LANDOVER — After the Ravens ended the preseason with a lopsided 37-3 victory over the Washington Football Team on Saturday night at FedEx Field, there is still more concern about the offensive line than the running game, despite the injury to top running back J.K. Dobbins.
Dobbins, a second-year player, went down with a knee injury in the first quarter when he was tackled on a screen pass and had his knee was sandwiched between two Washington defenders. It was the type of hit few players recover from in time to return during the season, as Dobbins’ foot was planted in the ground and he was struck squarely on the knee.
The 2020 second-round pick out of Ohio State had to be helped off the field by trainers, and was later carted into the locker room. On Sunday, ESPN reported that an MRI revealed Dobbins suffered a season-ending torn ACL.
His loss is a major setback for the Ravens. Any starter missing time is meaningful, but the Ravens offense is centered around quarterback Lamar Jackson’s running ability as well as the rushing attack that has been No. 1 in the league for the past two seasons.
Not to sound too insensitive, but the Ravens can still be highly functional without Dobbins. The offensive line, however, is still a problem. The Ravens had their starting group out there Saturday on the team’s first series and the Ravens gave up two sacks, even with the elusive Jackson as the starter.
It’s safe to say that Jackson probably would have scrambled more in a regular-season game, but Washington was playing with its second-team defensive players. Let’s repeat that. The two top defensive linemen for Washington, end Chase Young and tackle Jonathan Allen, did not play.
The Ravens ran the ball well and got movement at the point of attack, but they had trouble pass-blocking, a problem area the past three seasons.
The Ravens supposedly upgraded in pass protection by adding right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Alejandro Villanueva during the offseason, but so far there doesn’t seem to be much progress. But it’s not just those two. Left guard Ben Powers has been stiff and center Bradley Bozeman gets too high.
At times, backup center Trystan Colon and versatile guard/tackle Patrick Mekari were more effective Saturday because of their versatility and quickness.
“This is the deepest offense that I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who made his first start since suffering an ankle injury in November. “We have talent all over the place. The wide receivers are catching the ball; we have tons of O-linemen. It’s great to see. We have great running backs.”
In some areas that is true, but Dobbins seemed to be headed to stardom. He wasn’t great in any one area, but good in all of them. He’s the most complete back on the team. He was quick enough to pick up yards on cutback runs, but not fast enough to deliver home runs. He could run with power and played stronger than his 212-pound frame might indicate.
Dobbins worked hard to become a better pass catcher and blocker this season, and it showed throughout training camp. In a sport that survives on tough guys, Dobbins proved durable, as he rushed for 805 yards and nine touchdowns on 134 carries last season.
The Ravens have players who can give them what Dobbins does, but not the all-around game. No. 2 running back Gus Edwards is a power back, a north and south runner who has occasional speed to the outside but not Dobbins’ slashing ability. Backup runners Ty’Son Williams and Nate McCrary have speed, especially Williams, who can cut back and outrun defenders to the corner.
But they don’t have the power of Dobbins or Edwards.
After Dobbins, third-year player Justice Hill might be the most complete back on the team, but the 2019 fourth-round pick has missed extensive time this preseason because of an ankle injury.
If you put them all together, they can fill in for Dobbins, even though coach John Harbaugh might want more experienced players than Williams, in his second year, and McCrary, a rookie from Division II Saginaw Valley State. Combined with the Ravens’ blocking scheme, it’s a more than a serviceable group.
Injuries have been a major problem in training camp. Dobbins is just the latest on a list that includes receivers Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin, as well as Zeitler, Bozeman and rookie guard Ben Cleveland. But if a team can’t pass block, it makes no difference who is starting at receiver or quarterback.
With the preseason over, the Ravens still have problems on offense. A blocking scheme will help them compensate for the loss of Dobbins, but it’s hard to replace him.
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It’s virtually impossible.