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Mike Preston: Ravens' running game should change direction | COMMENTARY

Minutes after the Ravens' 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, coach John Harbaugh said this was a new beginning. Hopefully that includes J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards as his top two running backs.

When the Ravens selected Dobbins out of Ohio State in the second round of the NFL draft in April, it was a signal that the La Grange, Texas, native was their running back of the future.

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The future arrived Sunday.

The 5-foot-10, 212-pound Dobbins rushed for 113 yards on 15 carries against Pittsburgh, and Edwards, in his third season, had 87 yards on 16 attempts as the Ravens pounded the Steelers with 265 rushing yards, averaging 5.6 per carry.

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The Ravens started the 6-1, 238-pound Edwards in place of injured veteran Mark Ingram II, who is sidelined with an ankle injury, but it doesn’t matter who is in the opening lineup Sunday in Indianapolis.

Should it be Dobbins over Edwards, or Edwards over Dobbins?

Who cares? Just get them both ample carries and make Ingram No. 3.

There is an old theory still somewhat prevalent in the NFL that a starter shouldn’t lose his job because of injury, and it’s safe to subscribe to when that player is of the caliber of star running backs Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey.

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Ingram isn’t in that class.

In fact, as a 10-year veteran, he is in the twilight of his career. He was the team’s second leading rusher a year ago with 1,018 yards behind quarterback Lamar Jackson’s 1,206. He was solid this season with 225 yards on 50 carries until the ankle injury sidelined him against Pittsburgh.

But a calf injury also slowed Ingram down at the end of last season, and the Ravens were concerned that he wouldn’t be able to hold up through 2020. They were right, and more importantly, Ingram has lacked explosion.

Now the Ravens can put their plan to work. Enter Edwards and Dobbins.

On Sunday, the tandem put some explosion back into the running game. Dobbins showed good balance and body lean. His center of gravity and powerful legs made him tough to bring down. He can catch the ball out of the backfield or in the slot and can be a home run hitter when the opportunity is there.

Edwards is more of a mauler with his power runs inside the tackles. He can wear down a defense and is a good complement to Dobbins. He isn’t as effective as a receiver, but he can break off an occasional 20-yard run. Once he gets his shoulder pads squared at the line of scrimmage, he can be quite intimidating.

The closer role fits him perfectly in the fourth quarter, but he shouldn’t be used solely for that purpose.

Through his first three seasons, the Ravens have been reluctant to use Edwards, and without any given reason. Maybe he doesn’t have the pedigree of Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner who won a national championship at Alabama, or the resume of Dobbins, who starred at Ohio State.

Edwards signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers in 2018, and all he does is work hard, like wide receiver Willie Snead IV.

It’s time for Edwards to get more carries, or at least share the load with Dobbins.

The Ravens need to load up on the running game and hitch a ride with Jackson, Dobbins and Edwards. The offensive line hasn’t been good at pass protection for several years now, and it won’t get better with left tackle Ronnie Stanley out for the season with an ankle injury and rookie right guard Tyre Phillips nursing a high-ankle sprain.

Jackson isn’t as accurate of a passer as he was in 2019, and opposing teams have found a way to defend him by sending pressure from the outside and having inside linebackers play zone coverage across the middle.

There aren’t many options left unless Jackson turns into Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes.

That ain’t happening.

It’s hard for a coach to tell a veteran player it’s time to sit and be replaced by younger players, but it happened to Ingram in New Orleans, where he was supplanted by Alvin Kamara.

According to several people involved with the Saints organization, Ingram handled the move well. If the Ravens decide to make that move, Ingram will probably be as classy in Baltimore as he was in the Big Easy.

In one season, he became a fan favorite. He is a great locker room guy and has always been willing to help both Dobbins and Edwards. Ingram has often talked about the Ravens' running back room and how he likes the competition. He said only a couple of weeks ago that he didn’t mind the running back-by-committee approach.

Well, the Ravens can still use him, but he won’t get as many carries as he’s used to. That’s what happens when you go from No. 1 to No. 3.

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