The Ravens’ rushing attack couldn’t have picked a more opportune time to snap out of a slow stretch.
With its top two quarterbacks sidelined by the third quarter’s end, Baltimore relied on a rejuvenated running game in Sunday’s 16-14 win over the host Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens rushed for 215 yards — their second most this season — as more than two-thirds of their offensive yardage came on the ground.
“Just ground and pound,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “Those guys up front did an incredible job.”
The Ravens were without quarterback Lamar Jackson, who suffered a knee injury last week, and backup Tyler Huntley left in the third quarter to enter concussion protocol after being tackled by two Steelers simultaneously. That left undrafted rookie Anthony Brown to make his NFL debut, and the backup quarterbacks combined for 94 passing yards.
But the Ravens received a boost from the resurgent J.K. Dobbins, who had been sidelined since October and had not rushed for more than 50 yards in a game since his rookie season.
Dobbins set a Ravens rookie record in 2020 with nine touchdowns and ran for 160 yards in the regular-season finale. However, he tore his ACL, LCL and meniscus in his left knee, along with his hamstring, in August 2021 and missed the entire season; he called that injury one of the “top five hardest moments in my life.” Then, this year, he played just four games before having another operation on his knee.
The 2020 second-round draft pick was back Sunday, however, with his third career 100-yard rushing game. He ran for 120 yards and a touchdown on 15 attempts, which is tied for the most carries of his career.
“Still not me all the way yet. I’m going to continue to get better,” Dobbins said of his health, “and hopefully those 100-yard games will start turning into 200-yard games, maybe.”
Dobbins burst through the line for a 44-yard gain in the first quarter — as many yards as he’d gained in any single game this season — setting up his own touchdown run. He was tracked down at the 4-yard line on that run and later said that, were he 100% back to his healthy self, he would have scored.
“I’m still not in shape that I need to be in, because I would have never gotten caught,” he said.
Over the past three weeks, the Ravens had gained just 3.7 yards per carry on designed runs. On Sunday, Baltimore averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
“The running game was what we needed in this game,” coach John Harbaugh said.
Dobbins, who became the fastest Raven (19 games) to eclipse 1,000 career rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, led the way with 8 yards per carry, but Gus Edwards also added 66 yards on 13 carries. On the day’s most pivotal drive — when Baltimore held a 13-7 lead in the fourth quarter without both of their top quarterbacks — the Ravens ran the ball nine times on a 13-play, 57-yard march, while, more importantly, taking nearly eight minutes off the clock.
Then, with the Ravens holding a two-point lead, it was Edwards who secured the win with a 6-yard run on third-and-3 with 2:14 to go.
“He came around there on the 34-power like a freight train coming through there. It was really well-blocked,” Harbaugh said.
The Ravens play the Browns on Saturday in Cleveland, but it remains unclear who will start at quarterback. Jackson has not formally been ruled out, Huntley may or not clear concussion protocol by then, and Brown will be available, if needed. If the Ravens are forced to play without their top passers, their ability to run the ball becomes that much more important.
Noting how mentally taxing it can be to endure injuries, Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell praised Dobbins and his big game. He said the running back was “near tears just sitting on the sideline.”
“I know that J.K. is a beast,” Campbell said. “Did I expect what he did today? I can’t sit here and lie to you. I did not expect it like that. I knew he was going to have a good game, but wow. I told him he put the team on his back.”