Ravens look to revamp running game after unproductive opener

For three and a half quarters Sunday, the Ravens' run game failed to gain much traction. Running backs Justin Forsett and Terrance West got to the second levelof the Buffalo Bills' defense a couple of times, but the Ravens relied mostly on their passing game to move the ball.

However, 1 yard away from a game-icing first down, quarterback Joe Flacco handed the ball off to West, who muscled his way up the middle for a 3-yard gain. The run allowed Flacco to kneel on the final three plays and the Ravens to celebrate a season-opening 13-7 victory.


"Those are the best runs when you take a knee," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday.

After an offseason in which the Ravens stressed the importance of fixing their running game, the team took some satisfaction in its ability to close out the game on the ground. Leading by six, the Ravens had the ball at their own 36-yard line with 4:29 remaining. Five runs later – three by West, one by Forsett, and a jet sweep by wide receiver Mike Wallace – the Ravens had killed much of the clock and extinguished any Buffalo hope for a comeback.


However, the Ravens' total body of work on the ground left plenty of room for improvement. The Ravens finished with 83 rushing yards on 28 attempts. Take Flacco's three kneel downs and one scramble out of the equation, and they averaged 3.3 yards on 24 carries. Only five teams averaged fewer yards per attempt over opening weekend than the Ravens, and one of them was their opponent.

"Three-point-three yards per carry is not what we're looking for," Harbaugh said. "At times, I thought we had some good runs. We held the ball for 12 minutes in the fourth quarter. The last time, it was by the run game. I thought we had some real creative runs in there, some real schemed-up runs. We may have run [the outside flip] five times in the game and we ran it in the end, and Justin made their best player miss on the edge, and I think he got the first down. Before that, we had the jet sweep to Mike Wallace. Our guys executed those plays beautifully.

"The nuts and bolts runs, we were hit and miss. Some of it is their front. Some of it is us not executing, not blocking, not running to the right spot, all those kinds of things. We just have to get better. There's no magic formula. We just have to become really good at it and run against the right fronts at the right time and execute."

The Ravens players were off Monday after their satisfying season-opening victory. When they return to team headquarters Tuesday, they'll accelerate preparations for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, while going to work on some of the issues the team had against Buffalo.

There was little fault to find with the Ravens' defense. The group kept Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor under wraps, and held Buffalo to 160 yards of total offense and 11 first downs. Offensively, the Ravens made the game's biggest play through the air, with Flacco connecting for a 66-yard touchdown pass with free agent acquisition Mike Wallace. Beyond that, getting in an offensive rhythm proved challenging, which wasn't entirely surprising given that several offensive starters missed all of the preseason or most of it.

"We have to pick it up next week on offense," Wallace said after Sunday's game. "We made some plays, but we're not near where we want to be. It's not going to be hard for us to find things to get better at, because I don't think we did a great job, but at the same time, we have hard-working guys who know exactly what we need to do, and I think we'll get it done."

In his first regular-season game since tearing his ACL and MCL last November, Flacco was under siege throughout and sacked four times by the Bills. The offense was responsible for five of the team's six penalties and the offensive line lost its share of one-on-one matchups.

After the game, Harbaugh cited some "cadence issues" that set the Ravens' offense back. One led to center Jeremy Zuttah snapping the ball to Flacco when the quarterback wasn't expecting it. The ball bounced off Flacco's chest, and Bills linebacker Preston Brown recovered it for the game's only turnover.

"There's various ways to disguise what you're trying to do, ways to keep your opponent honest so they don't jump your snap count," Harbaugh said Monday. "Sometimes you change the play at the line of scrimmage. It's a lot to keep track of for guys. I promise you, offensive linemen, there's a reason that sometimes some people say that they have to be the smartest guys on the team. I wouldn't dispute that. To sit in that stance and be poised through all that is a challenging thing. We've worked on it from the beginning. It's something we feel is important, not just to go on one all the time, so to speak. … We need to get better at that. We had those issues."

The Ravens became the first NFL team since 1995 to start two rookies on the left side of the offensive line in a regular-season opener. First-round left tackle Ronnie Stanley and fourth-round left guard Alex Lewis held up well. However, as a unit, the offensive line struggled to consistently open up holes. Short yardage situations were again problematic, a trend that carried over from last year.

Overall, the Ravens ran seven plays on either third or fourth down where they needed two yards or fewer for a first down. They went 4-for-7 on those and another third-and-1 was wiped out pre-play when Stanley was called for a false start.

Four times in those short-yardage situations, the Ravens opted to pass the ball rather than run it to pick up a yard or two. The 66-yard touchdown to Wallace in the second quarter was on a third-and-1, but the Ravens were stopped on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter when Flacco's pass to West resulted in no gain.


The Ravens, who have long prided themselves on a power running game, certainly could have made things easier on themselves by churning out more yards on the ground.

"Each game, we want to get better and better," said West who had 12 carries for 32 yards compared to Forsett's 10 carries for 41 yards. "We're going to come back into the building on Tuesday, look at the mistakes, and go from there."


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