidelined with a thigh injury.
Anoffensive line that has been shuffled all year because of injuries is prepared to start the same alignment against the Dolphins for the third straight game. While the Ravens have yet to take over and put away a game with their rushing attack, moments in their past three games against Cincinnati, Dallas and Cleveland suggest they’re at least capable of such a performance.
“You see week after week after week, we’re just improving little by little,” rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. “It’s just little things here and there that will really tie that run game down.”
Said right tackle Rick Wagner: “I think we’re running the same plays over and over, so we’re going to eventually get those big runs that we’ve had in the past, and we’ll just keep at it. You’re not going to have a great run every time. So I think it’s about staying with it.”
Optimism aside, the Ravens are still ranked 28th in rushing yards per game(87.8), 29th in yards per carry (3.6) and 24th in rushing scores (six). The commitment to the run has wavered throughout the season, as evidenced by the Ravens’ 267 carries. Only eight teams have run the ball less.
However, Ravens coaches and players seemed to understand Wednesday that establishing the run will be a necessity over the final five games. This Sunday, they’ll face a Dolphins team that ranks 30th in the NFL against the run. The following week is a matchup against the New England Patriots, and the Ravens will surely want to maintain possession and keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands.
The weather and field conditions might force the Ravens to rely more on running the ball in their final three games, at home against the Philadelphia Eagles and on the road against the Steelers and Bengals.
In the past two games, West has 21carries for 90 yards and four receptions for 27 yards. Dixon has 19 carries for 89 yards and four catches for 31 yards. West has played 46 snaps and Dixon has played 52.
In terms of production and usage, it’s been divided pretty evenly. There’s been no indication that will change anytime soon and that’s just fine with West, who has started eight of the team’s 11 games.
“It’s going to be great,” West said. “To get to the Super Bowl, you need to have a running game. If you look at all the Super Bowl teams, you have to have two good backs to feed off each other. I think that’s what we’ve got.”
Cowboys (10-1) at Vikings (6-5) 8:25 p.m., NBC | This might be Dak Prescott’s best test yet, especially with the game being on the road. The Cowboys are on a roll, though, and the Vikings will have a tough time keeping pace on offense. Cowboys 24, Vikings 20