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Mike Preston: Ravens' identity problem on offense could last for a while | COMMENTARY

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, some of those forced by other teams.

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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. Dobbins.

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Ingram would prefer more carries to better get in sync but understands dividing up the attempts.

“I’ve just experienced that so much throughout my career that I think I can just be helpful and share my experiences and how I deal with sharing backfields with Gus and with J.K. and Justice [Hill] as well,” Ingram said. “I’m there for those guys, and we all want the ball, we all want to play. But we have a great room, and we rotate, and we stay fresh, and we stay healthy, and that’s great for our team.”

Translation: Until the Ravens lose, they are going to stay with the revolving running backs.

The third issue isn’t as easy to fix. A year ago, the Ravens were getting good movement on initial contact with their combination blocks. That hasn’t happened this season. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has played with injuries most of the season and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and center Matt Skura haven’t been as dominant as a year ago. Rookie Tyre Phillips now plays right guard in place of the retired Marshal Yanda, a potential Hall of Famer.

“We can get better at that, for sure,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh of the combination blocks. “It’s something that we did at probably the highest level last year, especially with Yanda in there. It’s something we’re working on. It kind of goes with a lot of other things we can continue to improve at. We have to, and I’d say that’s one of the things we’re working on.”

Taking stock: The Ravens have played only five games this season, so it’s too early to put much stock in a lot of things.

After the Ravens beat Cincinnati, 27-3, Sunday we started to hear or see things about how dominant the defense has been — maybe the best in the NFL.

Let’s use some common sense here. The Ravens beat one of the worst teams in the league while registering seven sacks. The sack total is impressive but five were by defensive backs.

That’s a little scary. The Ravens have always been good with pressure or blitzes, but that strategy hasn’t work against good teams in the playoffs or versus Kansas City. The postseason is about winning one-on-one matchups and until that happens let’s cut down on the dominating defense talk.

Crying over lost shutout: So, it finally comes out that Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale was perturbed that the Bengals kicked a 38-yard field goal with 32 seconds left instead of going for it on a fourth-and-7 at the Ravens 20. The field goal ruined the Ravens shutout in a 27-3 victory.

Ahh, boohoo.

Through the years Harbaugh and his brother, Jim, now the coach at Michigan, have run the score up on opponents and did it really make a difference if the Ravens beat Cincinnati by 27 or 24 points? Maybe the Bengals were ticked off for Harbaugh calling a time out to spot the ball late in the game or maybe because Martindale brought back some of his first-string players late to preserve the shutout.

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If a shutout was that important, then the Ravens should have stopped the Bengals from going on a 14-play, 55-yard drive to finish with the field goal. Martindale really shouldn’t worry. One less shutout won’t stop him from possibly getting interviews for a head coaching position after the season.

Line matchups: Two key matchups in Sunday’s game versus Philadelphia is how well the Ravens offensive line can handle the Eagles defensive line of tackles Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and ends Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham. The Eagles create a lot of pressure with Sweat and Graham who each have three sacks.

The Ravens also have to control Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. Covering tight ends has been a problem for years with the Ravens. Ertz has 20 catches 145 yards. Receivers DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and Alshon Jeffrey (foot) are both sidelined with injuries.

“Ertz has been doing it for a little while now, so we know what he’s like," Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "He’s really savvy with his routes, like I said, he has great hands, and he has good speed. So, he’s going to be a factor this week that we have to take care of.”

“We don’t know who all is going to be up, but that really doesn’t matter too much,” said Smith about Jackson and Jeffrey. “... They have tight ends who catch the ball well and do a lot. So, we’re going to have our hands full, like every single week in the NFL. But we’re going to take it day by day, learn their stuff, learn their schemes [and] learn every little thing we possibly can just to defend what they’re going to try to do against us.”

Of the Eagles defensive line, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said: “They role guys through, they keep people fresh, [and] they play a unique style. So, they’re extremely productive, not just on sacks, but on quarterback hurries. And they really are aggressive at trying to disrupt the running game with how they play up the field. It’s a very unique style”

Trusting Duvernay: Maybe the Ravens finally get it and will start using rookie receiver Devin Duvernay in the offense more. Roman seemed to hint at that earlier this week especially after the speedy receiver gained 42 yards on a reverse against the Bengals.

“Yes, that’s definitely one of the reasons he was drafted,” Roman said. “And I think you’ll see him continue to be a part of the offense in every role, really. Every position is a football player first. So, his responsibilities as a blocker, as a receiver, if you want to call them the ‘gadget plays’ or whatever; I definitely think those things will increase as his production does.”

Stiffed: By now everyone has seen the great stiff arm of Titans running back Derrick Henry trashing Buffalo cornerback Josh Norman.

The last time a running back punished defensive players like that was back in the late 1970s when the Houston Oilers Earl Campbell was running through defenders. But not even Campbell could do what Henry did to Norman.

The only other player I’ve seen do that was former Cleveland Browns and Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown from 1957 through 1965. Brown swatted away opposing players like flies.

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