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Ravens are right to bring back their smashmouth approach

There is nothing flashy about a fist to the face -- well, unless when you're on the wrong side of the fist -- but that's the type of mentality the Ravens want to bring back on offense this season. That's why their two notable moves in free agency so far have been re-signing bulldozing right guard Marshal Yanda and inking All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach to a three-year, $11 million deal (making him the NFL’s highest-paid fullback).

After another Super-Bowl-or-bust season ended prematurely this past January, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said the running game let the Ravens down. GM Ozzie Newsome echoed that sentiment. Head coach John Harbaugh said that getting back to running the ball with authority would be the offense’s main focus.

Offensive coordinator Cam “Under Fire” Cameron doesn’t really have a say in the matter. It’s happening.

Sure, there are some in the national media who think the power running game is going the way of rotary phones and Commodore desktop computers. And yes, the Ravens need to get more production out of their passing attack -- and another year of improvement from quarterback Joe Flacco -- to beat teams like the Colts and the Steelers and the Patriots in the playoffs. But the Ravens are at their best when they run the rock.

When they do it well, the set the tempo and control the clock. They make things easier for Flacco, who can hurt teams with play-action passes. They keep Ray Lewis and the defense resting on the sidelines.

A trio of second-half turnovers started the Ravens’ downward spiral in their loss to the Steelers in last season’s AFC championship game. But if they had been able to grind out a few more first and nibble a few more minutes off the clock, maybe they don’t unravel completely. Maybe they hold on and win. Maybe they beat the Jets and the Packers, too. They didn’t make the plays, though, so we’ll never know.

We do know the Ravens offense often looked out of sync last season, and that’s because they seemed to switch offensive philosophies on a weekly basis. Instead of reacting to what the enemy defense throws at them, the Ravens need to impose their brand of football. (Yes, I know you have to make in-game adjustments, but you’re always better off when you’re forcing them to make the in-game adjustments).

The Ravens have the personnel to run the ball effectively, and if they are serious about this fist-to-face philosophy, you can count on them picking up more than the 3.8 yards per carry they averaged in 2010.

Retaining Yanda ensures that the interior of the offensive line will be strong (the two tackle spots are question marks). With Willis McGahee gone, Ray Rice is ready for more touches in the red zone (signing another back such as Jason Snelling or Ricky Williams will ease his burden). And Leach is an upgrade over Le’Ron McClain, a pretty good blocker in his own right (and Leach isn’t going to campaign for carries like McClain did).

These weren’t sexy moves like, say, signing Santonio Holmes or trading for Steve Smith, but this is the black-and-blue AFC North we’re talking about. You have to win a few fistfights to win this division.

With Yanda, Leach and a run-first approach on offense, count on the Ravens throwing some haymakers.

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