The Ravens have a decision to make at the running back position, but it isn’t difficult.
With Terrance West (calf) and Danny Woodhead (hamstring) possibly returning to the lineup from injuries before the Ravens head to Green Bay, the Ravens have a logjam at the position, which also includes starter Alex Collins and top backup Buck Allen.
It’s unlikely the Ravens will activate all four for the Packers game, but their top priority should be to keep giving Collins the majority of the carries. They can alternate Allen and Woodhead in the backfield on passing downs, but West appears to be the odd man out because he doesn’t play special teams.
But the Ravens can’t tinker with Collins.
“We’ll see how healthy they are first,” Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said of a possible rotation. “The week of practice is important for [Woodhead and West]. Everybody we get back will certainly help us.”
But he agrees that Collins will be the featured running back.
“Yes, he’s done a good job,” Mornhinweg said. “He’s getting better every week. He’s getting better at the details as well, so we can utilize him in more ways. So he’ll certainly be a featured guy.”
Collins is the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Jimmy Smith have had outstanding seasons, but they have other good talent around them.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Joe Flacco has been inconsistent and the receivers have had little impact. The offensive line, with or without injuries, has been average at best.
And then there is Collins.
He leads the team in rushing with 521 yards on 93 carries despite starting only five games. He has the quickness and speed to get outside and the power to run inside. The toughness is somewhat surprising because Collins is only 5 feet 10 and 210 pounds. But he has excellent body lean and always gets yards after initial contact.
Now, imagine if he had a good offensive line. Imagine if Marshal Yanda were starting at right guard and Alex Lewis at left guard. That’s another reason the Ravens shouldn’t divvy up the carries to make everybody happy.
They really need to know whether Collins is their running back of the future. He has youth on his side at age 23, but has played in only 19 NFL games, 11 with Seattle in 2016 before the Seahawks cut him in early September.
Collins has already performed well, but now he must prove his durability. From here on out, the Ravens need to get him at least 20 to 25 carries a game as the featured back in this offense.
Maybe the future is now.
West has already proved he isn’t the answer. He is solid but one-dimensional, having rushed for only 138 yards on 39 carries in four starts before being replaced by Collins. Allen is much like West — a north-south runner who doesn’t have breakaway ability. The Ravens still have Kenneth Dixon under contract, but his off-field and knee problems leave his return in doubt.
That leaves only Woodhead, and the Ravens make him sound as if he’s the missing ingredient in the offense.
“He can definitely make an impact, because when you get him out there and you get him involved, which we hope to do, obviously — it is something that we do well, because he is a good player,” Flacco said. “But then you also put more pressure on defenses to do different things, and hopefully it opens up some other things, too, and makes other things easier than they have been throughout the first eight or nine weeks. I think he can definitely make a big impact. I think it is on us to get him involved and put that fear in other teams that we can hurt people with him.”
Flacco probably was referring to the Woodhead of a few years ago, not the one that has played three games since the start of the 2016 season. He can probably still beat a lot of linebackers or safeties in one-on-one coverage, but opposing teams will shut that down in a game or two.
They’ve seen this game plan from the Ravens for several years now.
Collins is the Ravens’ most dependable weapon. If he continues to play well, then the team can make other plans in the offseason as far as the draft and free agency. They can shift their attention to other offensive positions, such as the offensive line and receiver.
Nah, skip the receiver spot. The Ravens have failed there.
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But if Collins pans out, the Ravens could be set at running back for years.