Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens' 39-38 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
PITTSBURGH — The Ravens should take the keys to the offense and turn them over to running back Alex Collins.
He is the Ravens’ most consistent and dependable weapon right now. Forget all this talk about the vertical passing game and quarterback Joe Flacco wanting to throw deep. That is complementary stuff right now.
Just give the ball to Collins. And then give it to him more and more. And some more.
That’s all the Ravens have at the moment. When they fell behind to Pittsburgh 14-0 early in Sunday night’s game, they hitched a ride on the legs of Collins and he kept them in the game. Somehow the Ravens forget about Collins early in the game.
Maybe the Ravens were enamored of Flacco’s performance last week. Or maybe they listened to receiver Mike Wallace talk about his big catches. The better reason is that sometimes offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg gets away from the game plan.
That can’t happen again. During the entire offseason coach John Harbaugh talked about being a running team, and there was no better opportunity Sunday night. Pittsburgh was without middle linebacker Ryan Shazier, one of the best in the league, and the Steelers were allowing 98.8 yards a game.
But the Ravens came out throwing. Flacco threw on 12 of the Ravens first 16 plays, including an interception that stalled a drive at the Pittsburgh 30. Collins touched the ball twice.
Only in the second quarter did the Ravens turn to Collins. On a nine-play, 78-yard drive to open the quarter, Collins touched the ball five times for 27 yards, setting up a 30-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to wide receiver Chris Moore.
On the Ravens’ next series, they scored on a five-play, 85-yard drive in which Collins caught a swing pass, ran over two Steelers and took the ball it 37 yards down the right sideline. He took a handoff and bounced outside two plays later for an 18-yard touchdown. He scored again in the third.
So, it’s over now. This is Collins’ offense. Everything else is too shaky. The offensive line is average at best. Even when the Ravens don’t block well, Collins gets yards with that burst outside that allows him to turn the corner.
Despite last week’s performance, Flacco still seems out of sync with his receivers, especially on timing routes. The quarterback has been streaky and inconsistent all season. There are times when he looks like Joe Montana, and other times he looks like Joe Palooka.
So, the Ravens should use Collins the way the Steelers use running back Le’Veon Bell. He should get at least 25 carries a game. Mornhinweg should become creative and use him more as a receiver.
The kid has to touch the ball.
The Ravens brought in assistant coach Greg Roman during the offseason to improve the running game. He has done that by working more on angle and combination blocks. The Ravens were solid early in the season with runners Terrance West and Buck Allen, but the ground game has taken off with Collins.
Before Sunday night’s game, Collins had rushed for 705 yards on 144 carries. When he is effective, so is the passing game because Flacco performs well with the play-action. The Ravens have to go back to being old school.
Roll out a fullback. Sometimes go with two tight ends or bring in an extra tackle. Go with an unbalanced line. But this offense has to evolve around Collins.