Running backs shine as Ravens down Panthers in preseason opener
— A competitive battle at one of the team’s deepest positions grew tighter still Thursday evening as a trio of running backs took turns creating big plays during the Baltimore Ravens’ preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers.
With veteran running back and expected starter Justin Forsett not playing, the backfield committee of Buck Allen, Terrance West and rookie Kenneth Dixon shared carries for most of the game, combining for 75 rushing yards, 26 receiving yards and three touchdowns as the Ravens topped the Panthers, 22-19, before an announced 70,682 at M&T Bank Stadium.
“The running game showed up, especially early in the game,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “Our offensive line played well, obviously, but our backs were dynamic. All the back that played, played well.
“Now we have this game behind us and we can watch the tape and have a sense of OK, this is kind of our beginning,” Harbaugh continued. “This is where we start.”
With the Ravens trailing 10-0 early in the second quarter, West put his team on the board when he launched himself over the defensive line and into the end zone on
email@example.com 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. He later gave Baltimore a 22-13 advantage when he scored another touchdown in the third quarter by changing direction at the line of scrimmage and outracing the defense for a 2-yard score.
West’s performance continued what has been a strong training camp for the former third-round pick, who finished the game having rushed for 25 yards on nine carries.
“I don’t care if it’s preseason or not, every time you step on that field it’s another opportunity to get better. Today I felt like, as a group, we got better,” said West, who also added a 24-yard kick return in the third quarter. “I’m just trying to win over every guy in that building and show the Ravens facility that they can count on me. I’m just trying to come out here and work hard and show these guys that they can depend on me.”
West, who competed in six games for the Ravens last season, joins Allen as two backs who saw substantial playing time in 2015. After Forsett suffered a season-ending injury in Week 11 against the St. Louis Rams, Allen filled in as the team’s top option, ending the season with 514 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three combined touchdowns.
On Thursday, he delivered the Ravens the lead when he caught a screen pass from quarterback Ryan Mallett and accelerated into the secondary for a 19-yard score.
“It was cool. It could have been better, I always feel like I can get better, but I’ve got to take it one day at a time. You can’t always hit a home run on the first play,” said Allen, who finished with just the one catch and six yards rushing on six carries. “[The running backs are] all competing, and at the same time we’re all going to push each other and make each other better, but we’re all competing.”
It may have been Dixon, however, that made the most of his playing time on Thursday. The Ravens’ fourth-round selection took his first carry
of the night 19 yards up the middle. He ended the evening with a team-high 44 rushing yards on nine carries.
“I feel like we were really coached up to go out there and were very prepared for our first game,” said Dixon, who also produced a pair of long runs in the team’s practice at the stadium on Aug. 6. “[On my first run], my Oline really opened up a great hole for me and I was able to make a guy miss. It always feels good to see green grass in front of you. The offensive line made it very easy for me. I just hit the hole and the rest is history.”
Mallett, filling in for Joe Flacco, who continues to rehab from a season-ending knee injury suffered last season, played the first two quarters. He overcame an interception on the team’s second drive by finishing 6-for-6 for 49 yards on the ensuing possession. He polished off the
drive by completing a pass to tight end Maxx Williams to the 1-yard line that set up West’s first touchdown run.
The backup quarterback completed 11 of 15 passes for 91 yards with an interception and a touchdown.
“My guys were getting open and I was throwing them the ball. That’s my job and I just have to continue getting better doing that,” Mallett said. “I think it’s just getting more comfortable, knowing my personnel better, getting a lot of reps in camp and then
coming out here and getting a start.”
Led by the reigning MVP Cam Newton at quarterback, the Panthers took the lead on the opening possession when Graham Gano connected for a 26-yard field goal to cap a 14-play, 68-yard drive. They added to their lead later in the quarter when backup quarterback Derek Anderson found receiver Devin Funchess with a 10-yard scoring pass overtop cornerback Shareece Wright to bury the Ravens in an early two-score def-
icit. Carolina linebacker AJ Klein set up the touchdown after he picked off a pass that appeared to be juggled by the intended receiver, tight end Darren Waller.
The linebacker returned the ball for a touchdown, but a penalty called on Newton for entering the field of play during the runback negated the score.
The interception came just a few plays after the Ravens caused their own turnover. Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith sacked Anderson and
forced a fumble that defensive tackle Carl Davis recovered at the Carolina 21-yard line. The play proved to be a welcoming sight for Baltimore, which created just 14 turnovers a year ago.
“It was big. We stressed [turnovers]. We preach it; we practice it every day, day in and day out,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “Your only hope is it carries over in the game.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig
Baltimore Ravens running back Terrance West scored a pair of touchdowns during his team’s 22-19 win over the visiting Carolina Panthers in the preseason opener at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Thursday.