Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasn't specific about his team's inability to run the football against the Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens have had problems mounting a strong running game in their first two games and Harbaugh knows that can't continue. It limits his team's ability to attack and also puts quarterback Joe Flacco and his rehabilitated knee at risk when passing so much.
Plus, Harbaugh has always wanted a physical team, not an offense built on finesse.
So, here are the problems I see with the running game and possible ways to fix it:
It might be time for the Ravens to bench starting center Jeremy Zuttah. He is a veteran and has a strong presence in the locker room, but has performed poorly in the first two games. The Ravens aren’t getting any movement in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Backup John Urschel will also have problems with big nose guards, but has quicker feet which could help with leverage.
With rookie running back Kenneth Dixon still nursing a leg injury, the Ravens have to give Terrance West more carries. In the last two games, West has gotten stronger in the fourth quarter/ He has to touch the ball more and can wear a defense down. Justin Forsett should get less carries and be used more in certain situations.
The Ravens need to get to attack the perimeter more. Neither West nor Forsett are running backs who can constantly pound the ball inside the tackles. West can make opponents miss tackles and Forsett has the ability to get to the edge as well. Remember, though, getting to the edge doesn’t mean that awful pitch play the Ravens run five to six times a game. But if they can’t get movement inside, they might as well try hitting on the perimeter.
The youth on the left side with rookies Ronnie Stanley, a tackle, and guard Alex Lewis has hurt. First, there is an issue of strength. Regardless of how much weight training they did in college, the veteran players are much stronger. Even former Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden struggled matching up with big defensive tackles in his rookie year when he played guard. Stanley needs more lower body strength and Lewis is playing a new position from where he played in college. Also, both will get better by the fourth and fifth games of the season when they’ve gained more experience. Their futures are bright, but they will struggle for a few more weeks.
The Ravens miss tight end Ben Watson, out for the season with a torn Achilles. He was going to do the dirty work for the team this season as a blocker. The Ravens can’t replace him at the moment because Dennis Pitta and Maxx Williams aren’t physical at the point of attack, and Crockett Gillmore hasn’t completely recovered from various injuries. After Watson, the next best blocking tight end is Nick Boyle, who has eight more games remaining in his 10-game suspension.
I still wonder if offensive line coach Juan Castillo and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman are on the same page. They bumped heads quite often last year and it was agreed that Trestman would direct the running game in 2016. But Castillo likes to be involved to the point where it sometimes causes confusion. It happened in 2013, Castillo’s first season with the Ravens, when they went from averaging 118.8 yards rushing a game to 83. Once coordinator Gary Kubiak took control of the entire offense in 2014, the Ravens averaged 126.2 rushing yards a game. I’m not saying that other coaches or even players shouldn’t have input. They all should in determining a game plan. But this team needs to find an identity and determine who they are. Fortunately, the season is still young. There is time.