Offense deals with an identity crisis
Solving it requires an ironing out of things
The Ravens offense is suffering through an identity crisis because of several issues, not just one major problem.
A year ago, the Ravens had the best running game in the history of the National Football League, but now they aren’t as dominant. It was predictable that some changes were going to be made in the running game, with some being forced by other teams.
Opponents are spreading out and taking away the perimeter from quarterback Lamar Jackson on option plays. Without Jackson, the Ravens don’t have any runners who can bounce outside quickly.
The Ravens might also be trying to preserve veteran running back Mark Ingram II so he doesn’t wear down at the end of the season like a year ago.
The rushing attempts have been spread out among Ingram, Gus Edwards and rookie J.K.
“I just kept sticking to it, working hard and fortunately
found a home here in Baltimore, and I’m loving it.”
— L.J. Fort, Ravens linebacker
all-conference high school running back and linebacker in Waynesville, Missouri).
In 2016, Fort signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, with whomhe spent the next three seasons. While he was relegated to a special teams role in the first two years, his role on defense expanded after linebacker Ryan Shazier’s career-ending spinal injury.
Fort played well when given more opportunities, and his patience was rewarded in the summer of 2019 when he signed a three-year, $5.5 million deal with the Eagles. With the financial security came the impression that he would be an integral part of the defense. But after four games and zero snaps played on defense, the Eagles cut Fort in a move primarily made to preserve a compensatory draft pick.
“I’ve always liked L.J., even in the short time that we had him here,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday on a conference call. “He came out of a very similar scheme when he was with Pittsburgh, and that’s when we signed him.
“He’s really settled into his role and his position at linebacker. … You see him on tape and he’s one of 11 defenders on tape that’s flying around and making plays and being disruptive. It’s always something that I knew, even when he was here fitting into our scheme as a four-down, three linebacker-scheme, some of the same things that I saw.
“But there, in Baltimore, he’s definitely made an impact on that defense.”
The release “definitely shocked” Fort, but within hours he and his agent received calls from several teams. He chose the Ravens, a team that had a previous interest in signing him and a need for a sturdy veteran in the middle of a struggling defense.
It didn’t take long for Fort to leave his mark. During his first play as a Raven, he made a tackle on the kickoff coverage team.
The next week, he played a career-high 55 defensive snaps, helping to limit Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in a season-defining road win. Three weeks later, Fort signed a two-year extension through the 2021 season.
Fort praised the organization’s authenticity when asked why he agreed to an
extension so quickly.
“Everything is real — the coaches are real about everything,” Fort said at the time. “You don’t have to wonder what’s going on, what people are thinking. That’s probably my favorite part about being here.”
Even as the team in April drafted two inside linebackers in Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, Fort has maintained a consistent role. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale said Thursday that Fort’s presence assisted in the learning process of Queen, the team’s first-round pick.
While Fort’s still contributing on special teams, he’s made his share of plays this season on the league’s best defense. His 18 tackles rank fifth on the team and he’s tied for the most fumble recoveries with two, including a 22-yard scoop-and-score against the Houston Texans in Week 2.
“I’ve been on like seven or eight teams, and it’s been a grind,” Fort said. “And when you’re on ‘P-squad’ [practice squad] and you’re getting cut multiple times, there’s always doubt in your mind if you’ll be able to find a home. But I just kept sticking to it, working hard and fortunately found a home here in Baltimore, and I’m loving it.”
Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram II and the Ravens are finding it more difficult to pile up the rushing yards this season than it was in 2019.
Ravens linebacker L.J. Fort (58) posses with his teammates after recovering a fumble against the Browns during the season opener