Even with QB Lamar Jackson out, running game can’t be boxed in – The Denver Post


The Ravens needed only one first down to put away the game late in the fourth quarter Saturday. The Atlanta Falcons lined up accordingly.

On first down, they had five defenders along the line of scrimmage and 10 players within 10 yards of the ball. On second down, with just one Ravens wide receiver on the field, Atlanta again matched heavy personnel with another run-stopping look: three defensive linemen, four linebackers, four defensive backs, all expecting a run.

It didn’t matter. Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley handed the ball off to running back Gus Edwards for a 3-yard gain and then an 8-yard gain. First down, simple as can be. Three kneel-downs later, the Ravens had run out the clock on a 17-9 win. About 25 minutes later, they’d clinched a playoff berth.

“It’s a great feeling when your number is called upon and you’re able to produce,” Edwards said Saturday, after rushing 11 times for a season-high 99 yards. “That’s what we get paid to do. I feel like we’re at a good spot right now, run-game-wise, and as an offense, we’re going to keep getting better as the time comes. Every game from now on is like a playoff game, and we have to just fight, keep fighting and building off of where we’re at.”

With quarterback Lamar Jackson sidelined by a knee injury over the past three-plus weeks, the Ravens’ passing game hasn’t been able to regularly threaten defenses. Facing Huntley, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Falcons knew what was coming. They still weren’t able to stop it.

On their way to nearly 600 rushing yards total over the past three weeks, the Ravens have run through and around defenses selling out to stop them. Against eight or more defenders in the box, according to TruMedia, the Ravens have averaged 6.4 yards per carry and posted a 47.4% success rate since Week 14, ranking first and sixth, respectively, in the NFL.

Against nine or more defenders in the box, the Ravens have averaged 5.2 yards per carry and posted a 45.0% success rate over the past three weeks. (A play is considered successful for the offense when it gains at least 40% of the yards to go on first down, 60% of the yards to go on second down, and 100% of the yards to go on third or fourth down.)

“The backs that we have right now are seeing the hole very well, they hit it at the right time, and everybody else in front of them are working,” tight end Mark Andrews said Saturday. “The guards are pulling. The tackles are working hard. It’s everybody. It’s the receivers outside. The tight ends are doing a lot. It’s just guys continuing to work, and that’s just the type of team we have. We have guys willing to do the dirty work to get big plays.”

The Ravens have all but invited big crowds up front. With Rashod Bateman out and Devin Duvernay likely lost for the season, offensive coordinator Greg Roman has distanced himself even further from three-wide-receiver formations, a staple across the NFL. Fullback Patrick Ricard played all but eight offensive snaps Saturday against Atlanta. Top blocking tight end Josh Oliver got as many snaps as Andrews (42 of 52 total), the team’s top receiver.

While the Ravens have feasted on poor run stoppers in recent weeks — the Falcons and Browns rank Nos. 23 and No. 30 in efficiency, respectively, according to Football Outsiders — maybe their most impressive outing came against a stout Pittsburgh run defense that they’ll see again Sunday night. Running back J.K. Dobbins had 15 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown in the Week 14 win at Acrisure Stadium.

And with Jackson expected back for the Ravens’ playoff run, if not sooner, the offense will likely add another weapon for run defenses to respect. Jackson is averaging 7.4 yards on scrambles and 6.6 yards on designed runs this season, according to TruMedia. At full strength, he has a gravitational pull on second- and third-level defenders that should make life even simpler for Dobbins and Edwards.

Play-action problems?

Opponents might not be too keen on running against the Ravens, who have the NFL’s best rushing defense since Week 11, according to Football Outsiders. But they haven’t shied away from using run fakes to set up their passing attack.

Over the six games since the Ravens’ Week 10 bye, their defense has seen 63 play-action drop-backs, the seventh most in the NFL in that span, according to TruMedia. Opposing quarterbacks have gone 39-for-59 (66.1%) for 431 yards, no touchdowns and one interception (82.6 passer rating) — solid production on a play-to-play basis, though nothing spectacular.

A little more defensive pressure could go a long way. The Ravens rank 25th in pressure rate against play-action (30.2%) since Week 11, held at bay in recent weeks by offenses willing to buy time in the pocket with fake handoffs on third-and-short and third-and-medium.

“When you can run the ball on third down and you run play-action on third down, that’s going to slow down [the other team’s] pass rush, and I think it built in a little more time for some of the routes they were running,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “So that’s a challenge. It’s part of it. You can’t just tee off on the pass rush when there’s a chance that teams will run the ball, especially when they’re running play-action.”

Overall, the Ravens rank fourth in sack rate (8.5%) but just 27th in pressure rate (28.4%) since Week 11. Outside linebacker Justin Houston has 11 pressures and a half-sack in that span, according to Pro Football Focus, while defensive lineman Calais Campbell, now sidelined by a knee injury, has 11 pressures and two sacks. But no other Ravens edge rusher has more than seven pressures.

Week 17

Steelers at Ravens

Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 3



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